Chris Bassitt stands to age favourably with Blue Jays
Photo credit:Larry Robinson-USA TODAY Sports
By Thomas Hall11 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays made a splash in free agency on Monday, signing right-hander Chris Bassitt to a three-year, $63-million contract. And in doing so have solidified their top four starters as Bassitt joins Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and José Berríos.
But with the former New York Met tied to a qualifying offer, the team will be forced to surrender its second-highest draft selection in 2023 and $500,000 in international signing bonus spending. That was a price worth paying, though, especially after the organization received two compensatory draft picks last winter following Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray’s departures.
Based on the current market for starting pitchers, Toronto’s front office did pretty well to land Bassitt at the deal he signed, paying him $21 million per season through 2025. That’s more than what fellow mid-tier starters Taijuan Walker ($18 million AAV) and Jameson Taillon ($17 million AAV) are set to earn each season. But, unlike his counterparts, the 33-year-old’s contract ends after three years rather than four.
And that’s a trade-off the Blue Jays were willing to accept.
It also helps that Bassitt – who’ll enter his age-34 season in 2023 – is coming off a strong performance with the Mets, finishing with an ERA (3.42) and FIP (3.66) below four for a third consecutive campaign. And he featured a lower ERA- (90) than New York’s Gerrit Cole (91). He was also worth 2.7 fWAR over 30 starts, making him a two-win pitcher or better in three of his last four seasons.
The 6-foot-5 righty should consume plenty of innings for the Blue Jays next season, as he’s thrown at least 140 innings every season since 2019 – excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. He is also accustomed to pitching deep into games, lasting seven innings or more in nine of his 30 outings last season. In comparison, Manoah accomplished that feat 10 times, with Gausman at seven.
Bassitt has been a model of consistency throughout his career, which general manager Ross Atkins hopes will continue as he approaches his mid-30s. But what are the chances he delivers on his expectations over the next three seasons?
At 33, turning 34 in February, there is always some risk involved with paying north of $20 million per season to a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, and that’s no different with Bassitt. But the 2021 All-Star isn’t your ordinary mid-tier starter, as he’s much more advanced and better equipped to transition into the later years of his career than other Nos. 3s and 4s.
FanGraphs’ Streamer projections seem to agree with that sentiment as their model expects Bassitt to compile 180 innings – 1.2 innings fewer than last season – posting a 4.03 ERA and a 4.01 FIP while being worth 2.3 fWAR over 31 starts. Baseball fans should take these projections with a grain of salt, as they are educated estimates, after all. But even if that’s his floor in 2023, the Blue Jays would be pleased with these results.
What about Bassitt’s age-35 and 36 seasons? Is there enough to go off to feel confident about his ability to remain effective beyond 2023? In a nutshell, yes.
The former Oakland Athletic doesn’t throw hard or generate high amounts of swing-and-miss, however, he does avoid hard contact by missing barrels with his six-pitch arsenal. As a result, the soft-throwing righty’s average exit velocity (85.7 m.p.h.) and hard-hit rate against (32.8 per cent) ranked in the 95th and 87th percentiles in 2022, respectively.
Bassitt was also effective at keeping balls on the ground, thanks to his low-90s sinker, producing the eighth-highest ground-ball rate (48.8 per cent) among qualified big-league starters, according to FanGraphs. He also excelled at limiting free passes, with his 6.6 per cent walk rate finishing in the 68th percentile.
All three traits have historically aged favourably over the last five-to-10 years, which certainly bodes well for the Blue Jays’ newest hurler. His pitch usage, which varies from hitter to hitter, is another reason he’s likely to remain effective throughout his tenure north of the border.
Like Ross Stripling, Bassitt attacks righties differently than lefties, keeping both sets of hitters off balance. The 16th-round selection from 2011 also relies heavily on horizontal movement, with five of his six offerings creating 0.5 inches of break or more compared to other pitches at similar respective velocities last season.
Bassitt’s sinker, which recorded the second-best run value (-16) among fellow sinkers in 2022, is a critical aspect of his repertoire versus both righties and lefties, as it should be. It’s easily the best weapon at his disposal, as the opposition hit just .260 AVG and .366 SLG against it. His sinking fastball also generated a 62.2 per cent GB percentage, the highest in his arsenal.
Missing bats isn’t one of his sinker’s strong suits, though it still enjoyed its moments, racking up a serviceable 15.2 per cent whiff rate and a 10.5 per cent strikeout rate.
The Toledo, Ohio, native also leans heavily on his low-80s slider against righties, utilizing it a career-high 25.3 per cent of the time last season. With his top two offerings occupying the lower half of the strike zone, his low-90s four-seamer becomes vital in the upper half, with its usage at 13.4 per cent, changing the eye level during prolonged matchups.
Bassitt also mixes in his curveball, cutter and changeup, although he usually doesn’t incorporate any of them until at least his second trip through the batting order. That way, the right-hander still has a few tricks up his sleeve late in games.
When facing lefties, though, Bassitt evenly pairs his sinker with his deceiving cutter, throwing it 27.9 per cent of the time. And it was primarily located at the top of the zone, resulting in plenty of swings and misses, leading to career bests involving its whiff (30.5 per cent) and strikeout rates (27.7 per cent).
Accuracy is one of Bassitt’s primary strengths, particularly with his cutting fastball, as it’s quickly become one of his most effective weapons against left-handers, with opponents hitting .198 AVG and .363 SLG against it. And because of the backspin it creates, it defies gravity – or at least gives the illusion that it does – limiting how much it drops upon release.
That, along with its 2.5 inches of horizontal movement, is how the right-hander perfectly locates it up and inside to lefties.
Source: Baseball Savant
Then comes Bassitt’s knee-buckling curveball, which averaged the fifth-slowest velocity (71.6 m.p.h.) in the majors among pitchers who threw at least 250 curves last season. But his breaking ball doesn’t need speed or spin to be effective versus lefties.
Thanks to its arching shape, his curveball served as a reliable weapon at just under 17 per cent usage, inducing a 26.8 per cent whiff rate and a 30.6 per cent strikeout rate. It also allowed just a .152 AVG and a .217 SLG while proving reliable in limiting hard contact, at 9.7 per cent.
Given its overall effectiveness against lefties and righties, it may warrant a higher usage next season, making it a much larger component of his arsenal.
The University of Akron product also traditionally calls upon his four-seamer, slider and changeup after the first through the order, similar to his game plan against righties. And that, too, is how he consistently provides a minimum of five innings in almost every start.
Staying healthy will be just as vital for Bassitt over his three seasons with the Blue Jays. But, after his last serious injury – a fractured cheekbone off a 100.1-m.p.h. comebacker – occurred in 2018, his health hasn’t been much of a concern since crossing the age-30 threshold. Not all pitchers have been as lucky, though – look at Hyun Jin Ryu, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.
There is still plenty to be decided on regarding the final spot in Toronto’s rotation, but with Bassitt joining the mix, he appears poised to serve as a workhorse in 2023 and beyond.
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