Why Rays rookie Shane Baz and his elite fastball warrant Gerrit Cole comparisons

Why Rays rookie Shane Baz and his elite fastball warrant Gerrit Cole comparisons

Saturday afternoon, Tampa Bay Rays rookie right-hander Shane Baz will make his first career start against the New York Yankees in what could double as a postseason preview. Baz will be making his third start overall, having previously thrown 10 2/3 combined innings of two-run ball against the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. In those outings, he’s struck out 14 batters while allowing a walk and five hits.

Baz’s start versus the Yankees — who can clinch a postseason berth with a win on Saturday — will be notable for reasons other than its potential as a glimpse into the future or a continuation of his brilliant first month in the Show. Rather, it’s notable because it’s the first time Baz will be around Yankees ace Gerrit Cole — and that connection is notable because when it comes to fastballs. Baz’s sure has a lot in common with Cole’s, widely considered one of the best in the business.

Allow us to explain, dear reader, by scrolling while the autoplay ads run to completion.

1. Velocity

If you’re going to compare fastballs, of course you’re going to start with velocities. On paper, it would seem difficult to stack up with Cole in this respect. His average fastball velocity this season has been 97.7 mph, or the second-highest among qualifying starting pitchers, behind only Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins. 

Yet Baz has displayed an elite amount of arm strength in a small sample. His average fastball velocity so far has been clocked at 96.9 mph, according to TruMedia. If Baz qualified, that average would place him fifth. The pitchers above him? Alcantara and Cole, obviously, as well as Zack Wheeler and Luis Castillo. That’s great company.

Sandy Alcantara

98.1 mph

101.5 mph

3.0 mph

Gerrit Cole

97.7 mph

101.5 mph

3.0 mph

Zack Wheeler

97.2 mph

100.3 mph

2.5 mph

Luis Castillo

97.2 mph

100.7 mph

2.8 mph

Shane Baz

96.9 mph

99.5 mph

2.8 mph

2. Release point

Throwing at a similar speed doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot. Let’s take it a step further, then, by comparing release points.

We’ll start with the vertical aspect — that is, how far from the ground the ball is released. In Cole’s case, his average release height is 68.1 inches; Baz, for his part, has averaged about 67.9 inches of height on his release. So far, so good. How about their horizontal release point, or relative to the plate? Here, there’s a disparity. Cole stands about six inches closer toward the right-handed batter’s box. (Yes, six whole inches.)

There’s another, often forgotten about element to release points: the depth. Luckily for us, TruMedia tracks each pitcher’s “extension,” the distance from the pitching rubber to the release point. As you might’ve guessed, Baz is a worthy match for Cole in the sense that his average release depth is a touch deeper (6.67 feet versus 6.57 feet).

3. Movement

So, Baz stacks up in velocity and in release point. What about the movement profile?

Baz’s fastball boasts 9.1 inches of horizontal break and 10.7 inches of vertical break, according to TruMedia’s numbers. Cole’s, meanwhile, checks in at 11.9 inches of horizontal break and 10.8 inches of vertical break. If you go off the ever trendy induced vertical break, then Baz’s features an additional half foot. 

We could go deeper and reel off other metrics, but we assure you: they’re close enough to make the comp stand up.

It’s important to note that sharing pitch characteristics — like velocity, release point, and movement — do not necessarily mean that the pitches are equal. There are other components that go into these kinds of things, most notably command, sequencing, and deception. Cole has an edge in at least two of those respects, meaning his fastball remains superior to Baz’s (for a deeper look at the Cole comparison, check out Michael Ajeto’s work at Baseball Prospectus).

Still, the Rays and their fans have every reason to be high on Baz as a big part of this and potential future playoff runs. His fastball is the real deal, and it should help him continue to perform at a high level in the postseason despite his lack of big-league experience. 

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