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Ronald Acuña Jr.’s Bounce Back Depends on Him Recovering His Unicorn Trait

Ronald Acuña Jr.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How do you explain a fall in performance from a superstar player in their age-24 season? It’s hard to make any concrete conclusions, but there are always certain observations that can help us understand what happened, and when it comes to Ronald Acuña Jr., many of us are eager to know. In the first four seasons of his career, he was undeniably one of the best players in baseball, and in the last two, albeit both shortened for different reasons, his power had begun to take off. In 2020 and ’21, before he tore his ACL, he maintained an ISO above .300.

Oh yeah, about that ACL. It’s not a common injury in baseball, so we don’t have much history to go off, but there is no denying its impact on Acuña’s swing and athleticism. Depending on the stage of your career and sport you play, an ACL tear can impact you differently. When it came to Acuña, a special athlete, I thought there would be an immediate bounce back. Perhaps that was an unfair assessment. This is a major injury for such an explosive player, and it’s understandable that it would take time to recover and get the necessary level of proprioception back. That’s not to say he wasn’t successful in 2022; he put up three months with a 130 wRC+ or better and ended at 114 overall. But that isn’t close to his pre-2022 career mark of 140. I’m confident he can get back to that point. How? He’ll have to reignite his ability to keep the ball off the ground and in the air.

Sorry to simplify things so much. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine to say a hitter just needs to stop hitting so many groundballs; it’s such an obvious suggestion for any hitter or swing type. But it’s the case here. From 2019 to ’21, Acuña didn’t have a ground ball rate above 38%; in ’22, that figure skyrocketed to 47.7%. That was a career high, 5.4 percentage points higher than his rookie season. Even in the months where he was stellar, it wasn’t because he returned to his previous batted ball profile; he only had one month all year with a groundball rate under 42%. Read the rest of this entry »


What Will the Yankees Do To Help Junior Fernández?

Junior Fernandez
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Another Pirates reliever has been picked up by the Yankees, and his name is Junior Fernández, owner of 54 career innings pitched in the majors with St. Louis and Pittsburgh. This past season, he finished with a 5.79 FIP in 18.2 innings; his career FIP sits at 5.57, so he hasn’t had much success in the league so far. So what exactly do the Yankees see in him?

Like many relievers in the Yankees’ bullpen, Fernández throws high-velocity sinkers and boasts an above-average ground ball rate: 58.9%, a very similar clip as Jonathan Loáisiga. That all sounds very similar to another Yankees pickup from the Pirates: Clay Holmes. But Holmes’ sinker is of the turbo ilk that forces its way down with bowling ball action; this past season, the vertical movement on that pitch was 21% above league average. Fernández’s is much more vertical neutral. In fact, the comparison to Loáisiga is much more appropriate. The table below shows how Fernández’s sinker specs compare to Loáisiga’s:

Sinker Similarities
Name Pitch Measured Spin Axis Extension Vertical Release Horizontal Release VAA HAA
Jonathan Loáisiga Sinker 1:08 6.5 5.6 -1.8 -5.3 0.1
Junior Fernández Sinker 1:21 6.5 6.1 -1.5 -5.7 0.0

The two pitchers have similar extension, release points, and movement profiles. The entry into the zone in terms of horizontal and vertical approach angles isn’t all that far off either. Overall, we’re looking at very similar pitches, and Fernández throws his even harder by about a tick. This alone is a good starting point to explain why the Yankees were interested enough to scoop him up off waivers. Read the rest of this entry »


Blue Jays Send Teoscar Hernández to Seattle in Three-Player Trade

Teoscar Hernández
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays and Mariners have swung the biggest trade of the young offseason so far, as Seattle has acquired Teoscar Hernández from Toronto in exchange for reliever Erik Swanson and pitching prospect, Adam Macko.

For the Mariners, the calculus for this trade is simple: immediate improvement on the offensive side of things by adding one of the 30 best hitters in baseball. The table below shows hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since the start of the 2020 season, ranked by wRC+:

wRC+ Ranking Since 2020
Name Tm PA wRC+ Ranking
Aaron Judge NYY 1443 176 1
Juan Soto 2 Tms 1514 160 2
Yordan Alvarez HOU 1168 160 3
Bryce Harper PHI 1269 156 4
Paul Goldschmidt STL 1561 155 5
Freddie Freeman 2 Tms 1665 153 6
Vladimir Guerrero TOR 1647 143 7
Jose Ramirez CLE 1575 143 8
Mookie Betts LAD 1435 139 9
Manny Machado SDP 1538 139 10
Trea Turner 2 Tms 1613 139 11
Shohei Ohtani LAA 1480 138 12
Brandon Nimmo NYM 1284 138 13
José Abreu CHW 1600 137 14
George Springer 2 Tms 1145 137 15
Ronald Acuña Jr. ATL 1095 136 16
Pete Alonso NYM 1561 135 17
Jose Altuve HOU 1492 135 18
Kyle Tucker HOU 1404 135 19
Austin Riley ATL 1561 132 20
Teoscar Hernandez TOR 1336 132 21
Will Smith LAD 1216 132 22
Rafael Devers BOS 1526 132 23
Brandon Lowe TBR 1105 132 24
Corey Seager 2 Tms 1304 132 25
Xander Bogaerts BOS 1459 131 26
Yandy Díaz TBR 1237 130 27
Carlos Correa 2 Tms 1450 130 28
Starling Marte 4 Tms 1281 130 29
Randy Arozarena TBR 1325 129 30

That 132 wRC+ comes with a 26.7% strikeout rate and 6.3% walk rate. That shaky plate discipline and a BABIP that ran well above average (.345) made it unclear whether Hernández could sustain this success. But changes to his stance and leg lift unlocked a part of his swing that allowed him to make hard contact in the air more consistently. Once a hitter figures out how to do that and has a 96th percentile average exit velocity like he does, the odds are in their favor.

This trade signals a few things from the Mariners. The first is that long-time outfielder Mitch Haniger is unlikely to return. That’s not shocking, given that he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer and that he seems to have already hit his offensive peak. The second is that they are going all in to try to catch the defending World Series champion Astros. Hernández is not a long-term addition; he’s under contract for just the 2023 season. This is, essentially, a one-year rental to goose the offense.

Shipping Swanson away isn’t ideal for Seattle, given his fantastic performance this season: a 1.85 FIP in 53.2 innings. But the team’s usage of him in the postseason — he only threw one inning in five games of play — suggests that he’s seen as expendable, making him an easy choice to include in a trade for a top-30 hitter. After all, even if the Mariners love Swanson’s pedigree and stuff, it’s always worth trading middle relievers for productive hitters, even if they have only one more year of team control.

That said, I’m a firm believer in Swanson. His whiff rates on his four-seamer and splitter are both well above average, and he seems to have perfected how to use them to go with his above-average extension and straight over the top delivery. The Jays’ most glaring weakness was their bullpen, so if their goal was to improve it, then they have succeeded.

The bigger question mark in the deal is Macko. He topped out this year with 38.1 innings in High A, striking out just under 36% of the hitters he faced, but he also walked 12% of them. He was solid with a 3.77 FIP and 3.21 xFIP as well. That’s all well and good, but with minor league pitchers, it’s always important to get to the good stuff — literally. So I asked Eric Longenhagen, who is constantly sourced for information, for the goods on Macko, and lucky for us, Eric got a few looks at him in the Arizona Fall League. Check out the video below to get a better look of Macko’s stuff and mechanics.

Per Eric, Macko had some Jekyll and Hyde characteristics in Arizona, with his secondaries and command coming and going depending on the outing. That makes sense, given his walk rates. When he was on, his stuff was interesting. He has two breaking balls: a curve of the loopy ilk that comes in at the low-70s, and a slider that’s more of a mid-80s gyro spin-dominant kind. Macko tended to pitch backwards in the AFL with those two pitches, adding a running four-seamer at 93–94 mph and topping at 96 to finish hitters off in the top of the zone.

To me, the most interesting tidbit was that Macko has rather short arms and as a result can get down the mound to a low release point. That’s ideal for getting whiffs and popups on fastballs at the top of the zone. By the looks of it, the spin is pretty true as well. It might not be perfect, but Macko’s fingers stay over the ball very well, which goes right in line with the pitch playing up the zone. The curveball might not have great specs on its own, but when paired with this deceptive fastball, hitters struggle to hit it. It’s the classic pairing of high four-seamers and big depth curveballs below the zone.

When Macko has command of the slider, it flashes plus. During the regular season, he used that pitch nearly a quarter of the time, and the fastball just about half the time. The curve had about a 15% usage; he also featured a changeup sparingly. Per Eric, that pitch also flashed plus when he used it. I know this all sounds exciting, but it’s always important to remind yourself that the saying of “if the command is there” needs to be at the forefront of your mind. This big “if” is enough to put Macko in the 45+ FV tier, rather than at 50 or above. But given that the Jays’ system isn’t too deep anymore, that will put him easily in their top 10 when Eric updates it.

To recap, the Mariners get a fantastic hitter to slot right into the middle of their lineup, and the Jays get a quality reliever and intriguing pitching prospect. This trade is likely only a prelude to more moves from the Jays, though; there are rumblings all around suggesting that George Springer’s time in center field will soon come to a close, and it seems like there is another play to be made there. After all, you can’t move a 130 wRC+ hitter for only a middle reliever and expect your team to improve. This is all speculation, but there is almost certainly more to come.


Can Nick Anderson Bounce Back in Atlanta?

© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Anderson has had a hell of a baseball career. If you haven’t already heard his story, allow me to enlighten you. Anderson played Division II baseball for three years at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota before transferring to an NAIA school, Mayville State University, for his senior year. Despite being drafted by the Brewers in the 32nd round of the 2012 draft, he opted to play independent league baseball for three years. From 2015-18, he made his way up the Twins’ minor league ladder, then was traded to the Marlins that winter. Finally, he made his major league debut as a 28-year-old in 2019. His career had already been a wild ride.

Is it surprising that a player like Anderson found himself on the Tampa Bay Rays? It shouldn’t be! They saw something in him, as they often do, and acquired him and Trevor Richards at the 2019 trade deadline while trading away a talented prospect in Jesús Sánchez and another reliever in Ryne Stanek. Anderson’s performance in the first half of the season had been impressive, but upon his arrival in Tampa in August, he got even better. In 21.1 innings, he struck out 52.6% of the batters he faced, only surrendered five runs, and pitched to a 1.62 FIP. That’s pure dominance.

Anderson saw similar success in the shortened 2020 season, posting a 1.35 FIP in 16.1 innings. But since then, he has only thrown six big league innings due to a partially torn UCL in 2021 and then a bumpy recovery in the minors this season after opting for a UCL brace procedure rather than Tommy John surgery. On top of that, he dealt with plantar fasciitis. If you ever experienced that, you know that it feels like the bottom of your foot is ripping in half every time you take a step. Anyways, Anderson has gotten another opportunity, this time with the Atlanta Braves.

If he does indeed end up with the big league club, he’ll have the chance to re-establish himself as one of the more lethal relievers in the game. How likely he is to do so, however, is unclear. Historically, the road back from a torn or partially torn UCL without receiving Tommy John surgery hasn’t been a great one. That doesn’t mean Anderson won’t buck the trend, but it does leave me skeptical that he can return to his previous form.

If there is a path back to success, it will need to include recovering his four-seam fastball’s shape and maybe a tick of velocity. Anderson’s mechanics fluctuated as he dealt with injuries, and it led to him releasing the baseball differently than he did during his dominant 2019-20 stretch. Below is a table of the qualities that changed between 2019 and ’21, and the resulting performance:

Nick Anderson Four-Seam Release
Year Vertical Release Point Horizontal Release Point Extension wOBA RV/100
2019 6.56 -0.7 5.9 .331 -0.4
2020 6.36 -0.68 6.4 .139 -3.6
2021 6.65 -0.82 5.9 .418 0.4
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Anderson’s fastball was at its best when he was getting an additional half inch of extension and releasing from a lower arm slot. That isn’t all that surprising. He doesn’t have overwhelming spin or velocity, so having a release point that gave him a flatter entry into the zone was crucial for his success. Being a 6-foot-4 person with a loopy arm swing made Anderson tough to read and allowed his fastball to play up when he was able to drive his release further toward home plate. Because of the drop in his release and extension, he also lost ride on his fastball. Basically, it all fell apart.

Now, he’s left in a tough situation. Did his increase in extension cause his elbow issues, or did the elbow issues come first and lead to his fastball shape and movement deteriorating due to a suboptimal mechanical change? It’s impossible to say exactly, but what we can do is look at his mechanics and try to point to specific movements other than the arm swing itself that can explain the drop in release point and extension. I’ll start with two videos from 2020. The first is from August 7, and the second is from August 12:

Next, let’s look at two videos from 2021. The first is from September 19, and the second is from September 26:

To me, it doesn’t even require slow motion video to see what changed in Anderson’s mechanics. His shin angle is almost dead at 90 degrees (perpendicular to the ground) in 2020. That is a perfect starting point to keep your lower half anchored in the ground while creating hip and shoulder separation. He is then able to strongly plant in the ground and get to full knee extension right when he releases the ball. The stronger your base, the more control you have in your hips as you rotate down the mound. You can’t get down the mound into a low release point without holding your base well. If you don’t, it’ll look something like Anderson’s struggles in 2021.

During his brief 2021 stint, Anderson couldn’t find steady mechanics. I watched all of his appearances, and whether it was in the setup of the hands or the feet, they all had something slightly different. On September 19, he used a more aggressive leg kick, which led to him getting down the mound too quickly. Because of that, he reached full front knee extension earlier than in 2020. This led to him releasing the ball higher and earlier. It was a decent location, but that doesn’t mean the process was optimal.

He must have felt something was off because a week later he changed his hand setup, but it didn’t do him any good. The two things that are telling to me were his reciprocal movement to releasing the ball, and his upper back posture. In 2020, he had a controlled kickback that went right back through the center of his body as he stood on one leg after delivering the pitch while swinging his right foot around. In 2021, he delivered the ball with his upper back bending a bit too much (you can see it on the ripples of his jersey across his name), which led to his arm and right leg kicking up and back instead of towards his center of mass.

Again, it’s hard to say exactly why these changes occurred, but regardless of the cause, it’s clear Anderson was compensating. If he can return to something closer to his 2020 mechanics, then perhaps he can better optimize his fastball shape to once again play with his curveball and be a productive pitcher for the Braves. The one thing I still worry about is whether the mechanics that gave him better extension and release were unsustainable for his body. If that’s the case, it might be unrealistic to expect the velocity, mechanics, and shape to all return without re-injury. I know I’ve caveated this multiple times, but there is reason to believe Anderson is a resilient fella. After all, he has overcome the odds time and again during his career. Why should he stop now?


The 2022 Astros Lineup Was Filled With Swing Path Diversity

Kyle Tucker
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After coming up short in 2021, the Astros are back on top of the sport with their second championship in six years. Come playoff time, Houston consistently executed its gameplan better than any other team. This year, dominance came in the form of historically effective relief pitching and timely hitting. On the whole, the Astros’ hitting wasn’t strikingly better than any other team, but when given the chance to put up enough for their bullpen to hold it down, they did that with no problem.

That last part is what has lingered in my head for the past week or so. Over the last six years, it feels as if Houston’s hitters have figured it out in big moments while other teams have stumbled. Even in this year’s tournament, when there was dominant pitching across the board, Astros hitters made the most of mistakes. And Houston could rely on a large group of guys, including but not limited to Jeremy Peña, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. Compare that to teams like the Yankees and Phillies, who had to rely on just a few players throughout.

But why is that? How can Houston get timely production from any guy in the lineup while others can’t overcome their holes? I still haven’t gotten close to a definitive answer, but I think I’m making progress on a reason why. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Admire Some of the Strongest Arms in Baseball: Catchers Edition

Christian Bethancourt
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to conclude the series on position player arm strength with the most impressive of them all: catchers. It was a joy covering infielders and outfielders, but it’s time for backstops to have the spotlight. They might now throw quite as hard as their position player counterparts, but let’s keep in mind that they do what they do out of a squat with no room for error. They can’t bobble, hesitate, or mess up their footwork and need to receive the ball and deliver it to second base in less than two seconds.

Let’s set some ground rules for the next iteration of this exercise. Baseball Savant sets their default minimum number of attempts to qualify on the pop time leaderboard at five, so we’ll stick with that. There’s thorough research that explains arm strength as the main component in pop time; because of this, I put strong value into it. Exchange speed still matters, but in this case, it’s more interesting to see how a player moves his body to take advantage of his arm strength.

Anyway, after sorting through the top of the leaderboard, I searched for clips of plays where the catcher especially needed his arm or just made so perfect of a throw that I couldn’t resist talking about it.

Christian Bethancourt (no. 1 overall, 88.3 mph)

There is a new king on top of the catcher arm strength throne, and his name is Christian Bethancourt. That’s not too shocking; he threw in the mid-90s off the mound.

One thing about this particular caught stealing that I find very cool: we get to see how big of a jump Will Brennan got off Corey Kluber. With that jump and a 78-mph sweeper to handle, Bethancourt had no business making this play. The difference is how he perfectly cheats with a slight quarter turn of his torso as he’s waiting for the pitch to come in. It’s usually difficult to do this move in the heat of the game, but he knew it was the only chance he had to catch the runner.

Typically a catcher would let the ball travel further than this, but Bethancourt’s loopy, pitcher-like arm swing means his low transfer is the most efficient for his body and mechanics. After the smooth transfer, he placed a seed right on top of the bag for Wander Franco. Impeccable mechanics with no room for error. Read the rest of this entry »


Alex Bregman Is Punishing High Velocity Again

© John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The field of hitters in the World Series is loaded. Both sides feature old and new stars who can tear the cover off the baseball. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bryce Harper has been the most productive of all of them, with a .514 wOBA to this point. You have to go all the way down to the low .400s to find the next players on that list, but if you do, you see Jeremy Peña (.427 wOBA) and Alex Bregman (.407 wOBA). Peña has had the best stretch of his short career in these playoffs, delivering two-strike hit after two-strike hit. But the Astros third baseman, who has been penciled in right behind Peña and Yordan Alvarez, has also been fantastic.

There’s a reason Bregman is sitting fourth in the lineup behind three stars. His knack for not chasing breaking balls and getting to high velocity makes him an ideal hitter to follow Peña and Alvarez. Peña’s weakness is chasing sliders off the plate, while teams have consistently challenged Alvarez with high heat. But that approach has to change when facing Bregman, making it tough for any reliever to get through this stretch of the lineup unscathed. Interestingly, while Bregman’s chase rate hadn’t faltered at all, his ability to get to high velocity has only come around in the last month after a rough regular season, when Bregman posted a .242 wOBA against pitches thrown 96 mph or higher. To be honest, that surprised me. I know he doesn’t have crazy bat speed or hit the ball harder than most, but to the naked eye, he has one of the quickest triggers in the game.

When I say trigger, I’m referring to the time it takes Bregman to start his downswing and get to impact. If we were able to get our hands on his bat sensor data, I’d be very willing to bet this is where Bregman stands out amongst his peers. That skill makes him a great candidate to routinely beat high velocity. That’s a subjective thing to say without concrete data, but perhaps I can provide some video evidence. Let’s look to Game 3 of the ALCS:

Before this fastball, Bregman saw five upper-90s four-seamers from Gerrit Cole. If a very good hitter sees the same pitch six times in a row, I don’t doubt they’ll be able to make an adjustment like Bregman did here, even against Cole’s plus fastball. He had fouled off two heaters in this at-bat, and looked slightly late. Those swings, likely combined with the knowledge that Bregman had struggled with high velocity this year, was enough for Cole to stick to his guns and continue with the high heat. Unfortunately for him, Bregman adjusted by choking up and shortening his swing even further as he drilled this 100 mph fastball on the black right back up the middle at 105.7 mph.

By this time, Bregman had already laced a few liners off triple-digit fastballs. He had a hit in all three of his appearances against Andrés Muñoz in the ALDS, with the hits against fastballs coming in Games 2 and 3. Here they are:

Two fastballs over 101 mph, both of which were barreled over 105 mph to give Bregman a single and double, respectively. Both came on 0-0 counts, so I’m inclined to think Bregman was sitting on this pitch. He took Muñoz yard in Game 1 on a hanging slider, so he probably anticipated that the Mariners reliever wouldn’t go back to the pitch. Of course, even when you sit on a 101 mph fastball, you still have to barrel it. That’s a tough task for any hitter and Bregman made it look quite easy.

And it’s not as if Bregman was cheating his load or leg kick for those pitches against Cole and Muñoz. It looks natural for him to get his bat on plane and in the hitting zone very quickly. Given that, you might ask why Bregman was so bad against high velocity this year. As I said before, he had a .242 wOBA against these pitches, and it’s not like his .298 xwOBA was much better. Of the 23 home runs he hit in 2022, not a single one came on a fastball thrown 96 mph or higher. His swing type should enable him to hit these pitches well, but sometimes the eye test doesn’t align with a hitter’s outcomes. Still, by the looks of it, his performance in 2022 may have just been a blip. The following table shows Bregman’s performance against fastballs 96 mph and higher throughout his career:

Alex Bregman Against 96 mph and Above
Year Total >= 96 mph Total Pitches Hits wOBA xwOBA
2017 69 2,302 8 .381 .360
2018 210 2,821 8 .244 .370
2019 198 2,915 12 .440 .427
2020 69 736 4 .532 .422
2021 104 1,593 8 .322 .359
2022 129 2,521 10 .242 .298
Total 929 12,888 50 .327 .363
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

The gap between his wOBA and xwOBA can probably be explained by a combination of bad BABIP luck and spray angle, but nonetheless, a career .363 xwOBA on this group of pitches is impressive. Focusing on just launch angle and exit velocity might miss out on some context, but it’s still a good representation of Bregman’s ability to hit these pitches hard in the air. If you exclude 2022 from the totals, Bregman’s wOBA/xwOBA split is .356/.385. Now, excluding 2022 isn’t exactly fair; this season did indeed happen! But I wanted to show you what Bregman had done before his struggles this year.

Even relative to the rest of the league, Bregman was a great hitter against high velocity. His .363 xwOBA against the pitch group since 2017 ranks him 26th in the league among hitters who have seen at least 750 of these fastballs. This was a proven skill that suddenly fell off hard in 2022 despite it being Bregman’s healthiest season in terms of games played since 2019. Sometimes a hitter’s mechanics get out of whack, and they just suddenly can’t handle a pitch they never had an issue with before. When that happens, it makes sense for high velocity to be the first thing a pitcher goes to. After all, fast things are hard to hit! After churning through swings from various months, I realized Bregman’s stride was slightly more open than it was in the playoffs. Here are two representative swings on inner-third pitches. The first is from June and the second is from September:

Unfortunately for Bregman, even such a small difference in stride direction made a huge difference in his batted ball quality. If you re-watch the swings from the playoffs, you can see Bregman staying near neutral to slightly closed. In the two swings above, Bregman’s stride leads to his front hip leaking out early. As a result, he flared a fly ball and chopped a groundball. The front foot rotation tells you where his direction is heading in both pitches. He is losing his center of balance while trying to throw his hands at the high velocity. His swing is so short that he is still able to get to it, but the slight mechanical difference distorts his bat path enough to ruin his contact quality. Now that we know this, we can better understand why Bregman has been so fantastic in the postseason from a mechanical perspective, but do the batted ball statistics match? Yes, they do indeed.

His .518/.468 wOBA/xwOBA split gives us additional context to the quality of contact Bregman made. There is a gap between the two, but it doesn’t really matter in this case. A .468 xwOBA is still a very, very high mark. He is on the short list of hitters who seem especially well equipped to deal with the high velocity playoff pitchers bring to the mound. The swings I showed you against Cole and Muñoz are good examples of that, but I’d like to take you through an at-bat from Game 4 of the World Series when Bregman faced José Alvarado. Bregman looked overmatched to start, but he eventually came out on top even though he was down 0-2 in the count. The bases were loaded with no outs. Alvarado came in to limit the damage. Here’s how it started:

On the 0-0 count, Bregman took this 101 mph sinker, which ran back over the front door. Coming from Alvarado’s arm slot, this pitch is a doozy. Good decision to take. Down 0-1, he had to be aggressive to try and drive a runner in:

Bregman was definitely swinging for a 101 mph sinker again. He didn’t recognize the spin, and the pitch broke under his barrel. He checked in with the umpire to see if the pitch was in the zone to reinforce his understanding of where it ends up after it breaks. Heading into the 0-2 count, Bregman had to cover the diving cutter and the turbo sinker:

This pitch was slightly higher than the previous one and allowed Bregman to get a little more of barrel on it. Realistically, you can’t cover every zone against Alvarado with the sweet spot of your barrel, as he has two pitches that break in opposite directions. This is the very best you can do if you’re simultaneously trying to beat 101. By the looks of it, Bregman had no problem doing so in the next pitch:

That pitch was meant to run over the front door like the first one, but Alvarado committed the biggest sin when it comes to front-door sinkers: He let it run over the middle of the plate and right into Bregman’s ideal bat path up and away. Bregman was doing his best to cover the high velocity while down in the count, and he did. In Game 1 of the series, he had a very uncomfortable at-bat against Alvarado and wasn’t able to cover the sinker or cutter. He knew he had to make a slight tweak to get a different result. Swings like this are why he leads all players in the postseason in hits (six) and wOBA (.518) against heaters 96 mph and above.

Don’t get me wrong, a .518 wOBA against the best fastballs isn’t sustainable. Not even Aaron Judge posted a wOBA like that while hitting every fastball to the moon this season. However, the combination of Bregman’s swing and career-long skill of hitting high velocity makes him significantly more capable of producing hot streaks like this one than the vast majority of players in the league. Here I’ll remind you that over the course of a season or a career, a player doesn’t perform to their average mark the entire way. There are hot and cold streaks wrapped in there that bring them to their true average. Bregman is having one of those hot streaks, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

As his team takes a crucial 3-2 lead heading back to Houston, don’t be surprised if Zack Wheeler and the rest of the Phillies’ pitching staff avoid heaters against Bregman. The Phillies have no room for error, which means they must avoid Astros hitters’ strengths. Right now, Bregman’s swing mechanics are locked in to beat these pitches and the Crawford Boxes are lurking in left field, just waiting for him to yank one out like he did against Luis Severino in the ALCS.


Why Chas McCormick Loves Going Oppo (and Needs It To Survive)

Chas McCormick
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There were a few times during the ALCS when I glanced up at a game and mistook Chas McCormick for Jose Altuve. Why? Both he and McCormick don’t set their feet in the box like a typical hitter would. Instead, they have distinct foot placement which aligns their front shoulder with the right fielder instead of the typical alignment with the center fielder. In McCormick’s case, it’s more pronounced than that of Altuve. And that’s not just in the setup; it includes the extent to which the Astros outfielder strides closed as well.

Every hitter, player, human, etc. has a different body. Depending on one’s body and its strengths and limitations, different adjustments need to be made to get the most out of that body when it comes to swinging a baseball bat. You may think it’s weird or ugly, but that doesn’t matter. McCormick’s closed setup and stride unlock a part of his game that he otherwise would not have. During the ALCS, I progressively came to realize he is a dangerous hitter when he drives the ball to the opposite field. If you pitch to his strengths that play into his inside-out bat path, then he can get lift on the ball and pepper the short porch in Minute Maid Park. Read the rest of this entry »


Bryce Harper’s Game 5 Home Run Was a Master Class in Hitting

Bryce Harper
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Some are calling it a legacy at-bat. I think it’s one of the most impressive displays of pitch-to-pitch adjustments I’ve ever seen in a postseason game. Whatever way you want to describe it, all that matters is Bryce Harper sent his team to the World Series after five games of leading the Phillies’ offense with fantastic, historic hitting. If he hadn’t already proved the worth of his contract with an MVP performance in 2021, he did in this series, chewing up Padres pitching with eight hits in 20 at-bats, including two home runs, three doubles, and five RBI.

I can go on about Harper’s postseason hitting forever, but for this piece, I want to focus on his at-bat against Robert Suarez that gave Philadelphia the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning of the series-clinching victory. Nobody was better suited for that moment than the reigning MVP; after each pitch, you could see him processing his swings, which he took a lot of, in preparation for the next one. If there is one thing a hitter needs in the postseason when facing elite pitching, it’s pitch-to-pitch adjustments. Allow me to guide you through how Harper made his. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Admire Some of the Strongest Arms in Baseball: Infield Edition

Carlos Correa
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, when I wrote about some of the league’s strongest throwers, I ended up exclusively featuring outfielders. The nature of the position is more suited to making full capacity throws than in the infield, and as a result, only outfielders ended up on the list. Because of that, I feel obligated to acknowledge and highlight some of the strongest throwers in the infield. On average, these throws won’t be quite as fast. The footwork and time required to throw the ball is one reason for that, and that will be the focus of this piece.

Similar to last time, we’ll have to sort through some qualifications on how I came up with this short list of names. The first is at least 100 throws in the infield. One thing I ran into when sorting through the leaderboard was that several players near the top were utility players, rather than just strictly infielders. That led me to using the 2B/SS/3B filter and sorting the list by the overall throws at those positions only. See the full leaderboard here.

After working that out, I wanted to select plays where a player needed their plus arm strength to get an out. For example, a shortstop and/or third baseman needs to fire a rocket when moving multiple steps to use their backhand. A second baseman needs to have the correct footwork to fire a ball when ranging up the middle or quickly spinning a double play. Those are the types of plays I’m looking for, but they were harder to find than you would expect, given how so many plays in the infield are routine. I started with about 15 players from the top 20 on the list and worked my way down to a representative sample of five. Now, let’s get into it. Read the rest of this entry »