In a Venn Diagram of top 100 prospects and regular players I can’t wait to watch in 2018, Walker Buehler sits alone in the middle part of the adjoining circles. While it’s hard to predict what Buehler’s long-term role awaits, he has all the tools to become ‘elite’. Specifically, those tools would be his pitch arsenal. Buehler has a couple very high on the 20-80 grade scout scale. To have one pitch graded above 65 or 70 makes you dangerous. Combining multiple gives you a chance to be a superstar in the big leagues.
This was recently profiled over at MLB.com:
Walker Buehler (Dodgers, No. 13), Hunter Greene (Reds, No. 21) and Sixto Sanchez (Phillies, No. 26). Kopech and Greene join Ohtani as having the only 80-grade fastballs on the Top 100, with Greene getting our nod as having the best because he’s the most athletic and throws with the least effort. Kopech’s upper-80s slider (65) also features two-plane break and is one of the best in the Minors. Buehler’s stuff jumped to another level after he came back from Tommy John surgery, and he now has a 95-100 mph fastball (70) and the best curveball (65) on the Top 100.
What you hear about Buehler’s heater is that it consistently sits in the high 90’s (95 to 100 MPH) range. Scouts rate this at a ’70’ but it would be fair if one begged to wonder how it misses an ’80’. The answer lies in his ability to control the pitch, as seen in scouting reports like this one.
Things like control are refined over time, sometimes through tweaking a small mechanical issue in the pitcher’s delivery. It’s also fair to say that Buehler was coming back from Tommy John Surgery and just didn’t have his full command on display often enough. The best assumption is that he is completely confident in his velocity and arm strength, which is a positive in a young pitching prospect.
A rare fastball like Buehler’s can often set up complimentary pitches like breaking balls, making a guy truly untouchable when he’s on. That is, if the breaking balls are dominant.
Word on the street is that Buehler’s slider functions more like a cutter, with 88-92 MPH velocity. And that’s a common theme you will hear time and again with his stuff: velocity, velocity, velocity.
While only a small sample size at the big league level was available (9 and 1/3 innings), Buehler only threw this pitch 7.3% of the time in 2017. The consensus out there seems to believe that over time, the slider is going to become a dangerous weapon for Buehler.
Talk of Buehler’s curve is nothing new. MLB.com recently wrote about this pitch in an article titled ‘Best tools featured on the Top 100 Prospects list’.
Best curveball: Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
Buehler’s stuff, which already was good enough to make him a first-round pick in 2015, has taken a significant leap forward since he returned from Tommy John surgery that summer. He rushed from the Class A Advanced level to Los Angeles in 2017, his first fully healthy season as a pro, and Fangraphs rated Buehler’s curveball’s combination of velocity and movement the best in baseball during the second half of last season. It’s an 82-85-mph bender with tremendous depth that plays well off his 95-100-mph fastball.
In a short amount of time, Buehler’s curveball could be known in baseball circles as ‘the big one’. Curveball velocity is great for getting swings and misses. Combining that with a fastball that plays like Buehler’s allows a pitcher to keep ball on the ground. This usually results in far fewer home runs. And Buehler trusts this pitch, throwing it nearly quarter of the time in 2017 at 22.9%.
For the data that exists, Buehler’s curveball was not just one of the best pitches of all prospects; it was one of the best pitches in all of baseball.
#Dodgers Walker Buehler 2017 Pitch Quality
Curveball (45 pitches)
5.22 QOPA (Top 6% MLB)
Velocity (Top 5%)
Location (Top 20%)
Horizontal Break (Top 35%)
Late Break (Top 45%)
Low Rise (Bottom 44%)
Vertical Break (Bottom 37%) pic.twitter.com/OQq6qRFe0m
— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) February 6, 2018
Now you know a greater detail about Walker Buehler’s dangerous arsenal of pitches. With a clean bill of health, the tools within his toolbox used to get hitters out should only get sharper. And when you see that pitch with a nasty hump that causes the batter to look awkward, yep; it was the Buehler curveball.
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