A Dozen Details About DJ’s Dominance in Dayton
There’s no doubt I have to go long-form today on what DJ Herz did yesterday, posting one of the best starts in Cubs pitching prospect history against a really good Dayton Dragons team. Here are 12 things I’ve been thinking about in the wake of the outing, for numerically obvious reaosons …
One: Let’s start with the headline number: 12 strikeouts, a career-high, surpassing the ten he got last year in his hometown start in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The video:
No. 9 @Cubs prospect DJ Herz spun a career-high 12 strikeouts for the @SBCubs: pic.twitter.com/pccraIc68G
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 2, 2022
If I’m not mistaken, we have five changeups, five curveballs and two fastballs earning the 12 strikeouts. He induced eight swinging strikeouts against four of the looking variety.
Two: Also important to note that in the middle there is an eight-straight-batter stretch where Herz puts down every one of them. It’s certainly one of the more dominant 40-pitch stretches you’ll ever see. I feel like Herz usually has either the curveball or the changeup working in a particular outing, with yesterday being maybe the first time all year where all three of his pitches were operating at their best.
Three: The start also marked career-highs in the number of swinging strikes, as well as both the number of CSW (called + swinging strikes) and the CSW% (CSW/total pitches). 44 is a really crazy CSW% number. If we dig a little deeper on the swings and misses, the Dragons whiffed on 19 of their 44 total swings (43.2 whiff rate), versus just putting four into play (double, bunt pop out, ground out, fly out).
Four: One thing that Brett always says, and he’s so right, is that sometimes you have to let the swings tell the story about a pitcher’s dominance. The modern era of prospect analysis is so consumed by raw stuff and Trackman readings — and look, I think that stuff is extremely important — that it’s going to allow for some players to slip through the cracks. The big prospect outlets are certainly aware of DJ, but I think he’s under-ranked by all of them, given that his dominance in the last 13 months has been literally historic. When you see those swings in the video above, you see a confusion at the “commit point” (where the hitter decides whether to swing or take) that is what separates DJ from his peers. His blend of deception, life and tunneling is special.
Five: The other key: getting ahead of hitters. Herz threw a first-pitch strike to fourteen of the 17 hitters he faced, and threw strikes on the first two pitches to nine of the 17. I wrote after his last start — where Herz struck out just three of 18 batters in five scoreless innings — that it seemed a good outing for Herz to learn the value of pitching efficiently. He wasn’t super efficient in this one, 4.41 pitches per batter, but so much of the day was spent pitching with an advantage. I’d also note that in nine of the 14 instances of first pitch strikes, I noted that he caught some part of the middle third of the plate. At this level, and maybe at any level, Herz doesn’t have to worry about being too perfect early in an at-bat; hitters struggle to do damage on his stuff even right down the middle.
The book on DJ Herz from his gem tonight.
In short: he shoved. pic.twitter.com/zJwCpYZOgm
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 2, 2022
Six: I want to clarify that a handful of pitches marked above as “brk” — meant to mean breaking ball — are actually change ups. Herz is such an east-west pitcher, everything comes from so far horizontal, that sometimes his glove-side changeups can look like a slider. It took me a little while in my re-watch to adjust! But it also speaks to the fun characteristics that Herz’ best pitch can take as he moves it to different sides of the plate.
Seven: Herz faced a left-handed batter just four times last night, and as you can predict the results were great: strikeout (inside changeup, freezing batter), strikeout (curveball breaking away off the plate, whiff), strikeout (another whiff on a curve down and away), and a ground out to second base. Lefties are just 4-for-44 against Herz this year. But even during his dominance in 2021 and 2022, Herz has always had a better strikeout against righties than lefties, because the changeup has generally been better than the curveball as a putaway pitch. If he locks into spotting those secondaries to lefties, it’s a no-doubt MLB relief floor.
Eight: Definitely note that two fastballs last night touched 95 mph for Herz (though one was the HBP responsible for ending Herz’ streak of 14 consecutive batters retired). There’s still muscle to be added to his frame, and I do think we’ll ultimately see him blossom into a 93-96 mph pitcher. He’s not that far away.
Nine: Let’s look at Herz’ last 100 innings, which conveniently means everything since his one bad outing as a professional (last June 10): 100.1 IP, 50 H, 2.33 ERA, 51 BB, 153 K. This isn’t normal.
Ten: Here’s another way of looking at it:
Or you might like this one better. 21 or younger in High-A, minimum 10 starts, ranked by strikeout rate… pic.twitter.com/6QVKBuFXXi
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 2, 2022
Eleven: And by now, we’ve really glossed over what might be the most exciting number: zero walks. Herz has accomplished this just six times in his 36 career appearances, and just one other time while pitching more than four innings. Fastball command is the biggest separator between Herz’s best and worst outings, and he really had it going last night. There’s still a lot of curiosity out there about what Herz’s role ultimately will be — true starter, Hader-like closer, something in that Keegan Thompson role — and it’s really just a question of where the walk rate will settle. Progressing in the right direction.
Twelve: It’s very true to his personality, and I love this, that DJ’s one tweet last night about the outing was focused on the one play he made off the mound.
"Pitchers aren't athletes"😴😴 pic.twitter.com/pUYJsnqbJa
— Dj® (@DavidjohnHerz) June 2, 2022
Athleticism is so central to what DJ does and how he succeeds — you literally couldn’t have that extreme delivery without it — that it’s certainly nice and handy for a prospect analyst to have that video to show the evidence behind the words “PLUS athlete.”