5 Phillies pitches we can't wait to see in 2024

The Phillies’ 2023 season didn’t end the way they wanted, but however you choose to place blame, steer clear of the pitching staff. They had a collective postseason ERA of 2.20, the lowest for any team with at least 75 innings pitched in the last 25 seasons.

The staff got the job done in large part thanks to some dominant weapons in the arsenal of their pitchers. Pitches that range from dominant to downright unhittable. As we close in on the start of the new season, we take a look at five pitches from Phillies pitchers that we can’t wait to see again.

Orion Kerkering’s sweeper

Phillies fans only got a taste of this pitch last September and October, but they are very hungry for more. While the 22-year-old is still an unpolished rookie, his sweeper is as close to a unicorn as you will find in baseball.

Kerkering’s sweeper features 18.6 inches of horizontal movement, more than virtually any in the game in 2023. What makes it unique is that Kerkering brings the pitch at an average of 86 mph, fourth-hardest in the game, according to Baseball Savant. Coupling that demon sweeper with a sinking fastball could be a real problem with a little coaching.

Zack Wheeler’s 4-seamer

The hallmark of the Phillies ace, the ol’ Number One. Wheeler has many different pitches in his quiver, but leans hard on the 4-seamer, throwing it 43.4% of the time in 2023.

Wheeler’s 4-seamer isn’t overpowering – his average velocity of 94.7 mph is only in the 77th percentile among MLB pitchers – but his location with the pitch is the reason for its effectiveness, as the world showed on display the last two Octobers.

Among qualified MLB starters, Wheeler’s 4-seamer ranks in the top five in opponent’s batting average (.199), slugging percentage (.333), swing-and-miss % (31.4), and put away % (23.7). He will turn 34 years old in May, but his consistency has been remarkable. His fastball velo in 2018: 94.6. In 2023: 94.7.

Jose Alvarado’s cutter

Similar to Kerkering, Alvarado uses just two pitches, and also similarly, one of Alvarado’s pitches is a blinding fastball approaching 100 mph. Alvarado’s secondary pitch is a cutter, among the hardest in the game, coming in at an average of 93.1 mph.

They call it a cutter, but it seems to have the shape almost of a slider. As hard as he throws it, it has 25 inches of drop. Does that sound like a pitch that’s tough to square up? Alvarado’s swing-and-miss % on his cutter is 44.5, second-best in baseball, and that percentage actually went down in 2023, from 55.7% in 2022.

78 plate appearances against Alvarado ended with a cutter. 41 were strikeouts (52.6%), the best percentage in the game. He’s a big reason the late innings are in good hands.

Aaron Nola’s curveball

Compared with recent years, Nola didn’t have a great 2023 season. His ERA in 2023 (4.46) was more than a run higher than 2022. But Nola managed his fifth 200-strikeout season thanks in large part to his curveball. The pitch itself, like Nola in 2023, was very hit-and-miss, or rather, miss-and-hit: he allowed 12 home runs on curveballs, but also generated 79 of his 202 strikeouts with the deuce.

When his curve is truly biting and he locates it well, as he did in 2022, it’s a nightmare for hitters. He generated a 39.4 swing-and-miss percentage, and just a .286 xSLG (expected slugging percentage). Aside from his location issues – Nola needs to be inch-perfect with his pitches due to a lack of dominant velocity – perhaps he leaned on the curve too much last season (31.6% of the time, up from 26.5% in 2022).

Ranger Suarez’s curveball

The mystique behind Ranger’s curveball is that he doesn’t use it that often. It comes in like a balloon – about 75 mph compared with his 93 mph 4-seamer – but he is able to sneak it by using the element of surprise. He only throws it 19.5% of the time, and as a result, it was one of the most effective curves in baseball in 2023.

Hitters had just a .143 average off Suarez’s curve last season, 9th-best in MLB, with a .226 slugging percentage (12th). They managed just three extra-base hits in 88 plate appearances that ended with the curve. He actually went to his curve far more in 2023 than 2022, throwing it less than 8% of the time two seasons ago. Perhaps hitters were sitting on his fastballs, as both the 4-seamer (.304 opponents’ BA) and his sinker (.289) were below league average.

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