3 takeaways about Skenes' stuff from his debut

May 17th, 2024

If ' big league debut last weekend was any indication -- the seven strikeouts in four innings, the triple-digit heat, the wipeout secondary pitches -- there are some dominant games in the tank for baseball's top pitching prospect.

The Pirates' 21-year-old right-hander makes start No. 2 on Friday at 2:20 p.m. ET/1:20 CT against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. This is what to watch for after what we saw in start No. 1.

Here are three takeaways about Skenes and his stuff, using the Statcast data from his MLB debut.

1) He's going to hit 100. A lot.

Everyone came to see the 100 mph fastball. And Skenes didn't disappoint.

He reached triple digits 17 times in his debut -- the most 100-plus mph pitches thrown by any starting pitcher in a game this season -- including K's at 101.2 mph and 100.9 mph. Between the Majors and Minors this season, Skenes has now hit triple digits 10 or more times in six of his eight starts.

And he's going well over the 100 mph mark. Six of Skenes' pitches from his first MLB start were 101 mph or faster. He's the only starter to hit 101 at all in 2024.

Fastest pitches thrown by SP in 2024

  1. Paul Skenes: 101.9 mph, May 11
  2. Paul Skenes: 101.2 mph, May 11 (K)
  3. Paul Skenes: 101.2 mph, May 11
  4. Paul Skenes: 101.1 mph, May 11
  5. Paul Skenes: 101.1 mph, May 11
  6. Paul Skenes: 101.0 mph, May 11
  7. Paul Skenes: 100.9 mph, May 11 (K)
  8. Paul Skenes: 100.9 mph, May 11
  9. Paul Skenes: 100.9 mph, May 11
  10. José Soriano: 100.9 mph, April 16

The last time a starter threw a faster pitch than Skenes' 101.9 mph max velo was over a year ago. That was Mason Miller last April, when he was still in the A's rotation.

Over half the fastballs Skenes threw were over 100 mph, and he averaged 100.1 mph. The last time a starter threw as many heaters as Skenes and averaged over 100 mph was Hunter Greene on March 30 of last season.

Skenes is now one of only three starting pitchers in the pitch-tracking era to average over 100 mph with his fastball in a single game. Greene (seven times) and Jacob deGrom (twice) are the only others, not counting games by relievers pitching as "openers."

2) The splinker is a unique pitch for a starter.

But forget the fastball. By now you've heard about Skenes' "splinker." And that was his nastiest pitch in his MLB debut.

The splinker, a hybrid between a sinker and splitter that is officially classified by Statcast as a splitter, is a ridiculous pitch. It has the velocity of the former and the fall-off-the-table movement of the latter; it's an "offspeed" pitch in name only.

The splinker arrived on the scene in the right hand of Twins fireballing closer Jhoan Duran, who can, almost incomprehensibly, throw his in triple digits -- he's the only pitcher to throw a 100 mph offspeed pitch in the history of pitch tracking.

Skenes' splinker isn't 100-plus mph (yet ... who knows where it will go from here), but it is a wipeout secondary pitch. He averaged 94.7 mph with it in his debut and got whiffs on 58% of the swings against it, including a strikeout of Yan Gomes at 95.3 mph.

Even at that velocity, the Skenes splinker generates over 31 inches of drop on average, and nearly 14 inches of horizontal break. That is a ton of movement, especially vertical movement, for a pitch thrown so hard.

And Duran pitches out of the bullpen. Skenes is a starter. That makes his splinker a unicorn pitch.

The last time a starting pitcher has had an offspeed pitch that fast is … never. Even as starters have started to push their sliders, changeups and splitters into the 90s, none of them has thrown a secondary pitch that approaches 95 like Skenes' splinker.

Fastest offspeed pitches thrown by SP
Pitch tracking era (since 2008)

  • Edward Cabrera's changeup -- 92.8 mph in 2023
  • Sandy Alcantara's changeup -- 91.8 mph in 2021/22
  • Walker Buehler's changeup -- 91.5 mph in 2021
  • Jacob deGrom's changeup -- 91.4 mph in 2020/21
  • Mitch Keller's changeup -- 91.1 mph in 2022
  • Noah Syndergaard's changeup -- 91.1 mph in 2019
  • Hunter Greene's changeup -- 91.1 mph in 2023

(showing each pitcher's highest velocity season for that pitch type)

3) His release point adds an extra dimension.

Skenes stands 6-foot-6. But his release point is a foot lower than that, only 5.49 feet off the ground.

That's even lower than, for example, his fellow electric Pirates rookie, Jared Jones, whose vertical release point is 5.59 feet, even though he's 6-foot-1.

But Skenes has a strong sidearmer's delivery. Not only is his release low, it's also wide -- Skenes' pitches come from an average of 2.37 feet toward the third-base side of the rubber. Such a low, flat release for a pitcher of his size might be adding an element of deception to his stuff, with Skenes powering his 100 mph fastballs into the zone along that horizontal plane.

Skenes' fastball isn't a rising fastball like Jones', it's a running fastball, averaging close to 15 inches of horizontal movement. His slider sweeps in the opposite direction, getting about 10 inches of break. Those two pitches mirror each other and cover the strike zone from east to west.

His splinker, meanwhile, mirrors his four-seamer's running action until the bottom drops out as it approaches the hitter.

It's a release point and arm slot the hitter might not be expecting the ball to come out of from a big, tall power pitcher -- and it's one of the things that makes Skenes Skenes, who's overpowering enough as it is.