Let’s All Get Irresponsibly Excited About Jared Jones

Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of the first week of the season is that I can look at a single performance and let my imagination go wild. Juan Soto learned how to play defense. Mookie Betts is going to hit 100 homers. Lance Lynn is going to end every single start soaking wet and fuming at the umpire. OK, fine, maybe that last one could actually happen — especially with those new unis! And here’s another one that might actually come true: Jared Jones dominates in the majors right away.

That sounds weird, I’m sure. Jones made his major league debut on Saturday and gave up three runs in 5.2 innings. He’s only 22, last year was the first time he pitched above A-ball, and he put up a 3.85 ERA across two levels. But I’m surprisingly confident about this. If you watch Jones pitch for a game or two, I think you’ll agree with me too.

Jones had me in the first inning of his start. Look at this outrageous two-pitch sequence to Josh Bell:

But it gets better! Here are the next two pitches Bell saw:

Delightful!

That’s a good encapsulation of the book on Jones. His fastball plays well at the top of the zone, and he drops a great slider off of it. In our Top 100 Prospects list, Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin specifically mentioned Jones’ ability to spot the slider in the zone for a strike. That sequence to Bell was overpowering; 99 mph heat around the edges and sliders you can’t hit, no matter how hard you try.

Jones hit 100 on the gun twice in the first inning, though it’s clear that he doesn’t quite have that in him consistently. As the start wore on, his velo trailed off and he lived in the 95-97 range. It didn’t matter. That fastball absolutely tormented the Marlins all night. It’s not just the velocity, though it’s partially that. It’s not just the movement, though that definitely helps; his induced vertical break is right near the top of the big leagues already. The combination of the two and a low arm slot mean that hitters are swinging under and behind it frequently.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. PitchingBot thinks that Jones’ fastball is tied with Bobby Miller’s for the best in baseball this year. They’re each a hair above reigning fastball king Spencer Strider. Stuff+ disagrees with PitchingBot; it thinks that Jones has the best fastball in baseball, all by himself, by a mile. It gives him a 162 mark; Nick Pivetta comes in second at 140. The top 10 is dotted with the likes of Miller, Strider, Grayson Rodriguez, and Cole Ragans, and yet Jones stands alone at no. 1.

Sometimes I can’t understand why a pitch quality model loves one particular pitch more than another. That’s not the case with Jones. His fastball has that flat-plane shape that makes it seem to defy gravity. Just ask the Marlins: They swung and missed at 11 fastballs Saturday, a 28.9% rate. It helps, too, that he likes to locate it either high in the zone or above it. That will no doubt result in his fair share of hard contact, as it did in the minors last year, but it’s also going to make for a lot of GIFs like this:

You can’t make a starting pitcher exclusively out of fastballs, but Jones’s slider is a worthy counterpart to his overbearing heater. It sits in the upper 80s, with more gyro movement than sweep. That works to his benefit because it’s such a good pitch that he uses it heavily against both righties and lefties. Gyro sliders fare better against opposite-handed hitters than the sweeping variety; Bell certainly looked lost against the two he saw in the first inning, for example.

At the risk of over-quoting pitch models, PitchingBot thinks that Jones has the sixth-best slider so far this year. Stuff+ think it’s the 14th-best. The combination of velocity and break makes it play well against everyone, regardless of handedness. I love how he uses it, too. He looked equally comfortable aiming for the glove-side edge of the zone and turning it into a chase pitch down. This isn’t exactly scientific, but given that Jones is mostly a two-pitch guy, I think his ability to use his second pitch multiple ways will serve him well.

Of course, he could also just develop a third pitch, and he does throw both a curveball and a changeup. The curve plays like a remix of the slider; it’s mostly north-south, though it comes in 10 miles an hour slower and with more downward break, even ignoring gravity, so it falls an extra 20 inches on its way home. I don’t think it’ll ever be much more than a change of pace pitch, but honestly, that’s pure guesswork. He only threw six of them Saturday, and none of them were great. Five of them were yanked to various parts of the zone, mostly high and outside, and the sixth hung dead middle.

His spring training results suggest something similar. His command of the pitch is somewhere between fair and poor, which undermines a lot of the reason to throw it in the first place. I think it’s a decent enough building block, but until he can consistently get it somewhere near the zone without piping it straight down the middle, it’s more of a curiosity than a weapon.

The same can’t be said of his changeup, which he also threw five times on Saturday. Its standout feature is velocity; he throws it in the 90-93 range, enough slower than his fastball to confuse timing but still fast enough to get on hitters suddenly. It’s a fairly standard changeup aside from that; it has arm-side fade and drops about 15 inches more than his fastball, thanks to the spin-killing grip and speed differential. Naturally, it’s at its best against lefties, and let me tell you, poor Josh Bell is going to be having nightmares about Jones:

Bell struck out three times in three looks on Saturday, falling on a slider, a fastball, and a changeup. Here’s how he looked after that last changeup, in case you were wondering what it feels like to face someone with this much pure stuff:

It’s going to be like that for opposing batters when Jones is executing. When he can spot his fastball, slider, and changeup for strikes, there’s just too much plate to cover at too many speeds and angles. He garnered a whopping 22 whiffs in the game, the most of any pitcher so far this year. He also caught the Marlins looking at 14 strikes, an impressive number given how often they swung at his offerings.

It’s fairly clear to see how Jones can succeed without needing to change much of anything. Spot the fastball high, snap sliders and changeups off of it, and wait for the strikeouts to pile up. Sure, the Marlins aren’t the best offensive team in baseball, but those 10 strikeouts would be impressive against anyone. The pitch models don’t care who you’re facing, either, and they still think Jones’ stuff is absolutely elite.

You can also see how Jones might struggle in some games, though. The Marlins adjusted to his zone-filling approach by looking for fastballs as often as possible. That made for some bad swings against sliders, but it also produced some loud contact, like this Jake Burger double:

That’s the cost you pay for pumping fastballs in the upper parts of the strike zone. Sometimes you won’t throw it by them, and when opponents hit it, it goes a long way. He’s also prone to over-spinning his slider, creating a backup pitch that catches the middle of the plate because he’s already trying to throw it for a strike. In the sixth inning, Bryan De La Cruz tagged one of those sliders for a hit that hastened Jones’ trip to the showers. The Marlins produced plenty of loud contact against Jones despite no homers; they did better the more they saw of him, too. Jones tried mixing in more curves and changeups his third time through the order, but until he’s more comfortable with those pitches, that’s only a partial solution.

That’s just nitpicking from me, though, and I’m only doing it so that you don’t leave this article thinking that Jones is a fully formed product already. He still has plenty of learning and growing to do. More confidence in his changeup and finer command of his fastball could kick his already fearsome game up a notch. Nitpicking aside, I’m excited. We’re only five days into the season, and there’s already a new young pitcher who looks like he might be appointment viewing. The Pirates look frisky this year, and Paul Skenes isn’t even up yet. It’s going to be a fun one in the NL Central.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Cave Dameron
19 days ago

Thank you Ben, very cool!

Dan B
19 days ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

Thanks Cave, you are doing Yeoman’s work