Hunter Brown Is Better Than This

Hunter Brown has more to offer than what we've seen.

This isn’t how it was supposed to be. When Hunter Brown was called up toward the end of the 2022 season, he set the league and media ablaze in seven tantalizing outings. Showing off a hard, rising fastball, a power curve that seemed to turn up the gravity in the stadium, and most notably, a pitch that at the time was being called a 94 mph slider. Even if that pitch had been classified correctly at the time, it still would have made waves. He was obliterating hitters with stuff that gave everyone visions of what he could be.

And then… he wasn’t. Brown’s move to the rotation coincided with a loss in stuff. An expected sacrifice when moving to stretched outings of 90+ pitches. You can’t push yourself to 100% for every single pitch when you’re throwing that many of them, you have to find a new normal. Brown’s new normal was almost as visually impressive as his old one. But it didn’t work. He had a difficult rookie season, posting a 5.09 ERA across 29 starts and a couple of relief outings. He was still striking hitters out, but he was getting knocked around when the ball was put in play.

This season has been one of loud failures and quiet successes. The first outing was fine, but then the Rangers lit him up for 5 runs in 3 innings. After which, in a record-setting demonstration, the Royals laid a beatdown upon him to the tune of 11 hits and 9 runs before Brown could even get out of the first inning. His ERA for the season will not recover from that, and this year will always look worse than it really has been for Brown as a result. His reputation may have taken the biggest hit, however. Most that still held out hope for Brown saw it dashed by a few more rocky outings thereafter. 

If you asked people about him now, you wouldn’t guess that he had a solid May. His last six outings have seen him pitch to a 3.62 ERA, with hitters slashing just .210/.288/.403, and an expected slash of .209/.287/.392. He’s posted solid ratios with 8.3% BB and 27.3% K rates. This is a better pitcher than he looks like if you’re only looking at the season as a whole. It all starts with his stuff. Let’s dive into what he has to offer, and how he uses it.

The 4-Seam

Brown’s arsenal starts with and lives by his 4-seam. He throws it with above-average velocity, at 95.3 mph and maxing out at 98.2 this season. It comes with a straight, rising shape, at 17.8” of iVB, and 3.3” of HB. From a release height of 6.3’, this is solid, though it doesn’t create that steep bat-missing plane that pitchers chase nowadays. It relies on its movement and high locations to rise above swings and either avoid them altogether or force popups.

If you were to look up how this pitch has performed, you’d be appalled to find the results from when it’s put into play. Despite avoiding pull-side contact and barrels better than most fastballs, this is where the majority of the damage has come against Brown this season. Hitters have had incredible luck against it, something I’m sure is frustrating for Brown and Astros fans alike. This pitch is better than the results it’s had this season, I promise.

The Splitter

The first of a trio of secondaries Brown throws in about equal measure, his splitter is essentially his second pitch against lefties. It’s a hard off-speed pitch, thrown 88.1 mph, with 8.9” of iVB, and 13.6” of iHB. In a vacuum, this isn’t a great shape but it does have substantial movement separation from his fastball.

This pitch is a double-edged sword for Brown. Its prominence in his arsenal is a change he made this season. This was previously a developmental pitch hidden in the back of his arsenal, and its usage reflected that. It comprised just 4.8% of his pitches last year, compared to 14.4% this year.

The reason for the previous hesitance to throw it is likely due to his lack of command over it. I don’t mind the low zone rate, that’s fine for an off-speed pitch. He just has issues with it popping out early and flying away arm-side, or it coming out late and spiking it into the dirt. It isn’t drawing a high chase rate at least in part due to all the waste pitches. There’s potential for this to be a good off-speed pitch, it’s undeniably effective when he’s getting hitters to swing at it. It just needs a bit more refinement.

The Cutter

This one is complicated to talk about because he changed it this offseason, and then modified it again between his May 5th and 11th outings. The version from early this season is the outlier, the “new” change he made was essentially just reverting it to the old version. We’ll briefly touch on what he WAS doing earlier this year first though.

As shown, the early 2024 version of his cutter was more akin to a cut fastball despite the mostly unchanged velocity. Its spin activity was higher which created this unique movement. Unfortunately, this shape did not work for Brown. It got hammered and wasn’t missing bats. Upon switching back to the old one, its whiff rate and contact results improved. This is the way he should be throwing it. While the other version was more aesthetically pleasing and unique, it just wasn’t working. It led to a lot of loud contact, and not enough positive results.

When he’s locating this pitch, it’s an excellent weapon against lefties that he can bury in on their hands. He misses with it in the zone more than I’d like, but it’s a solid pitch regardless. 

The Curveball

Brown throws a really impressive knuckle curve. He throws it with power at 82.1 mph. What makes this pitch special is the movement he gets at this velocity. -16.1” of IVB with this much speed is incredible. Only Boston reliever Justin Slaten throws a harder curveball with as much downward movement. It also has a nearly 12-6 shape with 4.2” of HB. This makes it harder for opposite-handed hitters to pick up as it’s on its way to the plate. All of this coupled with Brown’s high release point make for a breaking ball with outstanding depth and a steep path to the plate built for whiffs and ground balls.

There’s a catch though. Brown loses the handle on this pitch more than I’d like. When it’s on, he can land it in the zone for called strikes, or below it for whiffs and bad contact. It winds up too low to draw either of those too often though. It also has found the middle of the zone too much this year. Even great curveballs can get hit when they’re left hanging like that. This is obviously unfortunate as from a stuff perspective this pitch is really good.


The Slider

A new pitch for Brown this year, his slider is theoretically pretty good. It’s a hard, tight-breaking ball at 88.6 mph with 3.4” of iVB and 4.2” of HB. This is a solid shape for a slider, especially from Brown’s release. Minimizing vertical movement on a hard-thrown slider can be a difficult thing for pitchers who release the ball high. Brown doesn’t have this problem. He does, however, have a different one.

What on paper looks like an excellent secondary suffers from both a physical and strategic problem. It might be too similar to his cutter. There’s some blending there because they’re only 3 mph and 4” of iVB apart. That’s not ideal, it can lead to the slider becoming easier to hit as hitters are seeing something that’s thrown harder with similar movement, and the ones that fall in between the two will suffer this the most. Also, he throws it with what I assume is about the same mindset as his cutter. The pitch plot for his slider is pretty reminiscent of his cutter’s, just shifted down a bit. That is also not helping the “too similar” problem.

These pitches either need to be distinct, or the lesser of the two needs to go. If he needs to take a little more off of it to get more gyro spin or depth or horizontal movement or anything different and it dips to 86 mph, that’s fine. it would give it more separation from the cutter as well as potentially a superior shape. This pitch would be fine in most other pitchers’ arsenals. Unfortunately for Brown, one of his better secondaries makes this one redundant at times. He’s put it on the back burner in the last month or so, potentially because he’s already figured this out. There are a lot of directions he could go with this pitch. He clearly has the aptitude for a good slider. He just needs to find the right one for him.

The Sinker

A pitch he only started using in May, Brown’s sinker does not have a good shape. 14.2” of iVB and 12.6” of HB at 94.8 mph from his release height is well below ideal for a fastball. And yet… I like this pitch. He throws it almost exclusively to right-handed hitters, and he’s shown an impressive ability to run it inside and tie them up with it. It spins on almost the same axis as his 4-seam, but the extra 9” of run means what looks like a belt-high fastball that’s perfect to turn on has suddenly broken in and shattered your bat.

This pitch works exclusively because of how it fits in his arsenal. He should not use it in any way other than how he has been. Don’t try for called strikes, this pitch lives outside of the zone only. In its hyper-specific role, however, it serves as a pitch he can use to catch righties off guard and end at-bats.

The Outlook

What to do with a pitcher who has a bevy of tools at his disposal but has had bad luck and issues making the most of what he has? Wait, mostly. Most of Brown’s issues come from locating his pitches poorly or having bad luck with them. There’s not a lot to change outside of sharpening his command that I haven’t already covered.

In the interest of trying to suggest something new for him, I could point out that he’s run reverse splits in his MLB career. His arsenal is very lefty-focused, and he could use something else to beat righties. He messed around with a sweeper for a bit last year but it hasn’t shown up this year. Unsurprisingly, he struggled to locate that pitch. I wouldn’t mind seeing him try again though, it could be the true put-away pitch against righties he doesn’t really have right now.

Another potential fix for the slider would be to make it more platoon-specific. Throw fewer cutters to righties and fewer sliders to lefties. Don’t give them the chance to blend because the same hitter won’t be seeing the two different pitches anyway. His slider is a good pitch as is, it just isn’t performing like it. Maybe significantly modifying the pitch itself would be too drastic. He also hasn’t thrown very many of them, I might be overreacting to how it’s fared so far. I believe my concerns about it blending with his cutter are valid, but the results may be overblown in the small sample.

It might sound simple, but all that’s left is for Brown to clean it up and wait for his luck to change. This is a good, if imperfect, pitcher. Even if his command ultimately holds him back from being an ace, the results he’s had are not who he is. He’s got some flaws but I don’t believe they’re enough to write him off. His recent performances should inspire some hope that he can turn it around and be something like the guy everyone envisioned he’d be.

Jack Foley

Jack is a contributor at Pitcher List who enjoys newfangled baseball numbers, coffee, and watching dogs walk by from the window where he works. He has spent far too much time on the nickname page of Baseball-Reference.

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