Before the draft began, there was a lot of talk about the shape of Paul Skenes’ fastball. Specifically, was the No. 1 overall pick’s heater—which sits in the upper 90s and regularly reaches triple-digits—a “dead-zone” fastball?
For those unfamiliar, a dead-zone fastball is one that has equal amounts of induced vertical and horizontal break. Typically, pitches with that movement profile do not perform as well as other fastballs with more defined four-seam or sinker shapes.
The criticism is valid, but it shouldn’t be seen as an absolute indictment of the pitch as a whole. After all, there are plenty of other factors that make a fastball valuable. Skenes’ velocity is elite, and he delivers his pitches out of a unique release point.
Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Tiedemann has a dead-zone fastball, and he’s been incredibly successful as a pro. Both Skenes and Tiedemann have second and third pitches that border on elite.
Skenes’ slider has an outlier combination of velocity and movement and grades out as a plus-plus pitch on Stuff+ models. That includes BA’s internal model, which gives the pitch a 137. Our model also grades the new Pirates prospect’s fastball as a 127, which reinforces the idea that other variables—velocity, release point, command—have thus far mitigated any deficiencies in shape.
Skenes’ changeup and curveball both grade out highly on the Stuff mode as well, whichl speaks to the quality of his overall arsenal.. While there’s some nits to pick, Skenes has been one of the most dominant college starters in history—in one of the most hitter-friendly college landscapes in recent memory—and his development under former Louisiana State pitching coach Wes Johnson is a testament both to his work ethic and coachability.
The proof will be in the pudding in professional ball, but Skenes has a variety of weapons that should make him an excellent choice at No. 1 overall.