On Sunday afternoon, Jose Butto took the mound and faced two challenging tasks: taking the mound on the day that the Mets retired Dwight Gooden’s No. 16, and facing a hot Kansas City Royals team. The 26-year-old right-hander rose to the occasion and then some – tossing 6.0 shutout innings while striking out a career-high nine batters and giving up just two hits and one walk.

Through two starts in 2024, Butto has allowed just one run across 12.0 innings and has given up just five hits, four walks and struck out 15. While it is only a small sample of two starts in 2024, Butto has been markedly better than in his cups of coffee in the majors over the past two seasons.

His strikeout rate has jumped to 34.1% from 21.2% last year, while his walk rate has dropped from 12.8% to 9.1%. Those are encouraging trends, and while two starts hardy makes a trend one can bank on continuing, diving deeper there are reasons to believe that perhaps Butto could be a different pitcher this year.

One of the interesting trends at the start of the season has been his increased usage of his sinker and the introduction of a sweeper. After throwing his sinker just 41 times in the majors 2023, Butto has thrown 29 sinkers in 2024, and the offering has become his most-frequently thrown pitch.

What is interesting about Butto’s move to a sinker is that he spins it very similarly to his four-seam fastball, and it has significantly more ride (a term usually reserved for four-seam fastballs) than the average sinker while maintaining average run.

Butto’s sinker has four inches less vertical break than the average sinker thrown at that speed (avg. velocity 92.2), meaning hitters who recognize sinker expect slightly more drop out of the pitch than there ends up being.

Even more interesting is that Butto is not a “high ride” kind of pitcher. His four-seamer has about an average amount of ride and less run than an average four-seamer. A combination of a medium-ride four-seamer (16.2 inches of drop) with a high ride sinker (20.9 inches of drop but 10 inches more run) has kept hitters off balance.

He has used that combination to get devastating results with the sinker thus far, holding batters to a .111 batting average against the pitch, while the average exit velocity against the sinker has been a paltry 83.5 mph. The whiff rate is very low – just 6.7% — but the effect of the pitch has been to generate a ton of weak contact, which is always a win for the pitcher.

Using 12.0 innings of batted ball data to draw a conclusion is something you shouldn’t do, but it is intersteing to note a significant drop in Butto’s groundball rate in the majors this year – down from 42.2% last year to 33.3% this year. That seems to follow the ride argument that by not being able to anticipate the break on the sinker properly, hitters are not pounding it into the ground, but making weak contact in the air.

Butto found a good pitch and has been riding it to success. Per Baseball Savant, Butto ranks in the 98th percentile in fastball run value in MLB this year, placing him in an elite category.

On the other hand, Butto has thrown his brand-new sweeper only 12 times this year, a distinctly different breaking ball than his slider and seemingly in place of his curveball, which he has not thrown at all.

While the sweeper has not been the breakout success that Butto’s sinker has been – it has been hit hard and is the only pitch that has a negative run value for the right-hander – it also has qualities that make it a unicorn pitch of sorts.

Most sweepers focus on less vertical movement and more horizontal movement, but that is not the case with Butto’s sweeper. It breaks 47.8 inches vertically on average, nearly 9.2 inches more than average, and horizontally moves about average for a sweeper.

The pitch that the sweeper has replaced in the repertoire for Butto – the curve – moved only slightly more vertically (50.5 inches) and significantly less horizontally (3.0 in. vs. 13.9 in. for the sweeper). So he has maintained the curveball drop while adding an extra 10 inches of cut. He also throws the sweeper about 2 mph harder than his curve, but 2-3 mph slower than his traditional slider.

A sinker-slider combo is nothing new – those pitchers have been around for a long time – but Butto’s sinker and sweeper both have unique qualities that he has been using very effectively early on in 2024. It is too early to tell if hitters will start to adjust and make his impressive start short-lived, but if he is able to maintain his success, Jeremy Hefner and the Mets pitching department may have unlocked a beast.

6 comments on “We are witnessing Jose Butto’s breakout

  • T.J.

    Jose, Jose Jose, Jose Jose, Jose Jose!

  • Brian Joura

    I think we have to talk about Butto’s changeup.

    In the minors, we heard about how this was his best pitch. Yet in both 2022 and 2023, it was a negative offering. But here in 2024, a PA has ended on a change 11X and batters are 2-11 against it, with 6 Ks.

    Butto had success throwing the sinker last year and now he’s throwing it more. I’d argue it’s a bigger story that a pitch that he threw 23% of the time last year and wasn’t any good, is now a pitch he’s consistently getting outs with when he throws it, is a big development.

    Regardless, Butto has multiple pitches to attach a hitter and the results have been wonderful.

  • John From Albany

    The new pitches and increases in fastball velo have made his changeup more effective. All good things to see.

  • Metsense

    Great article Joe. Your deep dive and your insights are appreciated.
    It would be to the Mets advantage to keep Butto in the rotation to give him a chance.
    Mid rotation starters cost about $15m annually. In his last nine starts he has pitched as a mid rotation starter. His 2023 3.64 ERA was equal to Charlie Morton
    and his 4.02 FIP was similar to Sandy Alcantra , Clayton Kershaw , Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish. He is not eligible for arbitration until 2027 and is a free agent in 2030.

  • Mike W

    I am really excited to have a good young pitcher come up and be successful. Good for Jose.

    Nice to see Straw fly in for Docs number retirement. 40 years, hard to believe.

  • AgingBull

    Thank you for an informative article, Joe. I learned a lot. I already liked Butto and he’s seized the opportunity to shine this season.

    I do have some questions though.

    For one, it seems counter-intuitive that Butto’s lesser than average spin rate and drop on his slider is a positive. Wouldn’t this make it easier to hit? I get that it drops less than average but it strikes me that MLB hitters will adjust after they see Butto another game or two.
    This coupled with the fact that they are hitting weak flies suggests that they are hitting under the sinker, expecting the greater drop. If and when they adjust, that fly ball rate could turn into a higher HR rate, right?

    I don’t know what I don’t know and appreciated reading this. But those questions linger. Any thoughts?

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