Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier showing improved fastball velocity.
Is this a new and improved Ryan Brasier we saw last night? Or perhaps it was a glimpse of his previous form we thought was lost. The Boston Red Sox need some bullpen arms to step up to fill the void created by the relievers they traded away and the improved velocity on Brasier’s fastball suggests he’s ready for the challenge.
On the surface, it would appear that Brasier is having a miserable year. He was shelled for three runs in his first outing of the season and his ERA has never recovered. Brasier made his fifth consecutive appearance without allowing a run in Tuesday night’s victory over the Toronto Blue Jays to drop his ERA to an uninspiring 5.56 over 11 1/3 innings.
Extending his string of scoreless innings wasn’t quite as impressive as how he went about it. Brasier retired the eighth inning in order by pounding the Jays lineup with fastballs while mixing in a few sliders, his two most frequently used pitches.
The heat on his four-seam fastball was most encouraging. Brasier attacked the first batter he faced with five straight fastballs, each of which registered at least 97 mph, then finished by getting Santiago Espinal to chase one high and outside for strike three. The 32.1 Whiff% that he’s generated with his fastball this year is a career high and has enabled him to put away batters at a higher rate.
Brasier had entered the game averaging 95.6 mph on his four-seam fastball this season and he had topped out at 97 mph. His fastball averaged 97.7 mph last night. All nine four-seam fastballs that he threw in this game topped 97 mph and he was able to reach back to hit 98.1 mph on one of those pitches. Brasier had only hit 98+ mph three times in 2019 but he managed to do so twice in this game.
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Basier’s fastball doesn’t have much movement, with a barely above average 13.3 inches of vertical drop and slightly below average 7.0 inches of horizontal break. When his fastball is flat with mid-90s velocity it becomes a pitch that big league hitters will crush. Pumping up the velocity to the 97-98 mph range gives him a more dominant pitch that masks the lack of movement.
It’s no surprise that the best season of his career coincides with his highest fastball velocity. Brasier was the Cinderella story of 2018 when he posted a 1.60 ERA while emerging as a key cog in the bullpen during Boston’s championship run. He averaged a career-high 97 mph on his fastball that season.
Another aspect that was crucial to his 2018 success was his command. Brasier posted a strong 1.9 BB/9 rate that season but his control dissipated last year with his walk rate inflating to 3.4 BB/9. He currently owns a troubling 4.8 BB/9 this season but Brasier has allowed only one walk in his last four appearances, suggesting that he’s recovered from his shaky start.
Brasier appears to be a more confident pitcher in his recent appearances. Improved velocity and better command to increase strikeouts while limiting walks will do that to a pitcher’s psyche. A confident Brasier who can bring the heat while maintaining control is the type of weapon out of the bullpen the Red Sox had in 2018 and what they will need moving forward.