Why the Blue Jays’ Chris Bassitt signing will age well

The signing of Chris Bassitt seems like a safe bet from the Blue Jays.  (Getty)

The signing of Chris Bassitt seems like a safe bet from the Blue Jays. (Getty)

  • Bassitt has an unpredictable pitch mix

  • Blue Jays know exactly what they are getting

  • Should fit nicely into Toronto’s tight rotation

Picture yourself as a left-handed batter stepping into the batter’s box of a major league.

You dig in as a lanky 6-foot-5 right-hander comes up the mound. As far as pitchers go, he looks extremely ordinary. You’ve also seen his warm-ups, and his 90 mph fastball running arm-side, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

The pitcher moves, winding his arm high and his glove low as a sinker rushes to the outside corner for strike. The next offering, despite being a few ticks slower than the 0-0 pitch, catches you off guard. The cutter dives in and spins under your 0-1 hack.

At a 0-2 count you are now in protection mode. Maybe the long right throws a curveball into the sand to change your eye level. Maybe it’s a change away. You can spit on both offers.

But then he rips the four-seamer up and in. The speed tells your mind it’s a sinker – like the first pitch of the at bat – but the heater stays straight and shoots up in the zone. You may get a piece of it for a foul ball, or it will jingle in your hands for a jam-shot pop-up. Maybe it freezes you and you take the walk of shame back to the dugout after trick three. Anyway, you were on your heels the entire at bat.

That’s Chris Bassitt’s experience. That predisposition to keep batters in the dark is why the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly pledged $63 million to the 33-year-old over the next three seasons. And, best of all, his game may get even better as he gets older.

Bassitt’s profile is puzzling. His fastball hovers around 93 mph with unremarkable spin speeds. Baseball Savant tells us that his pursuit percentage a year ago was in the 10th percentile, giving it an ominous dark blue rating, and his 37th percentile extension was the lowest of his career. But despite all these shortcomings, Bassitt is a wizard at smothering hard contact – holding opponents at an exit speed of 85.3 mph and earning a red-hot 95th percentile from Savant.

The sinker is key for Bassitt. In 2022, according to Savant, the field was worth a decisive minus 16 points, making it the best float in baseball (200 at bat minimum). Bassitt uses his sinking fastball about a third of the time, coupled with a taut blade and looper slider that propelled him to a top-10 finish among starters in percentage hit hard (32.8 percent).

Sinker boys tend to age well. The likes of Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto, and Corey Kluber staved off Father Time into their mid-to-late thirties (early forties for Wainwright) with a heavy dose of sinkers and a knack for painting angles. None of those guys are clinging to Cy Young status, but they’ve all remained subservient as their bodies slowed down. Bassitt, who will be 36 when his Toronto deal expires, just needs to eat innings and stay healthy to make this signing a success.

The Blue Jays are spending a lot of money on who Bassitt is right now, a refreshing contrast to the signing of southpaw Yusei Kikuchi last year. Unlike how the Kikuchi story played out, there won’t be any conversations about “progress” or “projectability.” There’s no tinkering with who Bassitt is. He already has an identity.

In fact, Kevin Gausman, the Blue Jays’ other notable signing from last winter, profiles himself similarly. Few pitchers in baseball follow a tighter game plan than Gausman’s four seam split up and down routine. That has been Gausman’s modus operandi since he hit rock bottom three years ago with the Cincinnati Reds. Now every minute detail, from mental mapping to physical warmups, is about pitching in on itself. At this stage in his career, Bassitt, like Gausman, knows who he is and how to prepare. Collectively, the Blue Jays should feel a big sigh of relief on Bassitt’s starting days.

Of course, he will also be an energizing teammate who will fit in well with Toronto’s close-knit starting pitching squad. The rotation guys are a vocal crew that talk to each other non-stop, often exchanging ideas and tipping each other off. Last year it was Gausman, the most experienced arm in the rotation, who took the initiative to boost Kikuchi’s confidence when things were low. Adding Bassitt’s charisma to the group will only make things better.

Gausman was thrilled when news of Bassitt’s signing broke, even shouting out his new teammate on Twitter. However, Blue Jays fans will be much more excited when Bassitt joins Gausman and two other starters for that pre-game walk to the dugout on Opening Day.

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