Spinner Fella: Justin Steele Posts Elite Statcast Numbers in MLB Debut

The Cubs haven’t given us much get excited about this season and it’s been a while since anyone felt confident in the offense’s ability to put up runs on a consistent basis. As pressing as those issues are, though, they’ve got nothing on the organization’s abject failure to properly develop homegrown pitching. It’s been nearly a decade since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer came to Chicago and the current staff has a grand total of three arms who’ve been drafted or signed as international free agents by the Cubs.

Even if we pan out to include the entire 40-man roster, there are only five more such pitchers listed. That number is at least better from a percentage standpoint and it should grow dramatically over the next year as inevitable turnover occurs after what right now looks like a disappointing season. The trouble is that only one homegrown pitcher, Adbert Alzolay, is part of the rotation and another is only with the team because three relievers were just placed on the COVID-19 injured list.

It’s that recent addition we’re going to talk about for a bit here, as lefty Justin Steele was recalled for the second time and finally got to make his MLB debut Monday in Milwaukee. Though not nearly as heralded as fellow southpaw Brailyn Márquez, Steele’s elite-level stuff has been somewhat obscured by spotty health and the fact that he doesn’t throw 100 mph.

“The upside is legitimate as a left-hander that’s really athletic with a great arm,” Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ senior director of player development, said in 2020 while comparing Steele favorably to Márquez. “He has a chance for two plus pitches, the changeup has a chance to come as well.”

Those plus pitchers for Steele are the four-seam and slider, both of which were on display in a big way Monday night as he struck out two with one hit in a scoreless relief appearance. Steele’s slider averaged 2,877 rpm and he topped 2,900 rpm four times, more than all but two other lefties (Lucas Luetge, 6; Tyler Matzek, 5) so far this season. His fastball averaged 2,601 rpm and he threw four of them above 2,700 rpm to rank fourth among lefties in that regard.

Steele’s average slider spin ranks third among lefties behind Matzek and Julio Urias (2,925 rpm), and he’s 17th across all of MLB. He is also one of only three lefties to generate more than 2,600 rpm on the four-seam, trailing only Luetge and Mike Minor (2,637 rpm), and he’s 18th among all pitchers. There’s obviously a lot more to success than just being able to spin the ball and the argument could be made that adrenaline and a small sample distorted the results, but the point is that Steele has undeniable raw stuff.

The real key is that his slider displayed elite movement, as in 118% more horizontal break than the average. I don’t care how much adrenaline you’ve got coursing through your veins, excitement alone doesn’t account for that kind of sweep. Pine tar, though, that’s another story. Right, Trevor? But not Trevor Story, I mean the guy who openly championed the use of foreign substances and then played the victim when he got called to the table.

Damn, this thing just got as nonsensical as a Cubs WAG’s Twitter account. Rather than doubling down on bad takes, I’ll close by saying Steele is the real deal and I’m not just saying that because it rhymes.

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