Pittsburgh Pirates: How Wil Crowe Improved His Fastball in 2022

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

Wil Crowe had an improved 2022 season, even with his late-season struggles, but one thing he greatly refined was his four-seam fastball

In 2021, Wil Crowe struggled in his first extended look in the big leagues. The Pittsburgh Pirates primarily utilized him as a starting pitcher; however going into 2022, the Bucs moved the right-hander to the bullpen. Although Crowe ended the year on a sour note, he had a fantastic April-July. One of the major improvements Crowe made was with his four-seam fastball.

In 2021, Crowe’s fastball was by far the worst pitch in his arsenal. He used it 34.9% of the time, and batters demolished it. Crowe’s four-seamer averaged out with a .328 average against, a .597 slugging percentage, and a .464 wOBA. For reference, Aaron Judge didn’t even have a .460+ wOBA last year when he broke the American League home run record. With -16 run value, it was the 5th least valuable offering in baseball.

Fast forward to 2022, and Crowe’s fastball was his best offering. This time around, opponents had a .178 average and slugging percentage and a wOBA of just .245. This meant Crowe didn’t allow a single extra-base hit with his fastball. After squaring up his fastball at a 40.4% rate in 2021, he only allowed a hard-hit ball at a 27.3% rate. Overall, he had a -4 RV and -1.9 RV/100. So what changed between 2021 and 2022?

When looking at the difference between his fastball’s metrics, nothing stands out. He kept about the same active spin rate, and his total spin rate increased by less than 100 rotations per minute. He did increase his fastball velocity from 93.7 MPH to 95.1 MPH, but not only is that a small uptick, but typical for someone going from the rotation to the bullpen. Even the spin direction stayed mostly the same, and he didn’t all of a sudden add another half-a-foot of break.

But the main reason is that Crowe started to locate his fastball differently. His 2021 heat map shows he mostly sat middle-middle or middle-right with his fastball. That’s not the most ideal spot to be locating your fastball, especially when it doesn’t have absurd speed or spin. But in 2022, he was locating more on the right side of the dish and up-and-right. The slight uptick in velocity and spin rate is common for a pitcher going from the rotation to the bullpen, but locating it further up in the zone helps him take advantage of his above-average velocity/spin. Fastballs with a plus spin rate thrown up in the zone give it the ‘rising fastball’ illusion.

Another thing he did was use his fastball more often against left-handed hitters with a 60% usage rate. Last season, it was about a 55/45 split between left-handed and right-handed hitters who saw Crowe’s fastball. Crowe started to incorporate his sinker more against righty batters, using it about 80% of the time against those kinds of hitters (compared to just 67.5% last year).

Crowe will be looking to rebound after an ugly August-September last season. But he looked like a new pitcher overall. How Crowe performs could depend on how he is utilized, but he did make some decent improvements last year. Hopefully, he can continue to improve in 2023.

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