The SF Giants have sent two representatives to the 2022 MLB All-Star Futures Game but only one, Around The Foghorn's number one prospect Kyle Harrison, managed to make an appearance as the other representative, David Villar, was doing his business at the big league level making him unavailable.
An in-depth look at SF Giants prospect's Kyle Harrison's Futures Game pitching data
Since the game is broadcasted on Peacock, it made the game very tough to watch from an accessibility standpoint. Having it placed on Peacock is a story for another day but luckily for us (I do not consider it lucky though), the game is played in Dodger Stadium and like all Major League stadiums and a few Minor League stadiums, Hawkeye technology is installed. It made Harrison's pitching data publicly accessible for the first time. We are here to disregard the fact that Harrison gave up two homers and four runs as it is not important in the grand scheme of things. We are here to examine Harrison's Statcast data and learn what makes Harrison the dominant force that he is as a prospect and will it work in the big leagues.
It has to be said that not all Statcast data are available in the Savant box score. We can't know what Harrison's perceived velocity is (the additional velocity a pitch receives due to the effect of a pitcher's extension in his delivery) nor the effect of spin-shifted wake on his pitches by examining his spin axis and spin deviation. This will get a bit nerdy but bear with me on this one.
Let's start off with the way Harrison operates on the mound. We all know that Harrison has a low release point but we don't know how low he could get. Now, with the aid of Statcast, we now know that Harrison releases the ball around two feet off the middle of the mound towards the first base side of the rubber on average and an average release height of around four and a half feet with no pitch thrown above five feet. For comparison, he has a release point that is similar to Giants lefty Alex Wood when he was occasionally dropping his release point intentionally. For Harrison though, he has a low release point constantly. Where he releases the ball gives his pitch a highly unique look and gives his pitches a very good shape to generate whiffs and weak contact.
After we look at his low release point, let's now take a look at his pitch arsenal beginning with his fastball. It has been known that Harrison easily blows by Minor League hitters with his fastball and with the help of Statcast, it was revealed how he does it. His fastball typically sits in the 92-95 MPH range this season as a starter but when he was on a one-inning, give-it-your-all outing, his fastball peaked at 96.5 MPH and has an average velocity of 94.7 MPH which is above-average. His average spin rate on the heater is also above-average to plus at 2318 RPM. So we know that the velocity and spin rate is very good. The movement though is a little bit surprising.
Registered as a sinker by Statcast, Harrison has an average vertical movement or "drop" of 19.7 inches which in comparison to MLB pitchers is around 13% less sink velocity while his average horizontal movement or "tail" is 13 inches which are around 7% less tail than the pitchers with the same average velocity. Not a lot but still substantial. If we convert his fastball from a sinker to a true four-seam fastball, however, something interesting emerges. His 19.7 inches of drop is well-below average (around 30% less rise compared to average), his 13 inches of tail is well-above average (around 70% more tail compared to average).
So, if Harrison does not beat hitters with insane movement (as a sinker), what is? Well, it's the combination of sheer velocity and the low release height and the way he's locating his fastball. Because Harrison has such a low release height, his pitches have the illusion of "rise" when thrown in the upper third of the zone if you look at his 3D pitch shape and he can even induce sink above the zone. Harrison knows this very well and his pitch chart reflects it with all but one of his fastballs located in the upper half of the strike zone. So even if he has sinking movement on his fastball, his low release point more than makes up for it to compensate and get hitters to swing under it. Sadly, we won't know how seam-shifted wake affects his fastball as well as its spin axis until he gets to the big leagues.
After we took a look at his fastball, it's now time to take a look at his secondaries. His main secondary weapon is his slider which clocked in at around 81.7 MPH on average which is below-average in terms of velocity. The first shock is his spin rate with the pitch with an average of just 1993 RPM, a very low number considering the average spin rate of a slider is around 400-500 RPMs higher. Harrison more than makes up the low spin rate with a pretty insane movement profile. With an average vertical movement or "drop" of 46.5 inches, Harrison has around 15% more drop on his slider than any other MLB pitcher with a similar average velocity while his 14 inches of average horizontal movement or "sweep" gives him around 60-65% more sweep on his slider. When we combine the separation between his fastball and his slider, his 27 inches of horizontal separation and 26.8 inches of vertical separation. His movement is more than enough to miss barrels and generate weak contact though ideally, you would want a harder slider to better mirror the fastball through tunneling (13 MPH velocity difference between his slider and fastball). That's why people at times mistake the pitch as a curveball (even I suffered that on a couple of occasions this season).
Let's now talk about the changeup which is rarely thrown but has been on the up and up in terms of usage as the season rolls along. What surprised me is that the changeup is a hard one with an average velocity of 89.2 MPH which would put it as the 36th fastest changeup in the big leagues. A weird development that I noticed is that his changeup has a higher average spin rate compared to his slider with an average spin rate of 2205, around 200 RPM more. When you think of the off-speed, a changeup should have a much lower spin rate than the slider but it's the reverse for Harrison.
When finding a comparison for the changeup, it's closely similar to Brewers lefty Aaron Ashby in a lot of aspects. Like Ashby, Harrison throws it hard (only 0.1 MPH faster than Ashby), his 31.3 average drop is 0.5 inches less than Ashby or around 8% more drop than pitchers with similar average velocity, and his 14.8 inches of tail is 3 inches less than Ashby or around 2-3% more tail than average. His changeup might not look all that special because the left-center field camera angle of TV broadcasts obscures its movement but metrically, it's pretty similar to Ashby and several major baseball media outlets have Ashby's changeup as at least above-average so it might be time to consider Harrison's changeup as such, especially with the way that Harrison has a similar release point to his fastball hiding it well.
What caught my eye is the one outlier changeup that Harrison threw. It's the slowest of the four changeups that he threw on a 1-0 pitch against Yankee prospect Anthony Volpe. It's velocity is 87.5 MPH, around the same velocity range that I've seen his changeup this season, but it had an insane 38 inches of drop and 14 inches of tail. Yes, the tail is smack dab average but its drop is one of the best compared to changeups at that velocity.
It's time to wrap it all up. Harrison is a dominant pitcher who gets plenty of strikeouts and whiffs in general because he knows where his strengths are and how he utilizes them. Harrison throws his fastball with above-average velocity and if we consider the pitch as a true four-seamer, it is a heavy and hard-tailing fastball. Combine that with his four-and-a-half foot release height providing the illusion of "rise" that weirdly but effectively compliments the nature of his fastball and the way he pounds the upper half of the zone, and it could become too much for Minor League hitters to handle even at slower velocities but he has to sustain an above-average velocity range to be dominant against big league hitting.
If the fastball is not enough, his slider has an insane movement profile that greatly compliments his fastball though like in yesterday's outing, he has trouble at times staying on top of the pitch. The one surprise is the changeup and how good it could potentially be. Even though it's a hard changeup, its movement is not firm where at its best and could flash above-average movement when thrown a bit softer with an insane drop and a similar release point as his heater.
The high-quality stuff combined with the unique look from a starting role makes Harrison one of baseball's unicorn prospects. He's younger than a lot of draft-eligible pitchers and he's already this advanced and dominant. Even if he can't put it all together, there's a big-league pitcher as a floor. If he can (and most likely he will), he's going to be the pillar of the future for the San Francisco Giants.