Each of these flamethrowers have thrown their four-seam fastballs more than 70% of the time while pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers this season. It isn’t hard to figure out why. All four have the ability to push the velocity of their heaters into the mid-90s and beyond to blow away opposing hitters. When you possess a fastball like the one these dudes have been blessed with, why wouldn’t you be inclined to unleash it as often as possible?
But those aren’t the only Brewer arms who have utilized a four-seam fastball more than 70% of the time in 2019. The fifth fastballer doesn’t exactly fit the same mold as the other high-octane hurlers, though. Southpaw Brent Suter, who returned as a September call-up after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery, has so far used his four-seamer at a 72.2% rate through 14.1 innings across seven appearances. His average velocity of 87.9 MPH rates among the lowest 2% of MLB pitchers (min 10 IP) this season.
Suter doesn’t throw hard (though his average velo is currently the highest of his career), and he doesn’t generate much spin — his 2128 RPM average ranks in the bottom 18% of the 666 hurlers with at least 100 pitches thrown this season. But that hasn’t stopped Suter from living in the upper part of the strike zone with his fastball, which he has been able to do throughout his entire career thanks to his deceptive delivery and arm angle and the way his lightning-quick pace makes batters uncomfortable in the box.
Suter has leaned heavily on his fastball in every count against hitters on both sides of the plate. He’s been almost exclusively fastball/changeup against right-handers, who have largely been unable to do anything with him — an .088 average against. Brent mixes things up a little bit more when he’s facing a fellow southpaws, and they have actually been notably better aginst Suter than righties have been. Still, that only means a .200 batting average and the lone home run that Suter has surrendered since returning.
Suter has so far generated a career-best 12.8% swinging-strike rate, boosted by large increases in his whiff rate with his fastball (14.62%, four points better than career average) and his changeup (17.65%, five points better). Opposing batters have logged mere .108 and .111 batting averages against those two offerings. Suter has so far allowed only six total hits to the 49 batters that he’s faced.
They say that command is typically the last thing that comes back to a pitcher when he returns from elbow surgery, but that doesn’t seem to apply to Suter’s case. Brent issued only three free passes in 16.2 minor league innings while on rehab assignment, and has yet to walk a single batter in his seven outings and 14.1 frames with the big league club. Because his WHIP is so low at 0.42, it actually makes his pedestrian 6.91 K/9 a bit deceiving; in reality, Suter has punched out 22.5% of the batters he has faced (11 in total), which would be a new career-high by some three percentage points. When batters do put the ball in play against him, Suter has done well in limiting hard contact (36.8% rate allowed, two points below league average) and keeping the ball on the ground, inducing worm-burners at a 56.8% clip.
Only three teams in the National League have gotten fewer innings out of their starting pitchers than Milwaukee has during the month of September, but for Craig Counsell’s club, that is by design. Expanded rosters have allowed the Brewers to go full-on into bullpenning mode, and Brent Suter has been a significant part of that. He has worked multiple innings in six of his seven appearances, including last night’s ballgame against the Pirates. Suter’s ability to put up zeroes while bridging the gap to the late innings allowed Counsell to pinch-hit for an otherwise effective Zach Davies during a scoring opportunity in the fourth inning, which eventually led to multiple runs scoring. Brent’s two scoreless innings were enough to convince the official scorer to award him with his third winning decision of the year. After allowing a solo homer to the second batter that he faced in his first MLB appearance of 2019, Suter has thrown 14.0 consecutive scoreless innings and owns a teeny tiny 0.63 earned run average.
Suter’s 57 FIP- and 83 DRA- both say that he can’t sustain this level of performance for the long-term, which, duh. He’s currently sporting a .135 BABIP and a 100% strand rate. But that doesn’t change what Suter has already done for the bullpenning Brewers during this month of September. Sustainability isn’t as important when we’re dealing with small samples, and right now Suter is one of many “hot hands” on a pitching staff that currently owns the best collective ERA (2.95) in the National League during the final month of the season. As a former 31st-round pick with a fastball in the 80s, Brent Suter exceeded expectations by simply reaching the big leagues. But the fact that he’s pitched himself into an integral role with a team that appears to be bound for the playoffs, barely one year removed from Tommy John surgery, is nothing short of astonishing.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball