Some Los Angeles Dodgers fans are normal, but many others worry far more than they need to, and Walker Buehler has recently provided a reason for that bunch of folks to stress a bit.
Why? Because, while he’s still pitching well, he’s not exactly pitching like a lights-out ace who puts up big strikeout totals, which could be a result of his fastball velocity. The right-hander averaged close to 97 MPH on his four-seamer from 2017-2020. In 2021 and 2022? He’s hovering around 95 MPH.
His fastball has been getting creamed this year to the tune of .367 opponents’ average. At the moment, his 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings would be the lowest of his career by far. But still, none of that should be a reason to worry.
Buehler is already in the process of revamping himself and making adjustments after the league’s abrupt ban on foreign substance use among pitchers in June of last year. He’s decreased his four-seam fastball usage year over year (44.5% to 32.3%) while increasing his cutter (16% to 25.4%) and curveball (13.2% to 17.4%).
Then again, his fastball location needs to improve if he truly wants to deceive hitters. If his fastball spin is down yet again, he’s going to need better than a 9.7% putout percentage when throwing it.
So many power pitchers have suffered from the league’s sticky stuff changes, but Buehler’s knowledge of the game and dedication to his craft is arguably second to none. If he’s already working on finding a solution and has been this successful, just imagine what it’ll be like when he puts it all together.
Don’t worry about Walker Buehler, please, Los Angeles Dodgers fans
Through nine starts, Buehler is 6-1 (leads the league in wins) with a 2.91 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 1.23 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 52.1 innings. Sure, some of those recent outings have been “shaky,” with the right-hander allowing 26 baserunners across a total of 16 innings. Not great but … he’s getting out of the trouble, so his stuff is clearly working to a higher degree.
Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior, via Jack Harris of the LA Times, revealed how Buehler is “tinkering” with his fastball:
"“He’s still just trying to figure things out a little bit with the fastball,” Prior said told Harris. “Trying to figure out how to get it to play like it was last year.”Prior said the right-hander adjusted some of his mechanics in last week’s bullpen session and also tinkered with his pitch sequencing to ‘play each [pitch] off each other.’“I think overall it still comes back a little bit to some of his delivery, which has been inconsistent by his standards.”"
Substances previously allowed pitchers to grip the ball more effectively, which improved their spin rate (and thus velocity) and control. Now, it’s back to the drawing board for some, and Buehler is among those working on his fastball mechanics to either improve his location and/or add a couple more ticks.
It’s sort itself out, and there’s certainly no need to be concerned if his numbers are among the best in the league as he works through this major of an adjustment.