The absolute #1 thing on a scout’s list when observing pitchers is velocity. Velocity, velocity, velocity. A pitcher throwing 88+ consistently in high school or in freshman year/sophomore year of college is going to get his name put ahead of lower velocity pitchers every time. However, the underlying truth of how good a pitcher is, is the movement of the ball, often called “stuff.”
“Stuff” is a term used a lot in baseball. But, what does that mean exactly? “Stuff” is referring mainly to how much each of a pitcher’s pitches moves; i.e. a curveball having big break dropping off at the plate compared to a fastball headed dead straight into the catcher’s mitt. Obviously it is easier to swat a fly that is sitting still in the air than one that is flying all around.
At any level, the more a pitch moves the harder it is to hit. However, at lower levels, a 90+ mph pitch can be effective with not much movement. Reason being, most of the younger kids may not be able to catch up to a higher velocity pitch. This is part of the reason a guy like Hunter Greene gets drafted high. One can probably count the number of high school kids on one hand that can catch up to a 95+ mph heater. So, as Greene gets his first taste at facing professional hitters in the minors, his results may change.
The closer and closer a pitcher gets to The Show, the better hitters he will face. This increases the likelihood of facing a hitter with the bat speed to catch up to a high velocity pitch. As one can imagine, the number of hitters in the majors that can hit a 95+ mph pitch is an enormous amount. The reason a guy like Kenley Jansen is so successful is not solely due to his high velocity, but the movement on his fastball (cutter action), resulting in swings and misses.
Many believe Aroldis Chapman is un-hittable because he is the hardest thrower in the world; wrong. Just 11 days ago, for example, Rafael Devers hit a walk-off homer against the Yankees off of a 102 mph Chapman fastball. How? Because Chapman missed his spot. He left the FB right down the middle and up a little, right in Devers “happy” zone; oh, and the ball didn’t have much movement on it. But, if Chapman threw the ball in a better spot with more movement, the result would have been much different.
Anyone can throw a ball over the plate or hit a ball with a bat consistently with practice, but its a pitcher’s “stuff” that will give him the edge. Yes, velocity is an important aspect to look for, but shouldn’t be the most important thing. The radar gun only identifies whether or not a pitcher is up to par with level standards. It’s what the fastball does is what matters the most.
Hall of Fame Braves’ pitcher, Greg Maddux‘s fastball sat at 88-89 with sinking action. Without the enormous movement on his sinker, he would not have won 355 games. Lower velocity pitchers usually throw a heavy sinker as their primary pitch. But, higher velocity pitchers often have a 2-seam fastball to go along with their 4-seamer in case their 4-seamer flattens out during their outing.
Although it is important to have good movement on the fastball, it is also important to have a secondary pitch. But, those pitches especially have to have good movement in order for keep the batters fooled later into the game. A plus curveball/slider is often times another aspect of a pitcher’s arsenal that gets him noticed by scouts. Because a breaking ball is 10-20 mph slower than the fastball, it has to have significant movement or else it will be left over the plate at a low velocity resulting in hitters teeing off on it. Don’t be deceived by a high velocity pitcher, as the ball may have minimal movement resulting in less and less success as the player climbs to higher levels of play.