This past Sunday’s notes column led with Scott Radinsky’s evolution as a pitching coach. Admittedly old-school when he first started out, the former big-league left-hander has since incorporated a heavy dose of new-age into his approach. TrackMan and the Angels’ analytics team were his allies as he served as Anaheim’s bullpen coach each of the past three seasons.
Today we’ll hear from Radinsky on several of the team’s relievers going forward. He won’t be with them — along with a few other Angels coaches, he won’t be returning — but he certainly knows each of them well. Having been hands-on with their development — particularly the youngsters of the bunch — he sees plenty of blue skies ahead for the club’s bullpen.
Radinsky on Hansel Robles: “Sometimes it takes awhile for a guy to buy in to what we’re sharing with them, but once he does, he can make real strides. It’s not the Bible, but it is well-thought-out information. This isn’t like back in the day when a pitching coach was on his own island and relying on the naked eye. It’s valuable data that is given to us as coaches, and it’s our job to translate it and pass it along to the players. We can use it to make them better.
“We had guys come [to the Angels] and buy in. They would realize, ‘Damn, man.’ Hansel Robles, from the Mets. This guy was headstrong about using his fastball. His fastball is a great pitch — he can really backspin it at the top of the zone — but our encouragement was, ‘When the catcher puts down slider, you don’t always have to shake. Utilize the thing.’ And do you know what? The more he used it, the better it got. Not only that, the more respect his fastball got. The next thing you know, he became more of a complete pitcher, and we were able to use him in higher-leverage situations.
“As the success grew, the more confidence he had in using his slider in any count. He also started incorporating his changeup. For a guy who had been primarily one-dimensional… he started pitching. He would throw his changeup on a 2-0 or 2-1 count, then zing a fastball past a guy. Maybe he’d double up on the changeup. I don’t think he’d ever really been open to going down those avenues before.”
On Justin Anderson: “He was helped out a lot this year with information we provided. Look at the amount of left-handed hitters he struck out with a high fastball that would ride out of the zone. He could see it happening in front of his face, but once we were able to quantify it with the data, he bought in even more. It was, ‘I knew it!!’ Then ‘Boom!’
“It was a high-strike fastball that had some running tail away from a left-handed hitter. He would air it out, up in the zone. For a guy who didn’t have a lot of swing-and-miss, he generated a lot of swing-and-miss with this pitch, especially with two strikes. He’d been toying with it but never really thought it could be a weapon until the data was shown to him. He’s obviously got the wipeout slider, as well.
“He’s going to be something down the road. Justin made real strides last year, and utilizing information was a huge part of that. It confirmed, ‘This is what I’m good at.’ Confidence takes you from there. Confidence is a big part of what makes a pitcher good. ”
On Ty Buttrey: “The kid who came from the Red Sox, Ty Buttrey, has a big-time arm. He’s also got a big-time heartbeat. He’s got the makeup. He’s very simplistic — he doesn’t want to dive too much into the information — and I recognized that pretty quickly.
“I see him as a back-end guy. He could be closing, or he could be pitching in the eighth inning, or even the seventh inning, on a given night. That’s another subject I’m coming around to: do we really need a designated ninth-inning closer? I’m not sure. I think it might be ideal to have two or three guys who can handle the ninth. Closers are important. The teams that are really good have a Kimbrel. They have a Jansen. They have their steady horses. But could Buttrey be a closer? Absolutely. He’s got the arm, and he’s got the makeup.”
On Keynan Middleton: “This was a fearless kid who came in with an attack mentality. He’s a pitching coach’s dream. He is going to make mistakes over the plate and get whacked every once in a while, but this guy has the determination to continue to pound the zone, pitch after pitch. He’s a special guy. Unfortunately, he was derailed by an injury. He made it through the month of April, and into May, but then ended up having Tommy John surgery.
“Because he did his rehab at the stadium, in Anaheim, we would see him pretty frequently. He has as much determination as anybody. The commitment he made to getting himself in shape… he shed some bad weight and put on some good weight. He’s going to come back even stronger.
“He’s got a power arm to go with his fearless mentality, so he’s another guy who profiles as a potential closer. He still has some recovery time ahead of him, but I know he’s starting to throw again, and I wouldn’t anticipate any setbacks — not with the work ethic he’s shown. He’s got a lot of upside. I think Kenyan is going to be a nice piece in the Angels bullpen going forward.”
On Cam Bedrosian: “I don’t think he quite had the velocity he was looking for, but he learned other sides of himself. His breaking ball has improved a lot. It’s become an actual two-pitch type of pitch. He has two versions. He can get a little more break to it and drop it in for a strike, and he’s got the wipeout one that bites almost like a Steve Carlton slider, off the back foot.
“While his fastball wasn’t what he wanted it to be at times, he never overthrew. That’s important, because when a guy tries to generate velocity, he tends to get out of his delivery a little bit. Cam didn’t do that. He accepted where he was at and realized that he could get people out with what he had. And it’s not like he was throwing in the 80s. He had enough velocity. When he commanded his fastball and his slider, he had success.
“Cam was reliable. He stayed consistent all year. He was available all year. He had his ups and downs, but he’s another hard worker. I’m sure he’s already preparing for next season.”
On Noe Ramirez: “I don’t know that we expected him to be there all year — his opportunities had a lot to do with injuries — but he ended up being a valuable piece. He earned the chance to pitch as much as he did. And he learned a lot. That was his first full season at the major-league level. I was happy for him.
“Noe utilized his pitches differently throughout the year. He prioritized them based on how the hitters were reacting to them. He’s always had a quality changeup, but there were times his breaking ball was devastating. And he got a lot out of his fastball for a guy who throws 90 mph. He learned a lot about pitch usage. Just as importantly, he learned how not to be afraid.
“There were times where it wasn’t physical, or analytical, so much as emotional and mental. You can get humbled in this game, and Noe went through a stretch where he gave up a home run in three or four outings in a row. It was an alarming cause for concern. But he grinded through that. He walked away from his first full season having learned a lot.”
On Jose Alvarez: “This has been one of the workhorses of the American League. In the three years I was there, Jose was among the league leaders in appearances. That’s what he wanted. He came into this season with a mindset of, ‘I’m no longer going to be a donkey, but a horse.’ That’s how he put it. Actually, he said he was going to be a ‘cabalo.’ I speak Spanish, so he told me that in Spanish. Then he trained his butt off.
“This guy held up from day one to the last day of the season. He never missed a beat. He stayed consistent with his work and ended up pitching close to 80 games. That’s what he trained to do. We had a pitcher the year before, Yusmeiro Petit, who was a positive influence on a lot of guys with the way he carried himself, the way he prepared. I think Jose got a lot out of that. This year he was a ‘cabalo.’
“He’s also kind of an under-the-radar guy. But when you look up you go, ‘Holy crap.’ This guy isn’t just a left-handed specialist; he gets righties out, too. Maybe the lefty brought him into the game, but the righties didn’t take him out of the game. He’s another guy who information helped. Jose was open to utilizing his four-seam fastball more and his two-seam fastball less, and utilizing his curveball over his slider. We showed him, ‘These are your chase and swing percentages; this is why you’re good and when you’re good.’ He was receptive to that feedback.’
On Blake Parker: “This guy has pitched in 60-plus game two years in a row. I don’t want to call him a castoff, but he was over 30 when he surfaced with us. Blake has been around the game. And he’s very durable, very strong, very intelligent. He has a pretty good four-seam fastball up in the zone, a pretty good curveball, and a pretty good split. He gets swing-and-miss with all three pitches.
“He started to utilize his breaking ball a little more toward the end of the year, and a lot of that had to do with data. His breaking ball was just as good to righties and lefties, so we told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to use it.’ Blake has been around the league for a bit, so guys knew it was going to be either fastball or split. When he started throwing that breaking ball in there — and not just in early counts, but late counts as well — he froze a lot of batters.
“Again, that was all information-driven. The feedback was, ‘Utilize the breaking ball.’ When a pitcher does that and sees results… there were plenty of times he threw a two-strike breaking ball and got a swing-and-miss. I was kind of waiting for him to look back and wave his hand at me. I was smiling. I was just laughing, going, ‘I knew it!’ We knew it. As a staff, we knew that if he executed the pitch, he was going to get a good result.
“That’s the joy of what we do — getting the information, translating it, and then having a guy trust you. He buys in, then goes out and has success. He becomes a better player. Isn’t that the definition of what being a coach is?”
On Jake Jewell: “This kid broke his foot in the third game he pitched. He blew his ankle out covering home plate and had to have surgery. I’d been impressed with him in spring training, so I was super excited when he came up in the middle of the year. I was hoping he was going to stick. Based on where he’d placed himself on the ladder, he was going to get opportunities.
“Jake doesn’t just have an electric arm, he’s a super down-to-earth kid. He’s very coachable. When you see a guy like that — his makeup and his stuff — it gets you excited, because you know you can watch him grow. I look at it kind of like a bowling alley. You can be the bumper. You can kind of nudge him out of the gutter and keep him in the lane, and from there he can just be himself. That’s what all coaches dream of having — guys like Jake, Kenyan Middleton, Ty Buttrey. Some of these young pitchers coming up are the real thing. There’s a lot to look forward to in that bullpen.”
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.