Ryan Helsley: From a bust candidate to unmatched dominance

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Ryan Helsley, most popularly recognized from his 103.1 MPH fastball that was thrown about a month ago, has been the best pitcher in baseball. He has always been known for throwing hard, but his 103.1 MPH pitch to strike out Ketel Marte is the fastest pitch of his career so far and is tied with Jhoan Duran (MIN) for the second fastest pitch this season.

Ryan Helsley has had an up and down career in MLB so far. Here is his ERA by season from his 2019 rookie year to 2021:

  • 2019: 2.95
  • 2020: 5.25
  • 2021: 4.56

This year though? Ryan Helsley has been the best pitcher in MLB. Yes, the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. Here are his numbers this season, along with his ranks among all qualified RP:

  • 0.00 ERA (T-1)
  • 0.27 WHIP (1)
  • 0.63 xERA (1)
  • 0.09 FIP (1)
  • 0.85 xFIP (1)
  • 2.49 pCRA (1)
  • 0.48 SIERA (1)
  • 52.1 K% (1)
  • 4.2 BB% (28)
  • 47.9 K-BB% (1)
  • 21.3 Whiff% (3)
  • 33.6 CSW% (20)
  • 0.0 Barrel% (T-1)
  • 0.87 WPA (11)
  • 1.0 fWAR (2)
  • -0.86 xRV/100 (30)

Pure dominance. Ryan Helsley is leading the league in almost every peripheral stat, and has made tons of improvements regarding command and stuff. Here are some of Helsley’s improvements from 2021 to 2022 that stand out the most to me:

Average Fastball Velocity (MPH)

  • 2021: 97.4
  • 2022: 99.3 (+1.9)

Whiff%

  • 2021: 27.2
  • 2022: 40.9 (+13.7)

Chase%

  • 2021: 24.5
  • 2022: 34.9 (+10.4)

Curveball H-Mov

  • 2021: 3.3
  • 2022: 7.7 (+4.4)

Fourseam Fastball Whiff%

  • 2021: 15.7
  • 2022: 34.9 (+19.2)
Redbird Rants

Now, let’s talk just about the fastball. Ryan Helsley’s FF (Fourseam Fastball) has been one of the best of its kind, and has also been one of the best pitches in all of baseball in 2022. Here’s some of the numbers on his FF this season:

  • 54.7% Usage
  • 99.1 MPH (Avg)
  • 103.1 MPH (Max)
  • 2589 RPM
  • 6.7 Ext (ft)
  • 5.9 Vertical Release Point
  • -0.5 Horizontal Release Point
  • 18.9 vMov
  • -4.7° VAA
  • +0.57° VAA AA
  • 34.9 Whiff%
  • 31.4 CSW%
  • -1.32 xRV/100

This is simply an elite pitch. One of his keys to success? Adding almost 2 MPH and adding 0.2 ft to his release extension on the pitch.

This increase in velocity has been a huge part of why his whiff rate has improved so much on the fastball. Another big change I’m seeing is the VAA on his FB. Here’s a quick comparison from this year to last:

2021 FB:

  • -5.2° VAA
  • +0.16° VAA AA

2022 FB:

  • -4.7° VAA
  • +0.57° VAA AA

Again, massive improvements here. While his -4.7° VAA is still only in the 55th percentile, it’s really great improvement compared to the -5.2° from 2021.

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Now, let’s go over his hard slider. His SL has been thrown 33.6% of the time this year, averaging at 88.2 MPH which is almost like a cutter. It’s an awesome pitch for Ryan, but especially as a secondary. Here are the numbers on it:

  • 33.6% Usage
  • 88.2 MPH (Avg)
  • 2446 RPM
  • 6.7 Ext (ft)
  • 6.0 Vertical Release Point
  • -0.7 Horizontal Release Point
  • 10:45 Spin-Based Direction
  • 9:30 Observed Direction
  • 32.9 V-Break
  • 4.3 H-Break
  • 50.0(!!!) Whiff%
  • -0.68 xRV/100

50% Whiff% is just so awesome. A secondary pitch with a 50.0 Whiff rate is bonkers. Hitters are slugging just .105 with a .133 wOBA and .166 xwOBA against the pitch.

Helsley is showing so many impressive signs surrounding pitch velo, extensions, release points, and mechanics in general.

Helsley throws a curveball 11% of the time, and while it’s not a terrible pitch, it really isn’t that useful which is reflected by the limited usage. With a -11.7 vMOV and 44.4 Whiff% on the CB, it’s really not that bad of a pitch but again it isn’t necessary in order for Helsley to dominate batters. He has thrown it in the zone less than half the time earning it a 40 command grade from PitchingBot, but it isn’t too big of a deal.

Bleacher Report

Though there were many to choose from, this is my favorite Ryan Helsley stat from this year:

Ryan Helsley’s average pitch velocity by pitch in 2022:

  • FB: 99.2 MPH
  • SL: 88.2 MPH (-11.0 MPH from FB)
  • CB: 77.7 MPH (-11.5 MPH from SL)

Yeah, Ryan Helsley can casually take off 10 MPH from pitch to pitch. Like, imagine thinking he’s going to throw a 103 MPH FB but then he drops in a 77 MPH curveball with almost 12 inches of movement. Just unhittable. I love Ryan Helsley and I think there’s a real possibility he keeps up his dominance for a long time.

What better way to recap this article than to make a compilation of my favorite Ryan Helsley pitches from 2022!

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