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Chris Heston and the Mischaracterization of Stuff

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Just a quick note after catching a few minutes of today's KNBR morning show, against my better judgment. The jabber I heard revolved around Chris Heston, and the fact that he did very well but he's not a guy with great stuff. In other words, he doesn't throw very hard. "He's no Clayton Kershaw," one of the KNBR bro-hosts remarked.

That wasn't meant disparagingly, and he was right. In Kershaw's season debut, his fastball averaged 93.3 MPH. Heston's fastball averaged 90.9 MPH. But Heston has sink on his fastball and varies the speeds, from the high 80s to 93. The obsession that equates velocity with stuff is understandable, but only to a point. Good location and movement are really nice; good location and movement delivered with more velocity are better, sure. Put all three together, and you have Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, pre-2012 Tim Lincecum. 

But talking about Heston's velocity in that context is misleading. It's also unfair. Next time you hear someone say that Heston is a control guy, not a velocity guy, or that he doesn't have great stuff, say this: Do you know who else had the same average fastball velocity in his first start of 2015? Madison Bumgarner (91.0). Masahiro Tanaka (90.9). Chris Tillman (90.9). Zack Greinke (90.8). Jon Lester, he of the major off-season wooing, averaged 91.5 in his first start, really not much different than Heston. Quick caveat: Fangraphs' display of pitch velocity is a bit squirrely. It lists four-seam fastballs, two-seam fastballs, and sinkers; some pitchers have higher averages for their two-seamers/sinkers than their four-seamers, which is odd.

But the larger point is this: Last I checked, no one describes guys like Bumgarner or Greinke as lacking in stuff, or not having Kershaw-like velocity. That's because it doesn't really matter. They have a couple more MPH in their back pockets if needed, but their location and movement are good enough that they can use those extra ticks on the fastball judiciously.

Chris Heston is no Zack Greinke, but if he can keep throwing a hard sinker in the low 90s and use his off-speed stuff effectively, he can be a darn good major league pitcher this year.

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