Dominic Hamel was drafted 81st overall by the New York Mets. The DBU right-hander posted a 4.22 ERA this past year, however, he mowed hitters down by striking out 13.4 hitters per 9 innings. Coming into drafts every year, we hear about pitchers that can blow away hitters with upper 90’s fastballs and can dominate with the pitch. The story with Hamel is his fastball, but it is not the typical story you would think of.
Hamel throws his fastball at 92.5 mph on average which is not incredibly hard, he can touch 95 mph, but that is his peak as of now. A big reason why Hamel’s fastball is getting looked at a ton is the VAA (vertical approach angle) of the pitch. If you don’t know what VAA is, it is the angle at which the baseball is moving (typically downward) when it crosses the plate. You can also read this article here. As a pitcher, you want your VAA to be either very flat or very steep, so it will miss the typical attack angle of hitters. That angle also changes due to the location height of the pitch; when a pitch is thrown high, it will have a flatter VAA and when it is thrown low, it will have a steep VAA. To see this effect, here is a heatmap of average VAA by pitch location from that article:
This affects the overall VAA of a pitcher, however, if their overall average can be closer to 0 or “flatter”, that means they are using that pitch to its most optimal VAA. In this case, for the fastball, we want VAA to be flat; and Hamel’s was, at an average of 4.2 degrees. For reference, the average VAA for pitchers in college baseball in 2020 was 5.49 degrees.
Now, where does this flat angle come from? For Hamel, it is his high amount of vertical lift on his fastball and his low release point. Here is a tweet showing visuals of that movement and release point:
Dominic Hamel Draft Night Tweet
Hamel gets 19.7 inches of vertical lift on average (created by his average spin rate of 2428 RPM) from his fastball and his average release height on that pitch is about 5.6 feet, which is low, especially since he is 6’ 2”. This is an extremely unique pitch, even compared to MLB pitchers. He gets so much more vertical movement than a typical pitcher of his release point in the major league level, as shown in this graph below; it shows MLB pitchers’ average release point and vertical break from 2019 to 2021:
You can see what an outlier Hamel is and he’s not even a big leaguer yet. There’s a reason why hitters could only manage an average exit velocity of 79.9 MPH off of the pitch. This fastball can be dominant at the Major League level and there’s even a pitcher that has a similar fastball that you might know of, Josh Hader.
Hader is another pitcher that gets an unusual amount of vertical break from a low release point; it has been well documented that he gets a steep VAA from his fastball. Hader throws a bit harder than Hamel, at 96 MPH, however, Hamel has about 400 RPM more spin than Hader creating extra vertical lift. Here is that same graph that was shown above, but this time, Hader is labeled as well:
They both get the same advantage of having more movement compared to their release height. This shows the capability that Hamel has with his fastball, and, again, furthers the baseball philosophy that pitchers should not be average when it comes to their stuff. Being below average, such as Hamel’s release point, and above average, in Hamel’s vertical break, can help to create nasty pitches and a different look to hitters.
This doesn’t even mention that Hamel is a starting pitcher, whereas Hader is a reliever. If Hamel can build his entire arsenal to go along with his fastball, he could have a very high ceiling and end up being a steal of a draft pick.
The Mets will have to continue to have Hamel utilize this fastball to the best of its ability, which is up in the zone and a pitch that can be used very frequently to get hitters to swing underneath it. His low release point and high vertical lift are what make Hamel special and are potentially things teams should be looking at in the future when making draft picks.