Pittsburgh Pirates: Takeaways From Chase De Jong’s First Start

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30: Chase De Jong #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the second inning during the game against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park on May 30, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30: Chase De Jong #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the second inning during the game against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park on May 30, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Chase De Jong made his 2021 debut on Sunday afternoon. But what are some things we can take away from his great outing?

The Pittsburgh Pirates called up right-hander Chase De Jong to make the start for the Pirates on Sunday afternoon. Although the Pirates were dealt the loss from an uncharacteristically poor bullpen performance, De Jong looked impressive in his first start as a Buco.

Through 5 innings, De Jong allowed just a single run. He allowed 5 batters to reach base (granted, one of his two walks was intentional) while striking out 5. He held them to just 3 hits and looked really dominant out on the mound.

So what are some takeaways we can get from his 2021 debut?

The first and biggest thing I noticed is that he’s had a huge uptick in spin rate. De Jong started to see his fastball RPM rising in 2020 with the Houston Astros. He went from about 2200-2300 RPM in 2017-2019 to just below 2400 last year. However, his four-seamer averaged out at 2523 RPM. This would put him in right around the top 88th percentile in fastball spin rate. He doesn’t throw all that hard and lost 0.9 MPH off of his fastball compared to 2020.

Despite losing a tick of velocity over the past year, it’s still a massive improvement from when he originally came up. In De Jong’s first career start with the Seattle Mariners in 2017, he didn’t even top out at 92 MPH. He was able to reach 95 MPH in his first outing with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not only has his fastball seen an increase in spin rate, but his curveball has seen an even greater spike. De Jong, like with his fastball, saw about a 350 RPM increase from 2019 to 2020. It sat right around 2300 before last year, but then reached 2583 RPM in 2020. However, he’s taken it a step further. He averaged 2793 RPM while still keeping the same velocity. He usually sits around 77 MPH. Overall, he would rank around the top 80th-83rd percentile in curveball spin rate. He’s about on par with notable names like Yu Darvish, Jameson Taillon, and Rich Hill.

His third offering, his slider, also has had an increase in spin rate. It sat at around 2300 RPM the last two seasons. But he averaged out at 2593 RPM in his first start. His velocity has also seen a massive increase over the past 2 years. He was tossing his slider at about 85 MPH in his first outing as a Pirate, but he previously only averaged around 80-82 MPH in 2017-2019.

De Jong only used three pitches in his start. He used his four-seam fastball 62.2% of the time, his curveball 28% of the time, and his slider 9.8% of the time. De Jong used to throw a change-up but has seemed to drop it.

Next. Bucs Swept by Royals. dark

De Jong looks like he’s focusing on refining a few of his offerings, rather than using a larger arsenal of pitches that may not all be effective. Just based on his first outing, it looks like it may work. He’s throwing harder than in previous seasons, and with more spin. He could end up being a nice diamond-in-the-rough find by Ben Cherington, and potentially develop into a pretty solid #5 starter, or swingman type arm.