D.J. Herz Strikes Out a Season-High Ten, and We Have To Talk About His Ridiculous Strikeout Rate

Last night D.J. Herz returned to his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina and pitched in front of a huge number of friends and family for the first time as a professional. And he had a quintessential D.J. Herz start: four innings, one hit and zero runs allowed, a season-high 10 strikeouts against three walks.

It raised Herz’s season strikeout rate to 41.7%. That number certainly sounds impressive on its own, but let me make it sound more impressive: Herz’s strikeout rate is the highest in the FanGraphs era (2006-2021) by a pitcher with 10 starts at an A-ball level.

Whoa. If ever there was a statistic to slap me in the face and say hey, wake up to this ridiculousness it’s that one. (And I made Brett run the same query on FanGraphs to double-check.)

Yes, we know that baseball players are striking out more than ever, with the Low-A average up significantly over the last two years, much less the last fifteen. But Herz is still the top dog in this season, at age 20, his first go-around in full-season ball. It’s an absolutely incredible feat. No matter the caveats, you have to acknowledge it.

Last night was overall a really good proxy for Herz on the mound. He was fastball-heavy, but dominant with it, racking up 12 swings and misses from my game-charting. The life on the pitch is just absurd, and with the adrenaline of his surroundings, Herz was able to reach 96 mph on the stadium gun in the second inning.

There would be an at-bat where Herz’s funky all-arms-and-legs delivery would seem out of control, with fastballs exploding above the zone, and then a batter later he’d be locked in and throwing strikes again. The changeup, often his best pitch this season, was not quite there (missing up). It didn’t matter. The curveball had even more of a slider shape than normal. It didn’t matter. Herz just continually adjusted, generally did a nice job getting ahead of hitters, and never has a problem finishing them off.

The strangest thing about this one was the platoon split. Lefties were responsible for the two (lulz) balls in play he allowed, including the lone hit (a ground ball single), and two of his three walks. Right-handed hitters meanwhile went a laughable 0-for-10 with TEN strikeouts and a walk. They’re hitting just .145 against him. No one can get used to that stuff out of that release point.

(Quick aside, because Herz’ season had one awful start in it, I sometimes like to update with his season numbers without that one start. Yes, I know baseball doesn’t work like that, but I’m doing it anyway: 57.2 IP, 26 H, 2.34 ERA, 33 BB, 98 K. Cool, cool.)

It’s not hard to figure where Herz still needs work. He’ll need to become more efficient to make it as a starter, both in terms of avoiding walks and finding a way into more quick at-bats. It will be interesting to see how more advanced hitters deal with the fastball, particularly those of the early-count get-me-over variety. I’d be tempted to move Herz to South Bend now to get data on that.

There’s more work in the weight room to be done to get that velocity more consistently to the mid 90s. I think a fourth pitch (cutter?) will be in the offing at some point. We’ll have to see the small tweaks here and there the Cubs opt to employ with that delivery.

It’s easy to see the to-do list, but with Herz, I wonder if the key isn’t to let the (ahem, dare-I-say: historic?) numbers remind you of the potential. Because it’s big and we should have fun dreaming on it.

written by

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.

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