Angels Southpaw Tucker Davidson Nerds Out on Pitching

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Tucker Davidson is looking to establish himself as a Los Angeles Angel. Acquired by the Anaheim-based AL club at last year’s trade deadline in the deal that sent Raisel Iglesias to Atlanta, Davidson is doing so with an approach heavily influenced by analytics. An admitted pitching nerd, the 27-year-old left-hander is well-versed in the metrics, and he’s using them to improve his craft.

He’s off to a solid start this season. Currently pitching out of the bullpen — the bulk of his professional experience has been as a starter — Davidson has a 2.53 ERA and a 2.48 FIP over four appearances comprising 10-and-two-thirds innings. His ledger includes both a win and a save.

Davidson sat down to talk pitching when the Angels visited Fenway Park this past weekend.

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David Laurila: You’re a pitching nerd. How did that come about?

Tucker Davidson: “I kind of fell into it — how the ball moves, and the whole analytical part — around 2015-2016 when I was in college and first getting drafted. I was interested in why my fastball didn’t spin a bunch, but I could still throw four-seams and get swings and misses up in the zone. I wondered why I couldn’t make a two-seam sink much. Why is my slider good? It was basically a ‘Why is that?’

“You see guys throwing 84 [mph] and blowing fastballs by everybody and wonder, ‘How is he doing that?’ Then you learn about vertical approach angle, vertical break, horizontal break. All of those factors tie into it.”

Laurila: What have you learned about how your stuff plays?

Davidson: “I have a very high arm-slot and get good vertical, good ride. I average 17 inches of induced vertical break, which is about an inch to an inch and a half higher than league average. It’s appearing to rise, even though I don’t have all the spin to help create that. I’m usually around 2,000 [rpm], average to a little below average.

“In drier climates, they tend to be a little lower. The more humid, I can kind of spin the ball better. I came up with the Braves and there is a lot of humidity in Atlanta. I’ve kind of adapted to… when it’s humid, the balls kind of feels stickier — not stickier, but rather like I’ve got a better grip, versus when there’s a drier climate and the ball almost feels dusty to me. I feel like that might have some correlation to spin rate. How the ball is coming off your fingers can vary.”

Laurila: Does spin rate matter to you?

Davidson: “Spin rate is useful to me, but it’s also not as useful as I think it’s been set out to be in the world. That said, if you have an outlier — if you have elite spin and are throwing a curveball at 3,400 rpm versus a league average around 2,500 — that’s going to be a factor.”

Laurila: Did you ever try to get more spin on your four-seam?

Davidson: “I think everybody tries to at some point, but then you’re like, ‘Well, this is who I am, and I need to be the best of who I am.’ One thing I have asked is, ‘Does hand strength play into finger flexibility? Is there any way we can create it?’ Nobody really has an answer to how you create more spin, unless you’re using a foreign substance. Even so, spinning the ball at 2,000 doesn’t mean I can’t pitch up in the zone.”

Laurila: How much does your slider spin?

Davidson: “Anywhere from 2,200 to 2,500. I throw a harder gyro. It’s got like zero vertical break with six to nine inches of horizontal. It’s got more sweep than a typical gyro, but not nearly as much as a sweeper.”

Laurila: Is that movement natural or was it developed?

Davidson: “I originally wanted… I remember being in Triple-A and seeing Max Fried having a lot of success throwing his slider. I had a good four-seam like he did and a good curveball, and he also didn’t have the changeup that he has now. I was watching how he utilized his slider and was like, ‘I’m going to learn that this offseason.’ That was going into ’20.

“I learned it, showed up to camp, and they asked, ‘What is this?’ I was like, ‘Well, I just kind of worked on it all offseason,’ and they were like, ‘Oh, we think it could be beneficial.’ So, I starting to throw it in spring training and they said, ‘Hey, we really want you to take a step with this.’

“It was about having something that wasn’t going up, and not a slow breaking ball — it was something in between. Learning the swing rates guys get on sliders had me thinking, ‘Alright, this is where I want it to be.’ Then I found that I’m good at making the ball sweep a little bit, so the goal became ‘How do I keep the velo while getting more horizontal break?’ Each year it’s gotten bigger, so now it’s a matter of balancing that, keeping the velo up and allowing it to play at that velocity.”

Laurila: You said you get zero vertical.

Davidson: “When it’s where I want it to be, it’s zero, and six to seven [horizontal]. That’s where my honey hole is for it, at 86 [mph] and above. That’s what I shoot for, and if I get more sweep, that’s great. What I’ve noticed in some outings is that if I get three to four inches of depth, the velo goes down to about 84. When that happens, I know that I need to get my hand in a better position.

“My vert was very inconsistent in Atlanta. A big part [of the adjustment] was figuring out where my hand needed to go on the lace. I had a tendency to creep up on the ball, and that would kill my vertical break because I wasn’t getting full leverage on that seam to pull down.”

Laurila: Are you throwing a curveball?

Davidson: “No. I threw a curveball last year, but it was kind of a slower slurve and it just didn’t play well. It wasn’t big enough to steal a strike; guys were wanting to swing at it. The slider was good, and there wasn’t enough separation in depth, so I added a sweeper this offseason. I’ve been throwing that this year. It’s kind of a similar look. It’s slower, and it’s way better.”

Laurila: Who are your metrics comps?

Davidson:[Carlos] Rodón, a little bit. Our sliders and four-seamers have similar verts and a similar axis. Atlanta always told me [Clayton] Kershaw, because he throws so many sliders. They told me they wanted me to throw the four-seam like he does, the slider like him, and then throw the curveball as a steal strike, or maybe an 0-2 pitch. That’s how they were pushing me, like, ‘Hey, throw as many sliders as Kershaw; watch him.’ Then I got over here, and they were like, ‘You’re a lot like Rodón in how we want you to utilize the fastball, use the velo with it, and then throw your slider.”

Laurila: I should ask you about one of your former teammates. Spencer Strider is very much a pitching nerd.

Davidson: “He is a nerd. We were able to communicate that way, talking baseball. He’d be, ‘I looked at this metric, and this is why I was successful.’ And it’s funny, we were talking sliders last season, and he’d wanted to learn mine. He told me, ‘Yours is the metrics, and the shape, I want. How do you do it?’ But with the grip I use, he would stay too far behind it and it was just a bad cutter. So he found a different grip — I think that was at the end of 2021, in Double-A — and it’s obviously working for him now.

“You have to kind of toy with things until you find what works, because what works for me might not work for you. I’m just a four-seam grip, offsetting it a little, and then I’m think fastball, fastball, fastball, and putting a ton of pressure on my middle finger. That’s all I do.”

Laurila: Like you said, you have to go with what works.

Davidson: “Yes. A lot of us are trying to find the hard gyro slider that’s got a little bit of sweep, like Shohei Ohtani’s. He throws it so hard. We want to throw one at 18 inches, but ultimately we have to be realistic with who we are.”





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.

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RonnieDobbs
1 year ago

What better way to publicize yourself then to tell this community what they want to hear? It would not take more than a few days of prep to form a few coherent statements about your stuff. The dude is an RP. These guys all get paid to play baseball and they all work at it.Some are just more busy talking about preparing than others. For those dudes looking to pretend that they are doing something interesting, head over to your fangraphs page hover over “splits” and then select “all” under pitch split types. You are now super into the science of pitching!

Planet Dustmember
1 year ago
Reply to  RonnieDobbs

What a truly bizarre response.