Ty Buttrey has come a long way since being selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of a Charlotte, North Carolina high school. Following six often-tumultuous seasons in the minors, the 25-year-old turned a developmental corner last year and made his MLB debut in August. He did so with the Los Angeles Angels, who acquired him in the trade deadline deal that sent Ian Kinsler to Boston.
His future is bright. As Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote in yesterday’s Angels Top Prospect list, Buttrey will likely be a significant part of the team’s bullpen this season. He logged four saves in last year’s 16-game, 16.1-inning cameo, and could very well earn the closer’s job.
His biggest strides have been mental. The power arm has always been there — Buttrey’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he’s reached triple digits — but as he readily admits, his mindset wasn’t where it needed to be. Rather than staying true to what came naturally, the 6-foot-6 righty too often found himself trying to fix things that weren’t necessarily broken. In short, he became a tinkerer.
Buttrey on finding himself as a pitcher: “Starting out, I was listening to too many people, versus going out there and doing what makes me who I am, doing what got me drafted. There was a lot of noise that I wasn’t able to block out. I was trying to do so many things, just to make people happy. The next thing you know, I’d gotten really mechanical. I lost some ground on who I was as a pitcher.
“All coaches have things they preach, and some things work for players and others don’t. I’m not saying any of it was bad, or ill-intended, but if you listen to too many people, everything just kind of clouds over. You’re hearing, ‘Hey, stay taller on your back side,’ or ‘Let’s change this grip on this pitch,’ or it could be ‘Let’s get your front side at a different angle.’ Everyone is telling you something.
“I was searching for things, too. Because I wasn’t having immediate success, I was seeking out all of these different opinions, trying to make myself better. In reality, I was just making things worse. It took time to get some athleticism back into my delivery, and to just go out there and compete without worrying about all this side stuff.
“It was about two years ago that I was able to start flipping the switch to where I can take information and know how to apply it. I’ve gotten to a point where … it’s not that I’m shutting anybody out — not be any means — but if I hear something, I’m going to think about it. If it makes sense, I’m going to try to implement it. If it doesn’t make sense to me, or if I feel myself fighting it, I’m going to stick with what feels comfortable. I’m going to keep the core fundamentals of my delivery, my demeanor, my mentality, the way I pitch, the way I attack hitters. The stuff that makes me who I am.”
On using data to his advantage: “Analytics provide great information. Absolutely. [Pitching coach] Doug [White] and Bales [bullpen coach Andrew Bailey] are all over it in terms of giving us what we need. It’s interesting stuff. Rapsodo, especially. You can throw a pitch, and if it doesn’t have the right spin rate, you know that it probably won’t be as effective. You can maybe tweak something small, and maybe get a little extra spin, a little extra carry. You can make something better.
“In terms of what I’ve been learning … we’re looking at a couple of things. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but basically we’re trying to utilize my changeup better. With my fastball, we’re trying to get a little more carry through the zone, that extra ride, versus maybe tailing off a little bit. We’re trying to get more efficient with my spin.
“A lot of this stuff is new to me. I know that Boston implemented it, but we didn’t really hear too much about it in the minor league system. The information is pretty exciting. I mean, the facts are there. We went through it: ‘This type of spin rate and this type of velocity is X effective in these situations.’ As baseball players, if we can get a competitive edge, whatever it is, that’s something we want to embrace.
“The Angels have done a great job of giving me all these weapons — all of this information — but they’re not shoving it down my throat. It’s more like, ‘Ty, we’re trying to get you to be the best pitcher you can be.’ That’s what I want.”
On having the right mindset: “I got called up on August 16, a few weeks after I got traded at the deadline, and working with [then bullpen coach] Scott Radinsky was awesome. He had really good insight on the mindset I needed. He told me, “Ty, listen. You’re going be very successful with what you do. Don’t try to change too much.’ That goes back to what I was saying. He didn’t want me to be where I was a few years ago, searching for all these things. Basically, he solidified what I already do well.
“I’ve come to realize just how mental baseball is. I was looking at it the wrong way. I’d be thinking, ‘If I just change this on my curveball,’ or ‘If I just do this differently with my glove side.’ I thought things like that would make everything click, but it’s far more complicated than that. You’re not going to get a result just because you changed something. At the same time, you do have to continue to get better. It’s a matter of understanding how to use the information that’s going to be helpful, while not getting away from who you are as a pitcher.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.