Josh Staumont Talks Pitching

Josh Staumont has intriguing StatCast numbers. The 27-year-old Royals right-hander ranks in the 99th percentile for fastball velocity, and his curveball is 91st percentile in spin rate. That combination helped produce a 2.45 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 25.2 relief innings last year. A former second-second pick whose command issues have dogged his development path, Staumont allowed just 20 hits but walked 16 batters.

There’s another metric on Staumont’s Statcast page that jumps out just as much as his velocity and spin. When the Azusa Pacific University product didn’t miss bats, the results tended to be loud. Somewhat remarkably, given that he had a solid season overall, Staumont was 2nd percentile in hard-hit rate — not second best, but rather second worst among his contemporaries.

Staumont addressed that conundrum, as well as his high-profile arsenal and his love-hate relationship with pitching analytics, over the phone last week.


David Laurila: Looking at your Statcast numbers, I see elite velocity and a lot of spin. What do those things mean to you?

Josh Staumont: “Looking at the metrics of baseball… it’s kind of a fickle theme. You see all these numbers, and some of them are leaning toward more consistency. Others are a little atypical. Personally, I see it more as an effort-based system. That kind of goes hand-in-hand with how baseball is progressing. I believe the floor is getting raised a little when it comes to the talent threshold, with all the access to data, the access to training, and things like that. Analytically, I think the focus on numbers has allowed for progression based off of numbers.

“I’ve kind of worked backwards a little bit. Those numbers are nice to see as benchmarks — I think that’s a really good way to put it — but at the end of the day, you’re still looking for those threes in your life: the three strikes, the three outs. Those are the things that ultimately matter. You can put up some great numbers and some super-high velocities, but if the efficacy isn’t there, you’re going to have a hard time proving that spin rate is king.”

Laurila: Another pitcher I talked to recently said that a 3,000-rpm curveball that bounces a foot in front of home plate looks great numbers-wise, but it’s a terrible pitch.

Staumont: “Yes. Numbers are your best friend, but also your worst enemy at times. Realistically, they have nothing to do with baseball; they’re just a way of measuring baseball in a different light. And these things kind of come and go. ERA became king, and now ERA is gone in many people’s minds as far as being a good evaluation of baseball. Right now, I think this is one of those things that’s going to be super prevalent to kind of diversify why one thing is better than another.

“I do think that if you’re struggling with something, and these numbers are allowing you to get back to the most effective way that you can pitch… but again, that’s just recording those outs. I think that’s where baseball will be going. Baseball has become so ramped up, and as that cyclical thing comes back around, we’re going to start seeing a lot of guys simplifying. We’re going to see guys going back to the roots of just getting outs.”

Laurila: That said, when did you start throwing in front of a Rapsodo and learning about your metrics?

Staumont: “I never did. The Royals are… I wouldn’t say behind; they just kind of have the same viewpoint as me, which is that these numbers can get in the way of actual productivity on the field. Some people really, really like to see their velocities, and even if they’re able to hit those spots and get outs, in their minds those numbers are more important. I think the Royals have seen that you don’t necessarily need 24–7 access to Rapsodo and StatCast numbers in order to be an extremely productive professional player. Personally, I really don’t even look at them.”

Laurila: Not at all?

Staumont: “I see the reaction of a hitter, and it is nice to see that compared to when a hitter didn’t take the same approach, or he wasn’t as fooled by something. So from a comparative standpoint, those numbers are great to get a baseline and establish something. You know, this is my A, B, and C type of thing. If you want to just focus on the curveball, if I’m usually throwing the majority of of them around 3,000–3,100 RPM, and on a given day they’re sitting around 2,600–2,700… that’s a way better way of using those numbers, as opposed than trying to constantly maximize the number. At the end of the day, if it’s not located… like you said, if it’s spiked a foot in front of the plate, the efficacy just isn’t there.”

Laurila: It sounds like you do see value in certain metrics, even if you make it a point to not focus on them.

Staumont: “The numbers are phenomenal for top-tier professional players, not just in the big leagues, but also in Triple-A and even Double-A. Most of these guys have gotten to that point by working on their craft, and putting in that sweat equity. Once they’ve gotten to where they’re fine mechanically and mentally — although I don’t think that [mental development] ever stops — introducing the numbers does allow people to kind of take that next step, but that’s primarily for consistency.

“Guys like Trevor Bauer who have really dived into that, and done a really good job… what they’re really doing is understanding who they are as pitchers. They’re focusing their efforts on the certain things, like spin rate and release point, and the numbers show good examples of when you’re hot and cold with their pitches.”

Laurila: As a four-seam guy, I think you’d want to know exactly how much your ball is moving at the top of the zone. Your velocity might be the same, but if you’re not getting behind the ball — something you maybe can’t fully recognize without seeing the data — you’re inviting trouble if you don’t make an adjustment.

Staumont: “Yes, the barrel-missing factor is huge when it comes to spin rate. I could miss a barrel because the guy wasn’t sitting on 100 mph, but it’s a professional hitter. If you do the exact same thing, you’re probably not going to beat him unless you’re absolutely perfect. I can promise you, I’m not throwing Nelson Cruz three straight heaters at his belt just because my spin rate might be top-tier. That’s just not going to work in my favor.”

Laurila: Something else that stands out in your StatCast data is hard-hit rate. When you did give up contact last year, it tended to be hard contact. Why do you think that was?

Staumont: “I think a lot of it goes into perceived velocity. And again, I’m going to keep rerouting back to efficacy. The way you do these actions is huge. I’ve always noticed that the harder you yank, and the harder you’re pushing… , the movement required to throw the ball 97–98 [mph] is extremely sneaky on a lot of ends. You see a lot of guys that kind of just throw darts, and it seems like the ball kind of catches up on people. There’s also the whole planing system that allows your fastball and curveball to play off of each other. That’s something we really focus on, and I need to be able to repeat that.

“I don’t think there’s too much that you can naturally do with your fastball spin rate while still maintaining the same effort level — not unless you’re using extreme foreign substances. I know that people have started to come up with all these algorithms on how sticky substances and things like that increase spin. If you take all that away, I think the discrepancy between high spin-rate and low spin-rate will start to kind of even out.

“But going back to the whole velocity aspect, if I can easily throw a ball 97–100… if somebody is putting a lot more effort into doing that, the execution just won’t be as productive. It’s not as efficient, and we’ve worked on that. Head direction, not pulling off, making sure I’m standing behind the ball. I need to be really driving, I try to throw the ball through the catcher, not necessarily to a target. We’ve always used the term ‘long-tossing through the catcher.’ I’m trying to backspin that ball through the catcher, every single time.”

Laurila: I’m sure if I’m clear from your answer why the hard-hit rate was so extreme. Was it as simple as inconsistent execution, or was there more to it?

Staumont: “A hard-hit rate is going to come from velocity. It’s one of those things that comes with throwing upper-90s. I have dudes swing with one hand and still make really good contact. That maybe helps explain those numbers, but I’m also going right after guys. Maybe you can say it’s sequencing, but as much as possible, I’m not giving them the opportunity to just take their base. There are always going to be those times where you’re searching a little bit, but… on 0–2, I’m not wasting that pitch. I’m going right after guys, just giving them what I have. That maybe plays into my hard-hit [rate], too. I’m super-aggressive out there.”

Laurila: What can you say about your efforts to stay through the baseball on your four-seam?

Staumont: “We’re really focused on making sure that I’m not cutting the baseball, because that flattens out my four-seam more than anything else. By flipping the baseball, basically backwards, it’s coming out of my hand different, and I’m not cutting it as much. We’ve also kind of changed my release point, moving away from my ear a tiny bit. That’s allowed the ball to kind of do its own thing and really take that life forward.

“I throw some two-seams as well. There’s this tale as old as time where everyone believes four-seams are harder, but I actually throw my two-seam harder. Every time. So we’ll use those intermittently, and not just the four. It’s one of those things where you have to understand yourself, knowing what works and what doesn’t. The two is more recent, just because I was at a point where I was repeating well enough to introduce something new. This next year, I think it’s going to come in more.”

Laurila: I’d be remiss to not ask about your high-spin curveball. Is there anything notable about how you grip or release it?

Staumont: “It’s hard to explain how I hold my curveball. People don’t really get it. I hold it between the outside of my middle finger and my ring finger. I can pretty much hold it with just those two. It’s almost like I’m throwing a spike curveball, as in the pressure I’m putting on the ball with my middle finger — except I use both fingers. It’s one of those pitches that I’ve kind of always had, ever since it first showed its face back in college. Very little has changed with it over the years, although it has developed a little bit here and there.

“I’ve become more comfortable with it, pushing those RPMs up and allowing my arm to really speed up while still maintaining seam direction to get good break on it. I’ve been fortunate to be around Jesse Hahn and some other guys that have really good curveballs, and just kind of picking their brains and seeing how I can apply some of their thought processes. I’m always asking questions. Regardless of how you go about getting better, you always want to keep learning.”

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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3 years ago

Great stuff!!! I’m very interested to see the stuff he talked about play out!

And what Staumont said about hard hit was interest. Someone from Pitcherlist wrote an article in the late fall about barrels and hard-hit rate, and it generally was that looking at it without per plate appearance makes it easy to think very high hard-hit rate guys are worse. The example used was Glasnow has a higher Hard Hit % than Keuchal, but through a game, on average, he allows fewer hard-hit events because he doesn’t allow the same amount of contact as Keuchal.

3 years ago
Reply to  Manco

Survivorship bias.
Pitchers who are getting hit hard upon contact AND give up contact often won’t make it to the majors and if they do, they won’t stay in the league for very long.
So it is natural to see a negative correlation among MLB players.