Brayan Bello Is Primed For a Breakout Year

Brayan Bello
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes I dream about a life as a scout, traveling around the world watching baseball players in person for the first time. That’s not reality for me, though. Instead, I’m limited to a dozen or so games a year in person and many more on my television. But every now and then, I get a remnant of that in-person feeling when watching on TV and can recall the performance pitch by pitch. Those are special in their own way. This year, one of those came in a mid-September game when Brayan Bello took on the Yankees in Fenway Park.

For the first time since his call-up in July and after a rough patch to kick off his big league career, Bello was on a nice run of success, with back-to-back starts of five or more innings. And over five innings, he was solid again against his team’s biggest rival, racking up 14 whiffs, striking out six and not yielding a single run. Through a combination of four-seamers, sinkers, changeups, and sliders, he stifled the Yankees’ lineup two times through the order.

I want to highlight some of the best two-pitch sequences from Bello’s start:

High 0-2 fastball

Low 1-2 changeup

Low 1-1 changeup

Low 2-1 changeup

It’s one thing to prove you understand how to set up hitters, but it’s another to execute on that understanding, especially against one of the league’s most dangerous players. Facing Giancarlo Stanton, Bello went upstairs with a four-seam waste pitch. It may have been slightly higher than the targeted location (eye level), but it still changed up Stanton’s sights. That would prove effective: on the following pitch, he swung completely under a wicked changeup that dove under his hands and toward his kneecaps.

Against Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Bello used the changeup in the opposite direction. In a 1-1 count, he let it fade under the zone to try to get the Yankees’ shortstop to chase, then sped it up in the same tunnel to bust him inside and get a whiff out of it. This was a perfect decision. As you navigate through an at-bat, it’s important to remain dynamic and understand how the pitch you just threw affected the batter’s eye and timing. This inside running sinker mirrored the changeup enough to convince Kiner-Falefa to let it loose, but he decided too late. And while I didn’t clip the next pitch, Bello went right back to the inside sinker and got another whiff.

Like I said, it’s important to read hitters’ swings and make decisions according to them. You can either set hitters up like Bello did against Stanton, or challenge a hitter who struggled against a particular pitch like Kiner-Falefa did. This particular example shows how well Bello’s sinker and changeup mirror one another, and while you can clearly see it, it’s even nicer to have the data to support it.

Sinker/Changeup Mirroring
Pitch Velocity Extension V-Release H-Release V-Mov H-Mov VAA HAA
Sinker 96.3 6.4 5.2 -2.2 3.7 -17.4 -6.0 -0.3
Changeup 88.2 6.5 5.2 -2.3 4.3 -17.0 -6.6 -0.2

As I explained in my analysis of Pablo López, the relationship between a pitcher’s fastball (four-seamer or sinker) and their changeup is crucial for the success of both pitches. The harder it is to distinguish which is which, the more likely it is the pitcher will be able to have success like Bello did against Kiner-Falefa. The release point, movement, and entry into the zone of both pitches are nearly identical. Most importantly, the vertical approach angle is just slightly steeper with the changeup. That plus the velocity separation is just enough to miss barrels. With this in his back pocket, Bello makes for a great matchup against both right- and left-handed batters.

Perhaps I’ve already gotten you to buy in, but if you haven’t yet, I’ll keep going. One of the most important things you need to know about Bello is his resemblance to Mariners ace Luis Castillo. There are many ways to calculate pitcher similarities, but Baseball Savant’s method tells us Castillo is Bello’s closest comparison by velocity and movement. I’m not exactly sure how to express this, but it is not easy to mirror Castillo; the way he throws and moves a baseball is unicorn-like. If you’re able to look like him in one way, let alone multiple, you deserve attention. And while it’s not a great idea to live and die by similarity scores generally speaking, when multiple estimations and inputs yield similar opinions, you have to listen. This tweet from Alex Chamberlain further validates the Bello-Castillo comp.

Usually when there is a case like this, you have to work backwards to understand why. By that, I mean that these movements come about because of a combination of release point, hand/finger orientations, and mechanics. Below are a few videos of Bello and Castillo throwing the same pitch to the same location. You’ll notice that they don’t have identical arm slots, but the pitch results play similarly.

Bello changeup

Castillo changeup

Bello sinker

Castillo sinker

This is the funny thing about pitching: You can have different mechanics and body movements and still get similar outcomes. The difference (or similarity) in pitch grip and hand orientation is enough to make up for the mechanical differences. The way I like to think about it is that fluidity in mechanics creates the force production, and pitch grip/hand orientation creates the movement profile and pitch specifications. They’re not entirely exclusive to one another, but it’s a good way to think about how two pitchers like Bello and Castillo can be different in their mechanics yet similar in their pitch outcomes.

This is all great for understanding who Bello is as a pitcher, but I’m sure you’d like to know if this turned into any sustained success during his cup of coffee last year. After that game against the Yankees, Bello continued to be nails. Here is how his performance developed as he progressed through the summer:

Bello Month By Month
July 16.1 3.91 .371 8.82 19.3
August 9.2 2.08 .325 4.66 14.9
Sep/Oct 31.1 2.70 .281 2.59 25.6

His outcomes improved across the board, and along with that, Bello started using his slider more frequently. The uptick in slider usage was intuitive: His other offerings all work in the arm side direction, so by throwing the slider more, he gave hitters another area of the zone to worry about. It’s a simple concept; as long as he can command the pitch, it’ll continue to be a great way to keep hitters on their toes.

Bello’s performance down the stretch wasn’t just statistical noise, either. By looking at his median projections across different systems, we can get an idea of where his floor is expected to be this season:

Bello Median Projections
ZiPS 50th 135.3 3.63 3.99
PECOTA 50th 85.3 3.79 3.66
Steamer 50th 117.0 3.85 3.57

It’s hard to bet against Bello’s 2022 minor league performance and great month of pitching in the big leagues down the stretch of Boston’s season. A four-pitch combo that includes a plus changeup and slider is highly compelling, and his repertoire gets the most out of his best pitches. Assuming his forearm is in a good spot after a hiccup in his bullpen session in Florida last week and he’s healthy, then he’ll head into the season with a guaranteed starting role. While the rest of Boston’s rotation may have a ton of question marks, to me, Brayan Bello isn’t one of them.

Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Brayan Bello’s Safari Planet!

Hi – I’m Brayan Bello!

Brayan Bello is not an accredited zoologist, nor does he hold an advanced degree in any of the environmental sciences. He is simply an enthusiastic young man with a sixth grade education, a sick changeup, and an abiding love for all of God’s creatures.

[and yes, I know that’s not how you pronounce his name]

Last edited 1 year ago by Shizane
Trevor May Care Attitude
1 year ago
Reply to  Shizane