Lou Trivino Wants You to Know He Isn’t Tired

Lou Trivino, who is 26 years old and six feet, five inches tall, stands up straight when he’s talking to you. He holds his arms — massive, tanned — at his sides, occasionally resting his hands on his hips or clasping his hands behind his back in the manner of an enormous choir boy. Nuke Laloosh with five-day stubble.

When Trivino’s not talking to you, he is pitching for the Oakland A’s. The A’s bullpen, as Jeff Sullivan and then I and then Jeff Sullivan again have noted at various points throughout the year, has been very good all season, and a big part of that success has been Trivino’s performance as a rookie. In (brief) summary: Trivino threw 74 innings for Oakland this year, during which he struck out 82 batters and walked 31. His ERA was 2.92, which is 30% better than the league average. He recorded an 89 FIP-. He was quite good.

Still, his numbers would have been better had I recited them for your benefit a few weeks ago. On September 18th, against the Angels, Trivino recorded two outs and gave up three runs. In his next appearance, on the 21st against Minnesota, he gave up four runs and failed to record an out. When I caught up with him recently in Seattle, I asked him if he was tired.

“No, that’s not it,” he said, quickly, with a look at me that suggested that he thought I might have manager Bob Melvin hiding under my jacket. “I know a lot of people think that I’ve been overworked, but that’s not it at all. My arm feels good, my body feels good. It’s just hitters adjusting to me now and I’ve got to adjust back. That’s exactly it. I feel like I know exactly what I need to do, it’s just been a lack of execution. I just need to get back to executing pitches and I’ll be alright.”

There’s some merit to that argument: Trivino was successful enough in his first few months of the season that he’s now getting chances against batters who’ve faced him before. But there’s also the objective truth that he has pitched more innings this in 2018 than he did in either of his past two campaigns, both of which were in the minors.

So Trivino might be tired, or he might be getting adjusted to, or both might be happening at the same time. It’s October, and it’s a long season. Interesting to me, though, is this chart, which indicates that, while Trivino has moved away from his cutter slowly as the year has progressed, he’s replaced that pitch with more fastballs, of varying kinds, rather than his changeup or his curveball, neither of which big-league hitters have seen much of this year.

That has made Trivino, despite his electric stuff, a little bit predictable of late. “As the year’s gone on,” said Oakland pitching coach Scott Emerson, “he’s gotten beat on a few heaters in heater counts, because a lot of teams are starting to know his two-pitch mix and look for those pitches when they get up there. And when you’re using just two pitches, you have to really execute, no matter how hard you throw. Otherwise you’re going to get beat a little bit.”

So why, one wonders, has Trivino stuck with just those two pitches?

“I think,” says Emerson, “that after he was so dominant early with those two pitches, he just felt like he was going to stick with them. Lou’s learning on the fly, he’s doing a great job of it, and I continue to think that he’s going to keep learning as the season keeps going. As spring training comes around and he starts to get the feel for that third pitch again, I think it’ll be game on.”

So either Trivino has been trying to get a feel for his changeup and curveball and hasn’t quite got it — and hasn’t, as a result, broken them out with any regularity in games — or he has got a feel for them and isn’t using them for some reason. Either way, it doesn’t sound like the problem — to the extent that there is one, anyway (again, he’s been quite good). Rather, this appears to be a matter of executing pitches.

“This season’s been amazing,” he said. “I’m truly blessed and thankful to (a) get the call-up and (b) to be throwing in the situations I’m throwing in. Honestly, it’s just been an amazing season, and I want to get back to what I was doing earlier before we hit the playoffs and see what happens there. I have to trust that my stuff is still good enough. Too much info can sometimes clutter things up. I just try to get an overall sense of what the hitters are trying to do and then go out there and attack.”

One imagines this has been a tense month for Trivino. He’s broken into the big leagues for the first time at age 26, had some success, and thrown more innings than he has since A-ball. He has a manager who used him only 11 times in September after giving him 16 appearances in August, and he’s not sure what to make of that. He’s also headed into the postseason without a good feel for his two best offspeed pitches. He is, in other words, at something of a critical moment in his development. This is the kind of month, and season, that can test a player’s ability to take it easy on themselves, to not let the grind get the better of them. Time will tell if he can pull it off. For the time being, Lou Trivino is standing tall.

Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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5 years ago

I always see graphs like this on Fangraphs and I know that they come from Brooksbaseball, but I can never seem to find them on their site. Are you compiling data yourself and making them, or is there a place on their site where they exist that I’m just missing?