Justin Steele has a special Arsenal on the field

© Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to present a play in two parts:

Law 1:

Law 2:

On the first pitch of his debut against Velez on July 22, Justin Steel Throw in a fastball with four seams. Kyle Schwarber Fire the pitch immediately into the correct stands. It was Steele’s first out of the field this year, which kept him from getting any closer to the landmark Alex Fast posted on Twitter just hours earlier. Schwarber aside, the fact that Steele managed to hit 17 poles without letting him walk out of the four-tailor house was an impressive feat, and it’s a big reason why he’s one of the best starters in Cubs this year.

In 2014, Steele was steadily working his way through the Chicago ranch system before injuring his elbow in 17, a fifth-round draft in the trailing hole. He came back from Tommy John’s surgery in less than a year and was a potential fifth rank on the Cubs Pre-season predictions list 2018 Likely 45 FV. But a string of minor injuries derailed his rise in 2019 – he started just 11 times in Double-A that year – and lost another year of development to the pandemic (he was already called up to the big leagues from the alternate position for a short time during the shortened season). But it never showed up.) By last year, injuries and Steele’s lack of a solid third or fourth floor had brought him down to 25th place over the Cubs. Pre-season list (and in the 40 FV layer) with a profile of the left center attenuator.

He finally made his league debut in April 2021, knocking out the Cubs. He was outstanding in the role, allowing only four runs in 11 appearances and 13.1 innings. Steele hit 37.5% of the hits he faced and generated a ground ball average of over 70%. He injured his hamstring in late May, and when he was ready for a rehab job, the Cubs decided to extend him to see if he could handle the rookie workload. He came back from the palace in August and made nine starts down the stretch, posting a 4.95 ERA and an ugly 5.99 FIP. His hit rate decreased, his gait rate swelled, and he had a real problem keeping the ball in the garden.

It was a very different story for Steele this year. He made 23 starts, cutting his ERA by more than runs and FIP by more than two, all the way to 3.25 and 3.11 respectively. And his recent success has been particularly impressive. He allowed six runs to score in his start in Pittsburgh on June 23, but since then, he’s put in a 1.47 ERA and 2.47 Fip in nine starts. His strike rate hasn’t bounced back to what it was when he was working for shorter periods at the bulls, but he’s been good enough and is getting better as the season goes on (up to 28.9% during that hot streak). The biggest reason for his newfound success was his ability to better manage contact against him, relying heavily on his unique speedball.

Steel heater does not stand out by any modern standards which tend to attract the most attention these days. It throws it at a speed below average, it doesn’t have all that much of a load, and it’s not particularly effective at turning. But I suspect that because he didn’t quite fit the mold of powerful fastballs, Steele found a niche that he was able to exploit. Here is a look at the physical properties of the playground:

Justin Steele, Fastball Characteristics

velocity V Move H Move VAA HAA
92.1 19.2 1.5 -0.56 +0.83
rotation rate active rotation The axis of rotation rotation deflection
2485 61% 11:30 45

As I mentioned above, the playing field doesn’t have a lot of backspin, which makes a nice impression of a modern fastball game. Despite having an above-average amount of raw spin, active pitch spin is among the lowest thrown in the four spins. Not only is Steele inefficient at backspinning the pitch, but it also has a phenomenal amount of gyroscopic spin, giving it an element of spin-based deception. In practice, this means that the playing field is interfering with the right hitter with almost no break in the side of the arm. With a high firing point, the pitch moves towards the board with a low vertical approach angle and a very high horizontal approach angle; It’s almost a heavy/cutter hybrid.

Using Alex Chamberlain Pitch CompI’ve pulled out a few left-handed shooters who throw fast balls similar to Steel balls:

Justin Steele, Fastball Comps

player velocity V Move H Move rotation rate active rotation rotation deflection VAA HAA Comp Points
Justin Steel 92.2 19.2 1.5 2485 61% 45 -0.56 +0.83
Tanner Banks 92.8 15.5 1.9 2256 81% 30 -0.48 +0.96 15th
Julio Urreas 93.1 14.9 2.6 2531 75% 30 +0.02 +0.11 19
Clayton Kershaw 90.7 14.9 0.7 2416 86% 15th -0.17 +0.24 20
Madison Baumgarner (cutter) 87.5 27.5 2.8 2288 50% 60 +0.20 +0.79 21
Max Fried 94.1 18.4 2.0 2142 74% 30 -0.47 -0.24 22
Tyler Anderson (cutter) 85.5 27.5 2.5 2408 51% 60 +0.01 +0.14 22
Tyler Matsik 94.3 13.2 3.8 2410 86% 15th -0.17 +0.08 23

It’s never a bad thing when Clayton Kershaw appears on the roster, even though Kershaw hasn’t relied heavily on Fastball for years. However, this list is full of shooters who have distinctive fast balls which are not necessarily their highlight. It also tells that there are two incisors appearing in the list, lending more credence to the submersible/cutter hybrid theory.

From a results standpoint, I suspect that the uncommon motion coil helps Steele manage the amount of tough contact he allows to get the heater out. The wOBA expected on off-court contact sits well below the league average for the field type and is able to create a lot of contact with the ball with it despite being regularly positioned in the area. Friction with a strong, fast ride ball usually results in high contact, and often lazy pops or flying balls if executed correctly. Competing hitters have a tough time squaring Steele’s fast ball, and they roll on it often.

Looking back at the list of ballpark companies, Steele’s fastball doesn’t seem to beat the very limited sample I pulled:

Justin Steele, Fastball Comps, results

player whiff% %CSW GB% xwOBAcon
Justin Steel 19.6% 26.9% 55.4% 0.340
Tanner Banks 20.6% 31.3% 41.7% 0.383
Julio Urreas 24.0% 29.8% 35.2% 0.312
Clayton Kershaw 7.1% 29.2% 43.6% 0.317
Max Fried 14.8% 21.8% 49.1% 0.334
Madison Baumgarner (Cutter) 16.3% 23.4% 41.1% 0.415
Tyler Anderson (Cutter) 19.8% 24.7% 42.0% 0.327
Tyler Matsik 25.5% 26.6% 35.2% 0.358
Sample mean 18.5% 26.7% 42.9% 0.348
League average (four stitches) 21.6% 27.8% 33.9% 0.387

This sample of fast balls (and breakers) produces abnormal pitch-type results. Instead of the usual fast ball swinging and failing, these pitches are more likely to result in poor contact. Steele’s results for his heater are quite in line with the sample average, with his Elite Globe Rate being the only metric that really stands above the rest. The whiff rate doesn’t stand out much, sitting just below the league average for four tailors.

Steele doesn’t need his Fastball to be on the court because his slider has been such an exceptional weapon for him. Hitters hit 32.5% of the time against the field, and that mark jumps as much as 43.8% against left-handed hitters. It’s a big reason why he’s hit more than 30% of lefties he’s encountered this season. The key to his success in breaking the ball? It’s a sweep of course. Its slider has both vertical and horizontal movement that is in the top 10% of all sliders thrown at least 100 times this year. With a lot of spin deflection which imparts variable wake up effects on the playing field, its physical properties are very close to Dodgers sweeper which was circulated last year. Julio Urías and Kershaw tossed a copy of that big smash ball and both appear near the top of the pitch’s fixture list above. Their ammunition simulation and approach should serve Steele well.

This is an example of a steel slider against Naughty Tellez On August 21:

During this last string of strong starts, Steele also tended to these two pitches so he’d be close to throwing the pitch:

Using his slider more often while managing serious contact with his Fastball was a recipe for success. He hits more hits, swipes and barrel rates are down, all the while keeping his ball rate above 50%.

The effectiveness of these two stadiums helped Steele get off the ground this season. However, maintaining this success will be the great challenge. Without a strong third display, he’s prone to suffering when facing a lineup multiple times. His slider has allowed him to keep left-handed strikers at bay, but developing an acceptable change could help him take on the right-wingers, although he’s not splitting a large platoon this season. For now, his two-pitch approach works – and he’s been successful with Kershaw for most of his career. With such distinctive pitches making up his repertoire, it is possible that Steele could once again conquer tradition and thrive on his unique swipe scroller.

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