Statcast: Heston never threatened in no-hitter
Mets averaged just 85.27 mph exit velocity against Giants rookie
Usually, when there's a no-hitter or perfect game thrown in the big leagues, there's at least one stellar defensive play that stands out, some late-inning gem to preserve history. Think of Steven Souza backing up Jordan Zimmermann last September, or DeWayne Wise's incredible catch to pick up Mark Buehrle in 2009.
There's perhaps no better way to explain just how effective Chris Heston was in throwing his own no-hitter in Tuesday night's 5-0 win over the Mets than to realize that nothing like that ever really came close to happening. The Mets struck out 11 times, and when they did put the ball in play they averaged just 85.27 mph in exit velocity, per Statcast™. Not once did a Mets batted ball top 100 mph. It's not that Heston's defense wasn't there when he needed it to be; it's that he rarely needed it to be.
To put that 85.27 mph number in perspective, it's only ever-so-slightly higher than what Dallas Keuchel is averaging this year, and while one game is hardly a full season, you begin to get the idea. Heston either didn't allow contact at all or didn't allow hard contact when he did, and he got lucky enough that all 12 of his ground ball outs happened to be right at a fielder. This was also the third straight game in which Heston did not allow a two-strike hit, with opponents going 0-for-37 in that stretch. It's a difficult combination to beat, from perhaps the unlikeliest of sources.
No, really: Heston was once designated for assignment, back in 2013 when the Giants wanted to add Jeff Francoeur, and went through the process unclaimed. He'd made only one start prior to the season, and even that needs to be asterisked by saying it came in Game 162 of 2014, with the Wild Card already sewn up. He wasn't supposed to begin 2015 in the rotation either, getting inserted only when Matt Cain was unable to stay healthy. It's not that he was never productive -- he was the 2012 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, after all -- it's just that righties who don't light up radar guns don't tend to climb up prospect lists.
Make no mistake about that last part: Heston's historic moment wasn't about pure speed. Entering Tuesday night, his fastball had not reached 93 mph all year, and only 1.3 percent of all of his pitches this season had made it to 92 mph. But that's not his game, and we saw against the Mets how he can make that decent-but-not-great velocity work in his favor.
Heston's first pitch of the game, a called strike to Curtis Granderson, left his right hand at 89.64 mph. His final one, a called strike to Ruben Tejada, came at 90.98 mph. But the perceived velocity for Granderson -- that's how fast it seems to the hitter based on the pitcher's extension off the mound at the time of release -- was 90.51 mph. To Tejada, it was 91.98. The 6-foot-4 Heston adds an average of 1.35 mph to his two-seamer every time he lets it go, thanks to an average extension of 6.66 feet.
It may seem like that's obvious, that every pitcher adds something by releasing it at some point in front of the mound, but in practice, that's not the case. Matt Harvey, for example, loses a half-mph on his fastball. Johnny Cueto is down 1.07 mph from the point of release. It's all about timing, about fooling the hitter's eye into not expecting what's coming, and that's how Heston succeeded -- in addition, of course, to the excellent movement his curveball showed all night.
On a night where Max Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka, and Noah Syndergaard all took the mound in New York, you figured maybe you'd see some history. You just didn't expect it to be from Heston, the 27-year-old soft-tossing rookie. Baseball's great that way. Especially if you're Heston.