A pitcher’s arsenal can be broken down into two simple halves: the fastball, commonly referred to as a breaking ball, and the changeup. No pitcher can make a living off of one or the other. SSG is, by definition, a changeup team, and the percentage of changeups has skyrocketed this year.
Last year, SSG’s four-seam fastball accounted for 41.6 percent of his total pitches, according to statistical site Statiz. If you include his sinker (a two-seam), which he’s been throwing in place of his four-seam lately, he’s at 50 percent. That was slightly below the league average (51.2%), but this year the ratio has dropped even further. This year, his combined four-seam and sinker rate is 47.8%. There is only one team in the league that values fastballs more than SSG, KIA.
Fastballs, including the four-seam, are the foundation of a pitcher’s game. Not only are they easy to throw for strikes, but they are also the foundation for other pitches. Some analysts have suggested that SSG’s abysmal strikeout rate this season is due to their overuse of changeups in key moments. The changeup is also used to throw outside the strike zone to induce a false swing. If you’re not fooled, it’s a ball. Frustrating moments for pitchers ensue.
SSG coach Kim Won-hyung attributed the drop in numbers to the high percentage of changeups in the starting lineup ahead of the team’s game against Hanwha in Daejeon on Aug. 8. Even though the starting rotation is limited, these players still account for more than half of the team’s total innings. The more changeup pitchers you have in your starting rotation, the higher the percentage of changeup pitches. That’s not to say that SSG is a group of pitchers with a lot of sinkers or two-seamers. It’s more of the same.
It goes along with Kim’s point that you need to throw the pitches you’re most confident in when it counts. It doesn’t really matter what your fastball percentage is as long as you’re performing well. But this year, he’s been struggling with his changeup, giving up walks and getting into a bad count. It’s no wonder fans are screaming “throw a fastball right down the middle, even if it’s hit”.
In other words, it’s a sign that not many SSG pitchers are confident in their fastball. If you’re confident in your fastball, even in a full-count game, you can go toe-to-toe with it. However, this year’s SSG has made it much harder to see this. Especially after the loss of Wilmer Font, who was the mainstay of this “scene” last year. However, there are a few younger players who are starting to take risks with their fastballs.
The hottest player in SSG’s bullpen right now is right-hander Lee Kun-wook (28). He’s too old to be considered young, but he was once one of SSG’s top pitching prospects. After a period of wasted talent due to frequent injuries, he has made a seamless transition to the bullpen this year and has been going strong. Through 7 days, he has pitched 31⅔ innings in 20 games this season with a 2.56 ERA.
Lee used to be a pitcher who averaged in the low-to-mid 140 mph range. However, even then, his fastball was rated as having good command. It had good vertical movement, which gave hitters the impression that it was coming in with power. It often hit the underside of the ball and became a fly ball. With biomechanics training, Lee has been able to increase his velocity to the mid-to-high 140s and throw a more powerful fastball.
He is now almost the only pitcher in the SSG bullpen who can throw the ball in the high zone to induce a swing and a miss. His four-seam fastball command is over 60 percent. “He’s the best player on the team in terms of fastball power,” Kim said, hinting at his future inclusion in the rotation. In the end, he turned around and succeeded in reentering the first team with his fastball.
High school rookie Lee, 19, is currently the fastest pitcher in the SSG bullpen. His fastball often tops out at over 150 kilometers per hour in games. It’s not quite as powerful as Lee’s, but it’s still a low-lying fastball that travels like a ballistic missile. In recent years, he’s been throwing more of his offspeed pitches, including a slider and changeup, but he still throws his fastball down the middle. He has the potential to be a 150-mph fireballer if he maximizes his spin rate.
Shin Heon-min, 21, a 2022 first-round pick (2nd overall), also shows promise with his fastball. He too can throw a 150-kilometer fastball left and right. This year, 67.6 percent of his pitches are for strikes. It is the highest in the SSG team. Against Hanwha on July 7, he got out of a jam in the ninth inning by throwing his fastball up to 150.4 kilometers (according to Trackman).
In particular, his combination of fastball and curveball in the first inning was amazing. He didn’t hesitate to throw his pitches in crunch time, most notably a fastball that got league MVP candidate Noh Si-hwan to ground out to second base with two outs. The last two pitches were fastballs, but Noh’s bat was too late. It was enough to give him hope. In the best-of-three series, the standout pitcher was Shin Shin-heon-min, who has a good fastball.안전놀이터
There are players who throw even faster pitches than these. Right-hander Seo Sang-jun (23), recently promoted to the first team, threw pitches up to 155+ kilometers in the second team. Although his pitches are the key, his fastball, which comes from a strong body, was noticed early on. He averaged a solid 150 kilometers, which is something the current SSG lacks.
Jo Yo-han (23), who is serving in the military, has one of the best velocities among the 10 clubs. Even when he throws lightly, the ball comes out in the mid-150km range. Fellow enlisted lefty Kim Taek-hyung (27) also has one of the best fastballs in the lefty bullpen. It will be interesting to see if they can rekindle SSG’s fastball hopes in the future.