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How is the 2023 #1 Draft Pick Performing in the Majors?

Paul Skenes pitching for the Indianapolis Indians in 2024; CC by License 2.0

If you’ve kept up with baseball media recently you’ve most likely seen Paul Skenes’ name a lot. Paul Skenes was the #1 overall pick in the 2023 MLB draft out of LSU. He was a big part of LSU’s success in 2023, where they ended up winning the College World Series. Skenes pitched only five games in 2023 in the minors and seven games in 2024 before being called up to the show. He made his debut on May 11, 2024, striking out seven batters and touching 100 MPH with his fastball 17 times. Pretty good for a rookie making his debut right? With the Pirates being second to last in their division, Paul Skenes has been a bright spot for the Pirates this season with promise that he can be a long-term starter for them in the coming years. With that being said, let’s take a look at how Skenes has performed so far since being called up to the majors. 

Stats (From 5/11-6/25): IP: 46.1, K%: 33.7%, BB%: 4.4%, Barrel%: 6.3%, ERA: 2.14,  WHIP: 0.99, pCRA: 2.95

Skenes has had success since entering the league and that’s mostly due to his ability to strike batters out. Skenes ranks in the top 5% of the league in K% and that is thanks to his high-velocity fastball and his slider. He gets the most strikeouts with those pitches,  with both having 40%+ K%. Skenes' second most used pitch is his splitter (Baseball Savant says split-finger), generating a 34.2 CSW%. He doesn’t use this pitch much in two-strike situations, but this pitch is his least hit pitch, with opponents only having a .140 batting average against it and a .172 wOBA. Those stats are both well below the league average for opposing batters, making this one of Skenes’ best pitches.  Skenes does have a somewhat high average exit velocity of 92 MPH, but due to his above-average CSW%, he can afford to give up some harder contact. With time, Skenes should expect to lower his exit velocity once he continues to pitch and learns more as he is just a rookie and has only 8 games under his belt. Let’s dive into the pitches I mentioned above and see how they’re performing for Skenes.  

Since entering the league Paul Skenes has wowed people with his fastball, averaging 99.3 MPH with it. Skenes uses his fastball the most out of his five-pitch arsenal, using it 39.6% of the time. He uses it 50.9% in two-strike situations which is well above his split-finger which he uses only 19.3% of the time in two-strike situations. He’s generated the majority of his strikeouts with this pitch as well, with a 40.5 K%. Skenes’ fastball doesn’t get hit all that well, with opponents only averaging a .313 wOBA (just below the MLB average). His fastball is also squared up about 3% less than the MLB average (38%).  Skenes pounds the upper and outside parts of the zone with this pitch. His vertical approach angle (VAA) of -4.9 aids in him reaching the top of the zone. Skenes is able to locate his fastball in the strike zone 65.2% of the time making this his most efficient pitch. His fastball is a huge part of his K% being so high. 

As mentioned earlier, Skenes’ least hit pitch is his splitter. He doesn’t use this pitch much in two-strike situations, but still gets 27.4% K% when he does use it. Due to its -6.9 VAA, Skenes is able to locate this pitch down in the zone mostly on the inner half of the plate. Skenes is able to generate a lot of swings with this pitch posting a 56.8% swing% and getting a whiff on 34.6% of those swings. The most impressive thing about his splitter is how he can keep runners off the basepaths with it. As mentioned before, opposing batters are only posting a .172 wOBA against this pitch meaning that opposing hitters have a very hard time reaching base against this pitch. Skenes does allow a decent amount of hard contact with this pitch, but because of his whiff rate, he can allow for more hard contact since this pitch isn’t hit as often. Seeing as how Skenes is very effective at keeping runners off the basepaths, he doesn’t give up many runs, posting a respectable 2.14 ERA. 

There’s always room for improvement no matter what the case may be, and for Paul Skenes the need for improvement happens to be with his slider. Skenes targets the outside of the zone heavily with his slider when he throws it. He only throws it 16.3% of the time, but posts a 40.0 K% with it. Although he gets a lot K’s with this pitch it is hit a lot more than any of his other pitches. Batters are getting on base more often against this pitch, with opposing batters having a .394 wOBA against this pitch, which is well above the league average. Another issue with this pitch is he doesn’t generate a lot of whiffs with it. He only gets a whiff 26.4% of the time, with the league average being 33.1%. This shows us that Skene's slider is being hit quite a bit. This brings me to my next point, which is when his slider is hit, its often hit hard. Skenes’ slider is generating a barrel% of 16.7% compared to the league average of 7.1%. If you’re unfamiliar with this stat click here for a detailed explanation. Batters aren’t just hitting this pitch hard, but they’re often getting extra base hits off this pitch as well. Opposing batters are posting a .450 ISO off Skenes’ slider. ISO is a metric that measures a hitters raw power by only taking into account their extra base hits. If Skenes can get this pitch to generate less hard contact and more whiffs it will only help him improve his already impressive start to his career. 

Paul Skenes is already off to a great start in his rookie season with a 4-0 record being a bright spot for a struggling Pirates team. As Skenes continues to develop as a pitcher he will only continue to improve. He has an elite fastball and an elite ability to generate strikeouts and is so fun to watch. I expect Skenes to only continue to improve as the season continues and continue to be one of the hottest names in the league.

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