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Pitch data backs Zack Burdi’s heat

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White Sox pitchers haven’t thrown triple-digit heat in years, but that should change shortly

Fox Sports KC broadcast

In 2016, six different White Sox pitchers threw at least one pitch at least 98 mph.

Nate Jones hit 98 or better with 97 of his fastballs, which was more than twice as many as Tommy Kahnle threw (48). Carlos Rodon was a distant third with 27, and Chris Sale was an even further fourth (three). Jacob Turner (with two!) and Jake Petricka (one) rounded out the group.

But 98 mph was just about the ceiling for the Sox, according to Baseball Savant. If you slide it up to 99 mph, only three pitchers qualify, and only with 13 pitches between them -- Jones (six), Kahnle (five) and Rodon (two).

And that’s where it ends, because the White Sox didn’t throw one 100-mph pitch in 2016.

That fact isn’t worthy of a post in and of itself. Otherwise, I’d be admitting that I was at least three years late in noticing something, and that’d be harmful to my #brand. The White Sox didn’t throw a 100 mph pitch in 2016, 2015 or 2014, either.

Basically, if you wanted to see a White Sox pitcher crack triple digits in the Savant/Statcast era, your options were pre-surgery Nate Jones and ... that’s it. Jones was good for 10 such fastballs in his rookie season of 2012, and 10 more as a sophomore. Then his back locked up and his elbow blew out, and he’s been topping out at a pedestrian 99 -- aka “Fool’s Hundo” -- ever since.

If Zack Burdi’s seventh inning against the Royals on Tuesday is any indication, this should change in fairly short order. My fellow Downers Grovian finally pitched a game in a stadium that tracks PITCHf/x data, and this is what new ground looks like.

Brooks Baseball

The lengthy preamble established that Jones is the White Sox’ standard-bearer for velocity with 10 100-mph pitches in a season. According to Brooks’ pitch-by-pitch data, Burdi threw nine 100-mph pitches in this outing alone, and in just 14* chances. Let’s count them.

  1. 100.06
  2. 100.61
  3. 100.48
  4. 99.22
  5. 100.27
  6. 100.60
  7. 98.65
  8. 97.97
  9. 98.63
  10. 98.65
  11. 100.34
  12. 100.59
  13. 100.43
  14. 100.99

(*Technically, Brooks says Burdi threw 16 fastballs, but it’s counting a pair of changeups that approached 92 mph.)

Burdi struck out the side in his inning of work. He fanned Drew Butera on three pitches to start the inning -- a nasty 100-100-slider sequence.

Then, with runners on the corners and one out, Burdi struck out Sal Perez and Humberto Arteaga. Perez swung at a slider in the other batter’s box, but Burdi’s third and final strikeout was on the aforementioned 100.99.

Alex Gordon showed Burdi the challenge better hitters will provide when he fought his way on base with a seven-pitch walk. Cheslor Cuthbert kinda did the same thing, although his single up the middle may have been a 4-6-3 double play ball outside of Arizona.

In other words, it was a pretty fair representation of Burdi’s spring overall. He now has 17 strikeouts over 12 innings, but he’s also allowed 19 baserunners (11 hits, seven walks, one HBP).

The control lapses will have to be ironed out, but they give the Sox a reason to send him to Charlotte while sifting through a bullpen that already teeming with experienced and/or out-of-options relievers (including Petricka, whose hand x-rays were negative). Further Statcast fun will likely be delayed for a month or more, but the Sox’ streak of years without a triple-digit pitch should depart shortly after whenever Burdi arrives.