How Mariners starter Bryan Woo’s fastballs are so effective

Jun 6, 2024, 7:47 PM

Seattle Mariners starter Bryan Woo...

Bryan Woo of the Seattle Mariners pitches during a 2024 game. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

(Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

OAKLAND, Calif. – After seeing Seattle Mariners starter Bryan Woo present his hitters with 76 fastballs in the 85 pitches he threw total Thursday afternoon in Oakland, A’s manager Mark Kotsay had no answers to why they came up empty.

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“We just couldn’t hit the heater,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about his fastball that gives us trouble. He basically just threw his four-seam and two-seam and played it off the plate today with success. That’s the story of the day.”

It is hard to believe in this day and age a pitcher can survive, let alone thrive, throwing nearly 80% fastballs, but that is exactly what Woo has been doing this year having given up four earned runs – two of which were inherited runs allowed by Ryne Stanek in the Mariners’ 9-5 win over the Nationals – in his first six starts of the season. The simple explanation from members of the organization is that the fastball is special. It is not what a hitter expects to see, something that Cal Raleigh has been able to experience from both behind and at the plate.

“When you see it, you think it is going to come out a little lighter just because he’s so smooth and easy down the mound,” he said. “It just kind of glides down the mound, but it comes down and it’s really hot. It comes out hot. It has a lot of life to it really, late life, late movement. It really gets on you. I faced him in spring training and it’s definitely not fun at-bats.”

The fastball and the delivery is the reason why Woo caught the eye of Mariners analysts, scouts and coaches who were part of the draft process. Never mind Woo accepted a scholarship to Cal Poly as a shortstop and started all of six games in college. The delivery he had then is largely the delivery he has now. It’s genesis, mostly organic according to Woo.

“I didn’t pitch a whole to growing up. So coming back into pitching the only thing I really knew was you want to make the ball come out on its own,” he said this week on the Mariners’ radio pregame show. “Use your whole body, use your legs, use your core. Your arm shouldn’t be the thing that is creating all the momentum. So I think if you use that correctly and you are doing everything else correctly, it kind of comes out like it is smooth and it’s easy. There’s always good intent behind it and there is intensity, but I think if you are moving well and using your whole body, that’s kind of how it should feel.”

Hitter knows they have a better than 75% chance of seeing a fastball – four-seam or two-seam – against Woo. They can largely eliminate any other pitch, yet the at-bat appears to be one of the toughest in majors this year. From his vantage point Woo can see why.

“I think it’s the combination of both of them because they’re so similar in velocity and you throw them and the first 50 or 75% of the pitch looks pretty similar. They just tunnel so well that they play so well off of each other and it’s hard,” Woo said. “If you can continue to mix in the offspeeds and use them effectively, then you’re going to have a pretty good mix on your hands. So I think it definitely breeds the confidence that, either one that I throw, it’s going to be tough.”

The game plan is built off the two fastballs and if it is working, Raleigh is not afraid to call them no matter how ridiculous their usage may appear. According to Woo, this has played a part in the confidence he has on the mound.

“I just listen to whatever Cal says,” he said. “I’m not shaking him anytime soon. That dude puts in more work than anybody. We’re living together this year and I see what he does day-to-day. I see how much he puts in, the work that he does looking into hitters and stuff like that. I do my own work as well, but I know nobody outworks him. So whatever he he thinks is best, I’m going with, and it helps me to to just put all trust in him and be convicted from there.”

As convicted as he is with what he does, Woo would love to be able to see how his stuff plays from the batters box. The Mariners have the technology to allow him to do that with the Trajekt machines in Peoria and Seattle, but so far, no luck for Woo.

“I’ve asked our hitting coaches if I could do it, but no one has quite let me stand in yet,” he said shaking his head. “I was trying to sneak myself in (during) spring training, but I thought I would get in trouble for it. At some point I want to do it.”

While it would seem many opposing hitters would gladly give up their spot in the order to face him, Woo versus Woo will have to wait. For now, he can let the results paint the picture of the effectiveness of the pitches and their usage. Eighty percent fastballs? For Woo? Why not.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Watch: Seattle Mariners’ Cal Raleigh picks up rare stolen base, scores on Garver hit
• A frequent Mariners trade partner could be in play for bullpen arms
• Bump: Mariners moving top prospect to ‘pen is ‘move I trust’
• Mariners closer Andrés Muñoz optimistic about his ailing back
• Mariners Insider: How M’s will use Víctor Robles; change for Kirby

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