The 5 Best Fastballs of 2023

The pitchers with the 5 best fastballs in baseball last year.

What’s up, everybody!

I’m in the midst of releasing my annual pitch review series where I take a look back at the five best pitches of each pitch type from 2023, as ranked by PLV! Today, I’m taking a look at the five best fastballs from last year.

If you’d like a closer look at what this series is about, check out the first article in the series on the five best changeups of 2023. Also, check out my other articles in the series:

And if you’d like an in-depth primer on what PLV is and how it works, check it out here.

Anyway, let’s dive into the five best fastballs of 2023!


5. Ryan Helsley



If you’ve ever watched Ryan Helsley pitch, it should be no shock that he’d be on a list of the best fastballs in the league—his is electric.

Coming in at 99.7 MPH on average, Helsley gets elite induced vertical break on the pitch at 17.7 inches, comes in with a great height-adjusted vertical approach angle at 1.4 degrees, and gets some really good extension at 6.7 feet. That’s like, just about everything you want to see in a fastball.

Surprisingly though, given the VAA and iVB Helsley gets, he doesn’t locate the fastball up in the zone as much as I’d expect, with just a 42.2% hiLoc last year, which is pretty low for a fastball. I’m not one to question what’s working (and things have been working very well for Helsley the past couple of years), but I do wonder how well he’d perform if he kept his fastball up to complement the slider and curveball.

But I mean, the guy likes keeping his fastball low and posted a 1.25 ERA in 2022 and a 2.45 ERA last year with a 39.3% and 35.6% strikeout rate in each of those years, respectively, so who am I to question his approach?


4. Bryce Miller



Our first season seeing Bryce Miller in the rotation for the Mariners led to some interesting results. It wasn’t the best year—a 4.32 ERA with a 4.44 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 25 starts—but Miller showed some flashes of brilliance too. His 22.2% strikeout rate is decent, but what’s really impressive is his 4.8% walk rate, good for 92nd percentile in the league.

Miller makes his money with this fastball. It comes in around 95 MPH on average with good VAA and elite iVB (17.9 inches, good for 93rd percentile in the league). He typically locates the pitch high and gloveside and what’s really impressive about it is how well it works as a swing-and-miss pitch.

You read that right—Miller’s fastball last year posted a 35.8% chase rate and a 15.5% swinging-strike rate. That’s kind of ridiculous for a fastball, you don’t usually see those kinds of numbers. Plus, Miller rarely made a mistake with the pitch, with just a 3.3% mistake rate, well below league average.

But one pitch does not a great pitcher make, and there are definitely reasons to be concerned about Miller. Here’s one—his fastball, slider, and sweeper (aka over 80% of the pitches he threw last year) all had ICRs higher than 40%. That’s…not good. And on top of that, neither the slider nor the sweeper were especially good out pitches.

Miller basically lives and dies with this fastball, and yeah, it’s an awesome pitch, but having just one awesome pitch and a bunch of other mediocre-to-bad pitches makes me a bit nervous.


3. Spencer Strider



It’s Spencer Strider, what is there to say except that he’s incredible?

But sure, let’s dive into the numbers: Strider’s fastball is his most-thrown pitch and it’s sick. It comes in around 97 MPH on average with great VAA, elite iVB (17.4 inches), and great extension. It’s everything you want in a fastball and more, and similar to Helsley, it was a pretty good swing-and-miss pitch too, posting a 30% chase rate and 15.6% swinging-strike rate last year.

Now, if there’s one place you want to be concerned, it’s that Strider’s fastball also had a 41.9% ICR, which isn’t great and likely helped him get to a 3.86 ERA last year rather than another sub-3.00 ERA year.

But here’s the thing with Strider—even if the ERA isn’t the best in the league, the man is going to get strikeouts thanks to not only this fastball but his slider, which had a ridiculous 45.2% chase rate, 29.2% swinging-strike rate, and 42.1% CSW last year. Those are some absolutely absurd numbers.

So yeah, maybe his ERA is in the mid-3.00s or so this year, but the guy strikes batters out like you wouldn’t believe, and there’s a strong argument to be made that he’s the best pitcher in baseball.


2. Emilio Pagán



It’s been seven years of baseball for Emilio Pagán and there have been a lot of ups and downs (mostly downs), but last year for the Twins, Pagán turned in a top-quality season, the best he’s had since 2019 with the Rays, posting a 2.99 ERA over 69.1 innings out of the bullpen.

This fastball is a big reason why Pagán was effective on the mound. Last year, he threw the pitch 55% of the time coming in at 95.7 MPH on average with good extension, great VAA, and great iVB, and it worked really well. Surprisingly enough, it was a good swing-and-miss pitch, with a 32% chase rate and 14.1% swinging-strike rate, which is higher than you typically see with fastballs.

Hitters only had a .264 wOBA against the pitch but if you’re the type to look for something to be nervous about, hitters also had a 46.3% ICR against the pitch, which is quite high and suggests that maybe some of those numbers might get worse.

Aside from his fastball, Pagán also threw a cutter around a third of the time which worked pretty well. It came in around 88 MPH on average with good horizontal break and was a pitch he liked to locate low and away to righties, almost like you would locate a slider.

Pagán also had a splitter that did relatively well and reintroduced his curveball last year, which he hadn’t thrown in a while, though it wasn’t a pitch he threw all that much.

Mainly it’s a fastball/cutter approach for Pagán with that cutter acting almost like a slider and peppering in a splitter here and there, we’ll see if he can bring down some of those contact numbers and put in another solid year out of the bullpen.


1. Alex Vesia



Now that’s probably not the name you were expecting to see at the top of the list, but Alex Vesia had quite the fastball last year.

Vesia, if you’re not familiar, worked as a lefty middle reliever out of the bullpen for the Dodgers last year, and while he was awesome in 2021 and 2022, turning in sub-3.00 ERA seasons, last year was a rough one, with a 4.35 ERA over 49.2 innings (though a 29.5% strikeout rate is nice).

There’s reason to believe Vesia had some bad luck last year, as his 3.66 FIP and 3.78 xERA will suggest, as will his very elevated .354 BABIP. The guy got knocked around a bit here and there, but that doesn’t take away from the nasty fastball he was throwing last year.

The pitch only comes in at 94.3 MPH on average, but Vesia makes up for that lack of velocity by giving it a good amount of spin, a really solid VAA, and a metric ton of iVB. Specifically 18.7 inches of iVB, good for 96th percentile in the majors. And on top of that, Vesia located the fastball up in the zone a bunch with a 61.5% hiLoc last year, which I love to see.

As a result, Vesia’s fastball was straight up a swing-and-miss fastball. It had a 34.5% chase rate, 15.5% swinging-strike rate, and a 30.9% CSW, which are all very high for a fastball. He also virtually never made mistakes with the pitch, featuring a minuscule 1% mistake rate, good for 98th percentile.

Now like I said, he did get knocked around a little bit. Opposing hitters had a .271 average and .324 wOBA against the pitch, neither of which are bad numbers by any stretch, but they’re not elite either. Opposing hitters also had a 39% ICR against the pitch, which all things considered, isn’t too bad. But the pitch got BABIP’d around a bit, which I think inflates some of the numbers.

Vesia’s other main pitch is his slider, which comes in around 86 MPH on average with some decent movement. Vesia tends to locate it down and glove-side, making it a backfoot slider to righties and a slider breaking off the plate to lefties.

It didn’t quite have the swing-and-miss numbers you’d like to see, just a 25.9% chase rate and a 15% swinging-strike rate, but Vesia didn’t really use it as a putaway pitch, more frequently throwing it early in counts. However, the 48.5% ICR against the pitch is very bad and that certainly didn’t help.

Vesia was basically a one-note tune last year—an awesome fastball—but that one note sure was pretty.

Feature image by Michael Packard (@artbymikep on Twitter) / Photo by David J. Griffin & Mark LoMoglio / Icon Sportswire

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan, also a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music, watch way too many movies, and collect way too many records.

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