Brett Hanewich opened a lot of eyes last year in his first full professional season. Thanks largely to a take-notice fastball, the 24-year-old right-hander logged a 2.61 ERA, and fanned 74 batters in 69 relief innings, between Low-A Burlington and Hi-A Inland Empire. The Los Angeles Angels took Hanewich in the ninth round of the 2017 draft out of Stanford University, where he graduated with an engineering degree.
Command is his biggest question mark. Hanewich issued six free passes every nine innings last season, and his walk rate as a collegian wasn’t anything to write home about either. A max-effort delivery is part of the reason, and therein lies a conundrum. Hanewich believes that his delivery — a byproduct of a summer spent with a former Cy Young Award winner — is partially responsible for his plus velocity.
Hanewich on his heater: “I have a heavy fastball. That’s what everybody who catches me calls it. It feels like a bowling ball as opposed to, say, a Whiffle ball. I think it has to do with spin rate. My spin rate is anywhere between 2,300 and 2,400, which is above major league average.
“Another thing that makes my fastball different is my motion. I get very good extension. It’s somewhere between seven and eight feet, which is way above average. The way I throw, the ball jumps on the hitter — there’s more life to it because of the extension. The plate is sixty feet six inches from the mound, so a pitcher with a six-foot extension is throwing 54 feet six inches from where the ball is being released. There’s a thing called perceived velocity. The ball looks like it’s coming in faster than what it actually is. My perceived velocity is a plus, and the fact that I throw hard to begin with is obviously a factor as well.
“The high spin rate, how the ball is heavy, how it moves, my extension… all of that kind of piles up together and makes for a different fastball than a lot of other fastballs. I don’t know what it looks like from a hitter’s point of view. I just throw it how I throw it.”
On his command issues and max-effort delivery: “Command has been a big focus for me. I need to be more consistent in the strike zone. Timing is the main thing. My motion is really time sensitive, because of the effort I’m putting in. It’s more of a max-effort delivery.
“When I’m timed up, the ball comes out better. It comes out smoother and the ball jumps. Conversely, if my arm is late through the zone, I’m going to miss.Then I’ll overcorrect, and that’s where you get those big misses.
“Some people might feel differently, but I like to think that I throw hard because of the effort I put into every pitch. That might be why I’m not a starter anymore. In college I was a starter, but I also only threw 90, 91, 92 [mph]. Now I’m a mid-to—upper-90s guy, and on good days even higher. Last year I hit 100 in a few times.
“That’s basically how I learned to throw hard, by putting in more effort on every single pitch. I just need to be able to control that — have my timing right, be consistent with my release point, be consistent with my arm action. And I need to have my lower body in sync. Little things. This is a game of inches. If one little thing is off, that leads to another thing being off, and another thing being off. This is a game of inches.”
On pitching both out of the windup and the stretch: “I’ve heard people say it’s a little weird, because a lot of relievers only throw out of the stretch. They’ll ask, ‘Why do you throw out of a windup?’ I see it as being another look. I throw three pitches, so it’s like having six pitches. It’s different timing. My timing to the plate from my windup is obviously going to be longer than my timing from the stretch.
“There’s nothing funky about my windup. I do go over my head with my hands, to help with the timing. I’m trying to get to a specific point. My hands are coming down from over my head to the base of my chest, and down to where my leg is. I know exactly when I need to have my hands break, and basically start my arm going back in order to be properly timed. That’s something I’m working on a lot — getting that consistency with breaking my hands, to get my motion going with my arm in the right position to throw.”
On working with John Denny: “I didn’t play summer ball going into my senior year. Instead, I spent 14 weeks working with John Denny, who pitched for the Cardinals, Phillies, Reds, and Indians. He won a Cy Young back in the day. I’m from Sarasota, and six days a week I would wake up at seven a.m. and make the two-hour drive to the Orlando area, where he lives.
“The work we did was a grind. It was kind of like playing in pro ball, but a little more intense, to be honest. We’d long toss, we’d get on the mound and do touch-and-feel stuff. On Tuesdays and Fridays we’d throw hard — I’d throw against the radar gun — and on some days we’d work out in his garage. He had a specific workout he did when he played — I won’t give the details to that — but it was for an hour, and pretty strenuous. At first I couldn’t do half the stuff, but by the end I could do all of it.
“The first pen I threw with him, I sat 90-91 and topped out at 94. He said, ‘All right, you touched 94. You should be sitting 94.’ He said I needed to put more effort into my throws. He said to notice how I use my body when I play long toss. He said when I play long toss, I should try to throw it over his head. I eventually increased my distance. I’d long toss 350 feet, then go right to the mound to throw with the same mindset.
“I was surprised by how good his arm still is. He wasn’t able to long toss really far, but he could still spin a curveball. From 40 feet, without even warming up, he could spin it with the sharpest break. I would be jabbing at the ball, just to catch it. He could also hit his spot, from wherever. He could pinpoint. Some of the things he could do were unbelievable. He would actually catch me against the radar gun. I’d be throwing in the mid 90s, and at 65 years old he’d be back there with the gear on. He had no fear. For being 65 … I don’t want to say that’s old, but I wouldn’t recommend a 65-year-old catching any professional player’s bullpens. Not even guys throwing 88. And my fastball is different than other guys fastballs.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.