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Sandy Alcantara Has Prodigious Flexibility

Miami Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara showed a lot of promise when he was given a spot in the starting rotation last year. His 2.3 WAR and 3.88 ERA were impressive, but there’s much more going on that meets the eye. Alcantara has a very cohesive pitch ecosystem; the design of each offering makes for a lot of interchangeable parts. Being able to adapt to situations with flexible pitch options gives Alcantara an edge that a lot of pitchers don’t have with their arsenal.

Most pitchers have one, maybe two, pitch combinations that pair well together. Alcantara actually has four, which can allow him to easily flex and keep hitters on their toes.

Alcantara operates with five pitches: two fastballs (four-seam and sinker), a slider, a tight, classic curveball, and a heavy, fading changeup.

Below is the 2019 data on all five pitches: Read the rest of this entry »

The Right Stuff for Zac Gallen

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a potential future ace in 24-year-old righty Zac Gallen. Making his debut for the Miami Marlins in June 2019, Gallen finished the season with a 1.6 WAR, and armed with a filthy changeup, became one of the more exciting young pitchers to appear in the major leagues last year.

This spring, Gallen will battle for the fifth spot in the Diamondbacks rotation. If he isn’t able to secure a starting role, Arizona may have him begin the season in Triple-A. Gallen could claim that rotation spot with an assist from an adjustment to one pitch, which in turn will tighten up his entire arsenal and help him become one of the tougher pitchers to face in baseball.

Though the sample is limited, Gallen did well during his first 15 big league starts. Through 80 innings pitched, Gallen produced an ERA of 2.81 (3.61 FIP), struck out 96 hitters, and posted a 2.96 K/BB ratio. Gallen also demonstrated good command last year, though his 10.8% walk rate indicated he may have struggled a bit with his control.

Gallen attacked hitters with a four-seam fastball, a knuckle curveball, a changeup, and two types of cutters: a sweeping (or hybrid) cutter and a backspinning cutter. Eric Longenhagen put a 50 FV on Gallen’s overall arsenal, with special consideration given to his changeup (55 FV). Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Design: Straightening Out Chris Paddack’s Curveball

San Diego Padres right-hander Chris Paddack had a pretty good first major league season. He struck out 153 hitters in 140.2 innings and posted a 0.98 WHIP with a 3.33 ERA and a 3.95 FIP. Amazingly, he did it with basically two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a changeup. Paddack also has a curveball that he has often tinkered with, but its use never eclipsed 15% in any count. It mainly appeared as the first pitch of the at-bat or when he was ahead in the count. Despite being able to keep hitters under control with two options for most of last season, one of the multiple curveball variations Paddack resorted to works best, both statistically and as an ideal fit with his four-seam and changeup.

Here’s a visual summary of Paddack’s three pitches in an isolated overlay example, which accounts for the typical location of each pitch last season:

Paddack has a well-designed, pure backspinning four-seam fastball with a 12:50 spin direction and nearly 100% spin efficiency. In terms of whiffs, the pitch was best when Paddack kept it high in the zone. When it came to contact, the four-seamer didn’t really have an advantageous location, with the exception of keeping the pitch out of the middle of the strike zone. Paddack held hitters to a .276 wOBA and demonstrated good control of the pitch as evidenced by his 0.18 BB/K-rate. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Design: Which Fastball Should Marco Gonzales Focus on in 2020?

Dan Szymborski recently posted the 2020 ZiPS projections for the Seattle Mariners. The system forecasts lefty Marco Gonzales to be the best pitcher on Seattle’s staff. That should come as no surprise considering that Gonzales has been far and away the best arm the Mariners have had to offer lately. According to ZiPS, he’s expected to throw at least 170 innings in 2020 and post a 4.26 ERA (4.12 FIP) with a WAR of 2.6. Despite his strong showings in 2018 and 2019, ZiPS indicates a fair amount of regression for Gonzales this coming season.

After two straight seasons of 3-plus WAR, can we expect a pitcher who throws two fastballs that barely reach 90 mph to maintain that level of performance? Despite his ability to spread his arsenal out, especially when he’s ahead of the hitter, there is a change to Gonzales’ pitch selection that could facilitate another impressive season for the 27-year-old former 19th-overall draft pick.

Gonzales threw five different pitches in 2019: a sinker, cutter, a fading changeup, a sweeping, slurve-ish curveball, and a four-seamer, all with above-average command:

As you can see, Gonzales throws three different fastball variations. His traditional cutter works just fine and by FIP, it was his best pitch in 2019. Its 11:40 spin direction facilitates little sweep but a decent amount of rise. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting the Most Out of Robbie Erlin

Free agent left-hander Robbie Erlin threw 55.1 innings across 37 appearances in a mediocre 2019 campaign. He gave up a lot of hard contact (43.7%), posted a 5.37 ERA, and saw his walk rate balloon to almost three free passes per nine innings. Erlin’s WHIP also skyrocketed from 1.14 in 2018 to 1.57 last year.

We can’t ignore that some bad luck may have found him; his BABIP was .373, almost 60 points higher than his career norm. That, coupled with the big jump in walk rate (2.7% to 6.0%), put Erlin in a lot of bad situations. Although he did manage to post a 3.61 FIP, that doesn’t sound like a pitcher destined for an especially promising 2020 season, if he’s picked up at all. So what value can be drawn from Erlin?

Well, for starters, Erlin mixes his pitches really well. The ability to keep hitters on their toes is advantageous regardless of how good your stuff is. In Erlin’s case, his stuff needs to be good, and there are ways in which he can make that happen.

Let’s first take a glance at Erlin’s five-pitch arsenal: a two- and four-seamer, a slider that is sometimes mistaken for a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup: Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Design: Tyler Glasnow Can Be More Elite in 2020

The 2020 Tampa Bay Rays arguably have one of the best front-end starting rotations in the American League, with Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow as the headliners. Last season, Glasnow flashed moments of brilliance prior to and following a mid-season injury that halted his torrid start in early May and kept him out of the rotation until September. Glasnow already has the ability to be the ace of the Rays staff — in his 60.2 innings, the right-hander was worth 2.3 WAR and posted a 1.78 ERA and 2.26 FIP — but a couple of minor adjustments could vault him into 2020 Cy Young Award discussions.

Glasnow, who avoided salary arbitration last Friday by agreeing to a one-year, $2.05 million deal, operates with three pitches: a straight, backspinning four-seam fastball that has some carry and can sometimes have cutting action; a 12-6 diving curveball; and a hard changeup that exceeds 90 mph.

Let’s start by looking at Glasnow’s four-seamer, one of the straightest in baseball with a good amount of rise:

Read the rest of this entry »

Colin Poche Doesn’t Need To Throw So Many Fastballs

No pitcher who took the mound for at least 50 innings in 2019 threw their four-seam fastball more than Tampa Bay Rays reliever Colin Poche. Utilizing the pitch just over 88% of the time, it went far beyond the league average four-seamer deployment rate of 37.7%. As part of 2019’s strongest bullpen, the 25-year-old Poche produced 0.6 WAR with a 3.79 K/BB rate, which was juxtaposed by his 4.70 ERA (and 4.08 FIP).

There are a few pitchers who are able to live and die by their four-seamer. The question isn’t whether Poche should continue to throw his four-seam fastball roughly nine out of every 10 pitches he throws; it’s whether he actually needs to throw it that much?

Last year, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel put a 70 FV on Poche’s four-seamer, noting in their write up last year:

Essentially, Poche has an average fastball with three separate characteristics that make it play up. Big league hitters may be less vulnerable to one or more of these characteristics, but if not, Poche’s fastball is going to play like a 7 or 8.

He throws his fastball with almost pure backspin, which creates 99%+ spin efficiency. Under these conditions, Poche (who led the league in FA-Z, min 50 IP) is able to induce a lot of rise on his fastball, or rather, the pitch drops much less than a typical four-seamer. This is advantageous because he lives high in the zone. Hitters who try to square up the elevated four-seamer may end up swinging under the pitch because they expect it to drop more, but in Poche’s case, Mangus Force keeps the pitch up longer than anticipated. That could at least partially explain how Poche was able to produce his 34.8% strikeout rate despite his elevated ERA. Read the rest of this entry »

Wade Miley’s Cutter Should Be a Lot Better

Veteran southpaw Wade Miley recently signed a two-year deal with the pitching-minded Cincinnati Reds. Last year with the Houston Astros, Miley posted his highest WAR since 2015, which should come as little surprise since he was under the guidance of one of the best pitching coaches in baseball, Brent Strom, though he ended the year on a sour note. While he’s likely in the twilight of his career, the 33-year-old will once again be working with another elite pitching coach, Derek Johnson. What kind of production might the Reds see from Miley in 2020? While I’m sure the folks in Great American Ballpark have their ideas, I see a basic change to his favored pitch, the cutter, which could help Miley in the long run.

Miley generally works with four pitches: a backspin cutter (his main pitch), a circle change, a four-seamer, and a lightly used curveball.

Notice anything in the above GIF? A quick inspection of the arm-slot pause shows a decent amount of release point variation between Miley’s cutter (and, to a lesser extent, his four-seamer) compared to his changeup and curve. Since Miley’s cutter usage is on the rise, we’ll focus on that pitch and, for the sake of argument, ignore the four-seamer; that version of his fastball has been on a steady decline, though there was a slight uptick in its use last year. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Design: Is There Any Hope for Chris Archer’s Two-Seam Fastball?

Chris Archer was bad in 2019. In fact, he was as bad as he’d ever been, posting his lowest WAR total and the worst FIP, ERA, walk rate, and HR/FB rate of his career. The performance has made the trade that sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Tampa Bay Rays look like a complete abomination.

Yet he shouldn’t have to walk the plank just yet.

For Archer, who turned 31 at the end of September, it’s something of a long shot that he’ll be able to return to being the pitcher he was during his heyday with the Rays. As you can see, what was once a good arsenal has devolved into a group of mediocre, if not weak, pitches:

Chris Archer Career Pitch Values
Season Team wFA/C wSI/C wCH/C wSL/C wCU/C
2012 Rays -1.37 2.59 2.17 2.05 6.92
2013 Rays 0.59 0.11 -1.72 1.13
2014 Rays -0.65 0.48 0.05 0.85
2015 Rays 0.11 0.43 1.87
2016 Rays -0.80 -0.05 1.61
2017 Rays -0.18 -0.91 1.3
2018 2 Teams -0.99 -0.43 -0.40 0.59 -0.81
2019 Pirates 0.08 -3.00 -0.92 0.30 -2.01

The most significant dip for Archer came in the effectiveness of his two-seam fastball. The pitch worked well for him earlier in the decade, and after removing it from his arsenal in 2015, he brought it back three seasons later. Archer’s “new” two-seamer, which hasn’t been good (especially in 2019), was used sparingly against both left- and right-handed hitters. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Pineda Was Elite at Pitch Tunneling

The Minnesota Twins brought back another piece of their 2019 starting rotation when they re-signed righty Michael Pineda to a two-year, $20-million contract (pending physical). With another 39 games left in his 60-game suspension due to testing positive for PEDs (hydrochlorothiazide), the deal works out to roughly $17.6 million over two years.

Prior to his suspension in September, Pineda was instrumental in helping the Twins capture the American League Central. Anchored by a top-20 rated changeup (minimum 15% usage), Pineda accumulated 2.7 WAR (his highest mark since 2016) and posted his lowest ERA (4.01) in five years. The rest of Pineda’s stats were in line with his career averages, although his xFIP and hard-hit rate was by far the worst of his six seasons in the major leagues.

Nevertheless, Pineda was helped by an element of deception as he was one of the best overall pitch tunnelers of 2019, as exemplified in the chart below sorted by PreMax (average distance between back-to-back pitches at the tunnel point). Read the rest of this entry »