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Quiet Brilliance, Loud Contact: The Duality of Kevin Gausman

Kevin Gausman
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Michael King proved that moving him to the rotation was the best maneuver the Yankees have made in the entire second half by striking out 13 Blue Jays over seven innings. Somewhat lost in the shuffle, as has often been the case over the past few seasons, was Kevin Gausman’s dominance opposite King.

Gausman, who was perhaps better known for his firm fastball as a prospect, has really only taken off since the heater and splitter entered into a timeshare. After only using the split at a 35% clip in one year previously, he’s turned to it at least that often every year since 2021. This season, its usage is at a career-high 38.5%.

The Jays’ right-hander actually out-whiffed King on Wednesday, 17–16, with 11 swings and misses on the split. In terms of balls in play, both King and Gausman allowed just three at an exit velocity of 95 mph or harder. While the whiffs are staples of both pitchers’ games, the hard hits are especially noteworthy; King’s hard-hit rate on the season — 31.4% — ranks fourth lowest among pitchers with at least 90 innings, and Gausman’s, at 11.5 percentage points higher, ranks a paltry 108th. If you prefer barrel rate, King (6.8%) ranks 22nd lowest and Gausman (9.8%) 110th. Read the rest of this entry »

AJ Smith-Shawver and the Dead Zone Slider

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves are the best team in baseball right now. They were the first team to clinch their division, and their title odds are nearly double that of any other squad. Their leadoff man, Ronald Acuña Jr., is gunning for a 40-70 season, and their cleanup hitter, Matt Olson, just hit his 52nd homer of the year, surpassing the franchise’s single-season record. Oh, and they have six other All-Stars besides that pair, including one of the favorites to win the FIP Cy Young in Spencer Strider.

If the Braves have shown any weakness this season, it’s been their relative lack of starting pitching depth. They’ve had a trio of 29-game starters in Strider, Bryce Elder, and Charlie Morton, and while all of them have showcased their warts down the stretch, the main problems for the rotation were the absences of last year’s ace — Max Fried — and breakout starter — Kyle Wright. Though he’s made just 13 starts on the season (the fourth most on the team), Fried is back now, and he’s looking pretty darn good, rounding out what should be an excellent four-man playoff rotation, so the Braves’ issues with depth (and Wright’s struggles) likely won’t matter as much in October. Yet, they left me scratching my head at times this season when they passed over top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver for starts in Fried and Wright’s absence. Read the rest of this entry »

Just How Much Do Aaron Judge’s Teammates Depend on Him?

Aaron Judge Giancarlo Stanton
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

On June 3, Aaron Judge made a spectacular running catch that ended in a clash with the right field wall at Dodger Stadium. The play safeguarded what was ultimately a 6–3 victory that brought the Yankees’ record to 35–25 and their playoff odds to 80.1%, but both sides of the collision — wall and player — suffered tremendous damage in the process:

The fence wasn’t supposed to open in that direction, but Judge’s right foot wasn’t supposed to bend that way either; no amount of Spike Lee celebrations could change that.

The resulting injury to the towering right fielder’s big toe kept him out until July 28, and when he returned, expectations had diminished for both him and his team. The Yankees had gone just 19–23 in their captain’s absence, dropping their playoff odds to 32%. And there was no guarantee that the diminished version of Judge, who just three weeks earlier disclosed that the toe might never feel the same, would prop the Bombers back up. Read the rest of this entry »

Is There More to the Marlins’ Dominance in Close Games Than Mere Chance?

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins began this season on an historic pace in one-run games. They won every single one of their first 12 such contests, besting a record that had stood for 51 years. Since then, they’ve played to a more modest 15-11 mark in those bouts, but their .711 winning percentage in such games on the whole would still tie them for the fifth-best in a single season since the Live Ball Era began in 1920 (min. 20 one-run games).

Last Thursday, my colleague Michael Baumann wrote a piece that got me thinking. Specifically, he found that of the three teams outperforming their Pythagorean (run differential-based) record by at least five games at the time, two — the Orioles and Brewers — had outstanding bullpens in one form or another. This idea isn’t new — it’s been hashed, and re-hashed, and re-hashed again. The Tigers, which have since joined that group of five-game overperformers, have also had a remarkably clutch relief corps. But the Marlins, outperforming their expected wins by six games, have a middling ‘pen by any measure. Marlins position players have come through in big moments more than expected, but they also haven’t wowed in those situations to the same extent that the Orioles’ crop of hitters have. Read the rest of this entry »

Does Swinging Less Mean Swinging at Better Pitches?

Ha-Seong Kim
David Frerker-USA TODAY Sports

Last week over at Pinstripe Alley, I investigated DJ LeMahieu’s recent hot streak. Naturally, he got injured as soon as I finished writing, but I went through with the piece nonetheless because I felt like I was onto something. Specifically, I noticed that LeMahieu’s struggles this year came when pitchers were challenging him more; as a result, he was swinging more, but proportionally, more of those swings happened to come on balls than when pitchers were being stingy with their strikes.

When attempting to contextualize LeMahieu’s hot stretch, I noticed another hitter who’s been on fire lately thanks to some improved discipline: Ha-Seong Kim. Over the past 30 days, he’s tied for the major league lead in WAR with Freddie Freeman at 2.1. Some of that production has come from his typically excellent defense, but Kim has been no slouch with the bat either; in that span, he’s posted a 189 wRC+, eighth-highest among 167 qualifiers. Perhaps most notably, he’s also tied (with Lars Nootbaar and Alex Bregman) for the second-best BB-K rate, behind only Marcus Semien.

Prior to that 30-day stretch, Kim’s swing rate was already a career-low, and his BB-K rate near a career-best. But his swing rate has dropped even further in the last 30 days, ranking second-lowest at 34.2% to Nootbaar’s 34.1%, and his BB-K rate has gone from negative to positive; now it’s definitely a career-best. Nootbaar has followed a similar trajectory: his swing rate was already a career-low and has sunk even further, and his BB-K rate is now approaching a career-best thanks to his own torrid month. Read the rest of this entry »

Yankees Conclude Quiet Deadline With Upside Play

Spencer Howard
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

With their team in last place in the AL East at 55–51 and 3.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the third Wild Card, the Yankees’ front office teetered back and forth between “buyer” and “seller” in advance of the trade deadline. The truth is, the Bombers’ playoff odds had been in a tailspin since the beginning of July; it would have been unthinkable for them to sell on July 4, when they reached their monthly high of 75%, but at 23.1% at the end of the month, their decision should have been just as clear.

Instead, the Yankees did little of anything. Apparently, they were looking to be “bowled over” for their rentals, per The Athletic’s Marc Carig, and they never were, so they largely stood pat. The last team to enter the deadline foray, their “headliner” acquisition was Keynan Middleton; as detailed in our reliever roundup, he cost them 21-year-old lottery ticket Juan Carela. While New York’s bullpen scuffled to the tune of a 4.01 ERA and 4.82 FIP in July, the unit has pitched to solid 3.10/3.93 marks on the season, good for first and tied for sixth, respectively, in the majors. Acquiring a reliever was unlikely to move the needle for a fringe contender in the first place, but it also represented only a marginal improvement compared to the Yankees’ in-house options, especially with Jonathan Loáisiga’s return on the horizon.

That said, even though their acquisition of Spencer Howard from the Rangers for cash can be thought of as a “buy” in the literal sense and another addition of a reliever at that, it’s a different beast than adding Middleton. For starters, all it cost the Yankees was money, which they have oodles of. Howard is also under team control for another four years. The hurler is optionable and poised to begin his tenure in pinstripes at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but it’s easy to see him getting some play toward the end of the season either in the wake of injuries or if the Yankees fall further in the standings. Read the rest of this entry »

Rangers Add Blocker, Unblock Pirates’ Prospects

Austin Hedges
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are 2,841 players who have received at least 2,000 major-league plate appearances in baseball history. Only 13 of them — including two Hall-of-Fame pitchers, Cy Young and Warren Spahn — have had a lower wRC+ than Austin Hedges. This year, he’s turned in one of his worst lines yet, a .180/.237/.230 slash good for a 28 wRC+. So what do the first-place Rangers want with him?

There are 473 players have appeared at catcher since the advent of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2003. Only four — Yadier Molina, Russell Martin, Buster Posey, and Jeff Mathis — have a higher DRS than Hedges. This year, he’s tied for fifth among backstops in DRS and tops in our framing runs metric.

Thus far, the Rangers have the majors’ second-best offense by wRC+ with a 120 mark. Their defense hasn’t been shabby — they’re tied for fifth in DRS — but I suppose it’s more in need of an upgrade than their offense. Then again, it’s not as if the Rangers had much of a choice: aside from Alex Jackson and Korey Lee, who have all of 211 major league plate appearances between them, no other backstops were traded this deadline. And Texas needs a known commodity to serve as depth behind the plate right now; incumbent Jonah Heim was placed on the IL Friday, destabilizing the position. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Hoffman Has Finally Found a Home

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Blue Jays and Rockies connected for a blockbuster deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto? That was eight years ago today, and that was also when Jeff Hoffman was a top prospect. A year before that, the young right-hander was so highly touted that even though news of a torn UCL surfaced weeks before draft day, the Jays still took him ninth overall. Sure enough, he rewarded them by touching 99 in his pro debut at High-A Dunedin the next season and the Jays rewarded him by… trading him to the Rockies two months later.

The state motto of Colorado is “Nil Sine Numine,” or “Nothing without Providence,” but it might as well be “Ubi Iuvenēs Iactūs Eunt Morior,” or (if my high school Latin isn’t failing me), “Where Young Pitchers go to Die.” Perhaps it’s due to the inherent discouragement that comes from pitching on the moon, or the lack of investment in player development. Either way, Hoffman’s tenure with the Rockies started innocently enough. He tossed 118.2 innings of 4.02 ERA, 4.13 FIP ball — with a 24.2% K rate to boot — in the notoriously offense-heavy Pacific Coast League in just his second pro season (2016), earning him his first taste of the majors. But as most pitchers arriving on other planets do, the right-hander struggled to the tune of a 4.88 ERA and 6.27 FIP in 31.1 innings spread over eight appearances (six starts).

Over the next four seasons, Hoffman split his time between Triple-A and the majors. He received extended looks in the big league rotation in 2017 and 2019, but he floundered both times. Overall, he tossed 230.2 innings for Colorado’s big league club with a 6.40 ERA and 5.58 FIP, and he didn’t even crack a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. To make matters worse, after that stellar Triple-A debut in 2016, he pitched to a 5.87 ERA and 4.77 FIP in 243.2 innings in the minors (all but three frames at the highest level) from 2017-19. But the strikeout potential was still there; he also K’ed 23.1% of the hitters he faced in the minors during that time. Read the rest of this entry »

The UFO Slider, and Its Supporting Cast, Makes the Giants’ Staff an Outlier

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Rogers, easily the owner of the Statcast Era’s lowest vertical release point, throws a rising slider that’s rising even more this season. The positioning of his forearm at release means that a traditional curveball grip puts his thumb on top of the ball and the rest of his fingers underneath; as the ball rolls off of his hand, it creates backspin in addition to the sidespin more typical of a slider:

As you can imagine, the traditional fastball grip places his index and middle finger pointing towards five o’clock or 5:30 rather than a more typical two or three o’clock from a three-quarters arm slot. This results in arm-side sidespin, but also some extra drop, such that his fastball sinks more than his slider:

Needless to say, I’ve found these two offerings to be among the most unique pitches in the majors this season by a couple of slightly different methods. As a result, the Giants were a confounding data point when I used my team-wide pitch-uniqueness model to estimate which pitching staffs roll out the widest array of “looks.” Read the rest of this entry »

Minesweeping: Looking for Baseball’s Next Popular Pitch

Kyle Gibson
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the sweeper took baseball by storm. Fast forward to this season, and 4.2% of all offerings through the first half have been sweepers, according to Statcast, nearly twice as many as last season. But I have my issues with MLB’s pitch classification system, and it’s been well documented that under their sweeper umbrella there are multiple versions of the pitch; the Yankees’ staff alone threw several different variations last season. Plus, if the number of different names for the pitch (whirly, rising slider, etc.) is any indication, other teams have their own iterations, too. Qualms with MLB’s system aside, if we want to look for the next sweeper, it’s a given that MLB won’t have a classification for it yet anyways.

Why should we look for the next sweeper? The pitch was extremely effective last year, saving pitchers 0.56 runs per 100 tosses. Even this season, as usage has nearly doubled, the sweeper is still saving pitchers 0.18 runs per 100 tosses. But in order to look for the next one, we first have to ask: what makes all sweepers… sweepers? MLB relies on grip and self-reported pitch identifications for their classifications. In the absence of those, we can use velocity, spin rate, spin axis (in three dimensions), and movement (in two) to identify a new pitch.

Even though some teams might throw multiple versions of a pitch, I still think that our best bet to find a new pitch type is by honing in on individual teams. As with the sweeper and its early adopters, teams that discover an effective new pitch will want to teach it to everyone they can, uniformity of pitching looks be damned. In other words, if a team has multiple different pitchers throwing a specific pitch, they must like it so much that their affinity for it outweighs the cost of having pitchers that don’t contrast (which seems to reduce effectiveness). Read the rest of this entry »