What does Skenes have in store in third career game?

May 23rd, 2024

Baseball fans can rejoice, it’s almost that time of the week again: Skenes Time! Reigning No. 1 overall Draft pick was one of the most highly anticipated players to arrive to MLB in the sport’s history, and to say he’s lived up to the hype would be an understatement, particularly when considering his six-inning, no-hit outing in his second career start.

What does the 21-year-old ace have in store for his third start? Here are six things to watch for as Skenes faces the Giants at PNC Park today. (For viewers outside of Pittsburgh, it will be available on MLB Network and MLB.TV. Tickets can be purchased at this link.)

An encore to history

Skenes’ most recent outing was nothing short of historic. Among other nuggets, he set a franchise record by striking out the first seven batters he faced, he became the second player to throw six or more scoreless innings in an MLB game within a calendar year of being drafted No. 1 overall (David Clyde, 1973), and he became the only pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to have an outing of six or more innings with at least 10 strikeouts and no hits allowed in his first or second career appearance.

What will come next? There are a few milestones that could be within reach. If he throws six-plus scoreless innings again, he’ll be the first player to do so in consecutive games at age 21 or younger since Eury Pérez did so a year ago. If he manages to do that while also recording double-digit strikeouts, he’ll be the first player at age 21 or younger to have two straight such games since Ed Correa in 1986.

Too much heat

Win or lose, we can rest assured that the ball will be coming out of Skenes’ hand with some power. Across MLB this season, there have been three instances of a starting pitcher throwing at least 12 pitches of 100-plus mph in a game. Two of those instances happen to be the only two MLB games of Skenes’ career thus far (with the other being Hunter Greene back on March 30). As a matter of fact, even though he’s only appeared in two games, Skenes remarkably leads all starting pitchers with 29 such pitches on the season.

As you’d consequently expect, Skenes blows all other starting pitchers out of the water when it comes to average fastball velocity, even ranking very highly when relievers are accounted for. Skenes’ average fastball (which includes four-seamers, sinkers and cutters) has traveled 99.7 mph in 2024, which is 1.4 mph ahead of any other starters, and ranks third among all players with at least 50 fastballs.

Highest average fastball velocity, 2024
Among 493 pitchers with 50 fastballs thrown

  • Mason Miller (OAK): 100.9 mph
  • Justin Martinez (AZ): 100.2 mph
  • Paul Skenes (PIT): 99.7 mph
  • Ryan Helsley (STL): 99.4 mph
  • Camilo Doval (SF): 99.0 mph

His devastating “splinker”

Skenes was already a dominant pitcher when he was winning College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors less than a year ago. But one of the ways he’s raised his game even more in the short time since has been the development of a new pitch.

Skenes isn’t the only MLB pitcher to make use of a “splinker” -- a hybrid between a splitter and sinker. But the velocity with which Skenes is able to use it makes him unique in how effective it can be. In an admittedly small sample size, opponents are 1-for-8 with three strikeouts against his “splinker” so far, giving him yet another dangerous tool in addition to his already established fastball. (It’s worth noting that the pitch, also notably thrown by the Twins' Jhoan Duran, is classified as a splitter.)

“We thought he'd get better over time, obviously, but to do that in a relatively short time is impressive,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington told MLB.com. “These things are not easy. These things he's trying to do are not easy. His pitches are different.”

Whiffs galore

With his combination of power and movement, it’s no surprise that hitters have struggled when swinging at Skenes’ stuff this season. The California native has an impressive 18 strikeouts in only 10 innings pitched this season, for a rate of 16.2 K/9 IP. That leads all pitchers with at least one start in 2024, as does his strikeout percentage of 46.2%. The record (since at least 1906) for K/9 IP across a player’s first three career games, with at least 15 innings in those games, is Stephen Strasburg’s 14.9 in 2010, putting Skenes in position to feasibly surpass that on Thursday.

Additionally, with 12 strikeouts, Skenes would join Strasburg as the only pitchers in the Modern Era to have at least 30 strikeouts across their first three games. With 10 strikeouts, Skenes would join Strasburg and Masahiro Tanaka (2014) as the only pitchers in the past 50 years to reach 28 strikeouts in their first three appearances.

From a Statcast perspective, Skenes has not had enough of a sample size to be considered a qualifying pitcher, but his chase rate of 34.8% would rank in the 92nd percentile of MLB if he did. On a similar note, opponents have whiffed on 38.3% of their swings against Skenes -- the highest rate for any starting pitcher with at least 50 pitches swung at.

Can he get the slider on track?

If there’s been anything to nitpick about Skenes’ performance thus far, it’s that his slider hasn’t performed at the level of his other two primary pitches. This season, opponents are 3-for-7 against Skenes’ slider, including a home run by the Cubs’ Nico Hoerner on May 11. In contrast, against all other pitches, opponents are a meager 3-for-28, for a .107 batting average.

But there’s certainly reason to expect that to turn around. MLB Pipeline has Skenes’ slider with a grade of 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. If that pitch becomes as dangerous as he and his teammates expect it to be, then there’s simply no ceiling on what Skenes can produce.

Youth on youth

Skenes won’t be the only intriguing young talent on the field on Thursday. With two starting outfielders and shortstop Nick Ahmed on the IL, young players like left fielder Heliot Ramos (24 years old), center fielder Luis Matos (22) and shortstop Marco Luciano (22) have been thrust into the Giants' starting lineup.

All three of those players made their MLB debuts in 2023, and all three have been improved so far this season, with each of them (along with 24-year-old catcher Patrick Bailey) holding an OPS north of .765 in 2024. Though Skenes is the name that will grab the most attention, the young offensive talent in the visiting dugout could turn this into an extremely enticing showdown.