Buehler has a 94-100 mph FASTBALL that quickly jumps on the hitter and gets him a lot of groundballs and a great 80 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. Walker has a devastating 81-84 mph power nose-to-toes/12-to-6 CURVEBALL with a 60 grade and hard downer 12-to-6 action. He has a plus an 90-93 mph SLIDER that also grades 60 with late tilt that he can throw for a strike or bury as a chase pitch. He also has a 45 grade CHANGEUP with good fading action that he has feel for, and is effective retiring lefty hitters. He has 55 grade control.
Walker's stuff is as good as virtually anyone in the minors.
“It’s in the top group of all the arms I’ve seen,” one scout said during the 2017 season. “He’s got No. 1-type starter stuff. He’s got four pitches that all have a chance to be average or better. Everything was electric. Everything was a swing-and-miss pitch.”
Buehler sits in the high 90s in most of his starts, but what is equally notable is how well he controls his pitches. He has present average control, according to the scout, with the chance to be a little better than that eventually.
“His arm is fast, easy and loose,” the scout said. “He’s a future No. 1.”
2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 41.6% of the time; Sinker 16.8%; Change 3.6%; Slider 10.6%; Curve 14.1%; and Cutter 13.3% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 96.9 mph, Sinker 96.6, Change 90.7, Slider 86.6, Curve 80.9, and Cutter 92.3 mph.
- 2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 53.1% of the time; Sinker 7%; Change less than 1%; Slider 13.8%; Curve 12.3%; and Cutter 13.4% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 96.9 mph, Sinker 96.8, Change 91.8, Slider 87.1, Curve 81, and Cutter 92.9 mph.
Walker has a smooth delivery, a clean arm action, and is a polished righthander. It is a loose, athletic delivery that enables Buehler to pound the strike zone.
Buehler just naturally throws strikes, pounding the zone. He gets a 55 grade for his a bit-above-average control.
Buehler is at least a #2 starter, if the not the ace of a staff.
Walker raises both hands above his head, a change he made in his delivery as a junior at Vanderbilt after he read that almost all Hall of Fame pitchers did so.
For the next few beats he looked just like Justin Verlander -- body tucked tight as if off a high dive, front foot under the hamstring of the raised front leg before it kicked out as thearm pulled back and the shoulders tilted, as if aiming for the mezzanine. This is how Papa showed him how to do it.
Buehler called his maternal grandfather, Papa. Dave walker was his first pitching coach, an engineering savant from the oil business in eastern Kentucky. Papa grew up in Alba, Michigan as a Tigers fan. If he was going to teach his grandson how to throw, then the Detroit ace was going to be his template. The boy learned Verlander well.
"Snake eyes!" Papa would yell. "Snake eyes!"
Papa said it sooooo many times that to this day, Walker still hears Papa's voice. Snake eyes is the metaphor for the ideal position of the fingernails of his first two finger on his fastball grip. "Having your fingers on top of the ball instead of out to the side," Buehler explained. "I spin the ball pretty well, not crazy, but well enough, and I think that's where it came from. Him saying that forever definitely didn't hurt.
"One of the biggest key I pay attention to is throwing first-pitch strikes. When you do that you control the count and you pitch deep into games. That's what I want to do very time.
"Selfishly, I really like punching guys out," Walker says. "That's like my thing. That's what I enjoy doing, Il like pitching, I like all of it....But if I have to pick one thing I like best -- I like punching guys out."
Buehler has what scouts call "pitchability," -- the genius to know how to shape and use six pitches, all of which he can tweak in a moment's notice.
May 4, 2018: The pitching legacy of the Dodgers stretches for the better part of a century, and Walker Buehler took his rightful place in it after just his third Major League start.
The rookie did the heavy lifting in the first combined no-hitter in Dodgers history. His six electric innings in the rain were followed by one each from Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore in a 4-0 win over the Padres in the opener of the Mexico Series.
It was the 23rd no-hitter in Dodgers history, but the first combined. The last Dodgers no-no was thrown by Clayton Kershaw on June 18, 2014, against Colorado.
Fittingly, it was the greatest Mexican Dodger ever, Fernando Valenzuela, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Valenzuela threw his no-hitter for the Dodgers in 1990 against the Cardinals. (Ken Gurnick- MLB.com)
Oct 26, 2018: Buehler etched his name in the record books with one of the most impressive performances in franchise history in Game 3 of the World Series. His first pitch was clocked at 97.9 mph. Seven innings later, Buehler's 108th and final pitch hit 98.2 mph. In between, Buehler dominated the Red Sox, and his teammates finally put Boston away with a 3-2 victory in 18 innings to cut the Sox's series lead to two games to one.
"There have been a few games when I had similar feelings, but obviously, this one tops the list," Buehler said.
Buehler's 26 pitches in the first were the most thrown in a 1-2-3 inning in postseason history. He also became the youngest Dodgers pitcher to throw six or more scoreless innings in a World Series game since Johnny Podres did it in 1955. In addition, Buehler joins Roger Clemens (Game 2, 2000) and Don Larsen (Game 5, 1956) as the only pitchers to throw seven or more scoreless innings while allowing two hits or fewer without any walks in a World Series game.
"I just got into some good counts and made pitches when I needed to," Buehler said. "It's how we have been all year. Obviously, being down 2-0, and people [were] saying our backs are against the wall, but we've been here and done that before." Overall, the hard-throwing rookie allowed only two hits and struck out seven in seven scoreless innings, reaching a career-high pitch count. Buehler was replaced by Kenley Jansen in the eighth with his team up, 1-0.
Buehler, who also threw 100 pitches against the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLCS, joins Justin Verlander, who fired 102 pitches in Game 1 of the ALDS, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who tossed 104 pitches in Game 1 of the NLDS, on the short list of starters to throw 100 pitches or more during this postseason.
"We needed his best effort, and we needed him to go deeper than their starter, log some innings," manager Dave Roberts said. "And some guys run from it. Some guys can't answer the bell. But this guy, he's got an overt confidence, a quiet confidence, a little combo. He's got tremendous stuff, and he lives for moments like this." (J Sanchez - MLB.com - Oct 27, 2018)
Buehler entered last season with as much hype as any prospect arm, and he managed to exceed it while becoming the Dodgers’ 1-A ace. Command, aggression and premium heat helped Buehler stifle opposing offenses down to a microscopic—and downright historic—number of walks and hits per inning.
Live-ball era rookie starters with a sub-1.00 WHIP (Min. 120 IP): 1) Dick Hughes (1967): 0.95, 2) Buehler (2018): 0.96, 3) Jose Fernandez (2013): 0.98.
Hughes helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series, then tore his rotator cuff and was done as a Major Leaguer the following season. The late Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery after his incredible NL Rookie of the Year campaign.
June 21, 2019: Walker Buehler struck out 16 batters which was the most by a Dodger since 1996.
July 21, 2019 outing for the Dodgers: “The fastball lane was consistent on the glove side,” said manager Dave Roberts. “[Buehler] was commanding the down-and-away low dart to the right-handed hitter. The cutter and breaking ball off that. Getting ahead all day. He could essentially do whatever he wanted.”
Aug 7, 2019: Walker Buehler's breakout hasn't stopped. Why would it? He's got high-90s heat, two wipeout breaking balls, a cutter he's taken to the next level, and command of the whole package. The Dodgers' 25-year-old ace-in-the-making has 152 strikeouts this season; he's walked only 20. He leads the Majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 7.60.
Buehler has already delivered a pair of the 2019 season's biggest gems: two starts with 15-plus strikeouts and zero walks, a feat only Pedro Martinez (in 1999 and 2000) and Dwight Gooden (in 1984) have achieved twice in a year.
Here's how he's doing it.
GETTING THE K'S
Buehler is throwing more four-seamers.
Stop us if this sounds familiar (Hi, Astros!). Buehler has mostly pocketed his two-seam fastball in favor of four-seamers.
This season, he's throwing 54.4% four-seam fastballs and just 6.6% two-seamers. Last year, when he moved into the Dodgers' rotation, Buehler was using much more of a mix: 40.8% four-seamers and 18.8% two-seamers. It's not that his two-seamer is ineffective; it's actually gotten excellent results, too, like most of what he throws. But the four-seamer is more of a strikeout pitch, especially when it's the high-velocity, high-spin variety at Buehler's fingertips. (He has a 96.6 mph average velo and 2,440 rpm average spin rate ... MLB average is 93.4 mph and 2,286 rpm.) Buehler's four-seamer gets +2.3 inches of "rise" above average. His two-seamer doesn't have nearly as much movement.
Buehler has recorded 71 of his 152 strikeouts on four-seam fastballs in 2019. But his secondary stuff is better, too.
Buehler's breaking balls are sharper.
Buehler has added over 100 rpm of spin on both his curveball and slider. His curveball spin rate has increased from 2,757 rpm in 2018 to 2,892 rpm in '19 -- higher than over 90% of the league (MLB average curveball spin is 2,521 rpm). His slider spin rate has increased from 2,761 rpm to 2,862 rpm.
Both pitches are moving more. On his curveball, Buehler has added about an inch more of both horizontal and vertical movement relative to average. On his slider, he's added about two inches in both horizontal and vertical movement relative to average.
The swings-and-misses, chases out of the strike zone and strikeout numbers have shot up on both pitches. That sure doesn't look like an accident.
Those same metrics have improved in kind on his cutter, even with little difference in its shape. Buehler's swing-and-miss rate on his cutter has leaped from 18.2% to 26.0%, his chase rate from 23.0% to 40.3%, and his strikeout rate from 12.5% to 22.6%. Those are major increases on an already-wicked pitch that sits in the low-to-mid-90s with movement. And it might be a ripple effect from the change in the breaking pitches.
Buehler is working ahead.
Barely one in five pitches Buehler has thrown this season have been with him behind in the count. He's cut that number each year, from 29.2% of his pitches as a September callup in 2017 to 23.7% of his pitches last season, to 21.9% of his pitches this season.
In fact, Buehler gets ahead of hitters at one of the highest rates in baseball. Over a third of his pitches thrown have been while he's ahead in the count, ranking third in MLB among regular starters. You're not going to walk many guys if you follow that recipe.
Highest % of pitches thrown while ahead in the count, 2019Min. 1,500 total pitches (104 pitchers)1) Chris Paddack (SD): 37.4%2) Max Scherzer (WSH): 36.8%3) Walker Buehler (LAD): 34.2%4) Jose Berrios (MIN): 34.0%5) Gerrit Cole (HOU): 33.9%
Buehler has also tightened up his pitch selection in different types of counts.
When he does fall behind now, he uses his four-seamer to get back into the count, or sometimes his cutter, which has become more of a weapon for him (13.4% usage, compared to 7.7% in 2018). Last year, Buehler's pitch types were more spread out across his arsenal even when he was behind.
And when he gets ahead, he buries hitters with his two breaking balls -- without forgetting about his overpowering four-seamer, of course. Buehler's curve, slider and primary heater have made up a heavier share of what he throws in those putaway two-strike counts.
You don't get 15-strikeout, no-walk outings without serious stuff and sharp execution. Buehler is harnessing some of the best stuff in the game. He's a star. (D Adler - MLB.com - Aug 8, 2019)
Sept 27, 2019: Most pitchers headed to the postseason use their final regular-season start for a tuneup. Walker Buehler used it for tinkering. Although the Dodgers battered the Giants 9-2 -- to tie for the most wins in Los Angeles history at 104 -- Buehler struggled through five innings. He struck out eight but walked four, allowed two runs and five hits and made 104 pitches.
“It’s not a panic thing,” said Buehler. “This is what I do. I tinker. When I give myself something new to think about, it simplifies things for me.
A year ago, Buehler’s final regular-season start was his clutch Game 163 victory over Colorado that clinched the division. There was no talk of tinkering back then. Buehler, however, said some of what he took into this lats game came off video of that Game 163.
“I’m kind of tinkering with some stuff and trying to figure some little things out,” he said. “Been a little inconsistent and kind of found a little something there. Trying to speed up and put myself in a position to be a little more athletic. For now it’s going to be a little inconsistent and that’s fine, that’s why we work the way we do. I feel like I threw some really good pitches and some really bad pitches and just trying to find some consistency.”
Why tinker with mechanics on the eve of the postseason? Because Buehler allowed six earned runs over 11 innings in his previous two starts.
“The past two starts I wasn’t super happy about and I’m going to look at some stuff and figure out a plan to find a different feel,” he said. “I’m a one-feel guy, try to find a feel for every delivery and if that one feel is not working, I’ll try a different one.”
Buehler changed his windup to keep his hands in front instead of over his head, a device manager Dave Roberts explained would allow his arm to catch up with his lower body.
“It was all about command,” Roberts said. “The tempo was considerably quicker than it has been. That was kind of intentional. I think his arm had a hard time catching up tonight. Spraying the fastball, getting behind. But in the zone, it was really good. It didn’t allow for efficiency. For him to get through five was a good thing.
“Walker said he figured some things out in the fifth inning. He’s got good body and mechanical awareness. We’ve got time to get him dialed back in.” (K Gurnick - MLB.com - Sept 28, 2019)
As of the start of the 2020 season, Walker had a career record of 23-9 with a 3.12 ERA, having allowed 259 hits and 34 home runs in 329 innings.