The Pitcher Who Doesn’t Get Put Into Play

I don’t know you, but I know you didn’t spend last night watching the Marlins and the Padres. Tom Koehler won. Jeff Mathis hit a grand slam. The most interesting player who appeared for the Padres allowed Jeff Mathis to hit a grand slam. The Marlins aren’t bad, and I know even the worst team in the majors is a team of elites, but, look, there’s compelling baseball and there’s less compelling baseball, and the game didn’t have much of a draw. The Padres did try to rally a bit in the seventh, but they wasted a runner on third with nobody out.

That runner reached by drawing a walk. He was stranded in large part because the two following batters struck out. The Marlins reliever in charge of the inning was one Kyle Barraclough. For the fifth consecutive appearance, he struck out multiple hitters. For the 13th consecutive appearance, he struck out at least one hitter. For the 16th time in his last 18 appearances, he walked at least one hitter. Don’t worry if you didn’t know anything about Barraclough before. You’re about to learn. Really, you already have.

I was upset when the Marlins lost Carter Capps to injury. Not because I’m a Marlins fan, but because I’m a baseball fan, and a baseball statistics fan, and Capps was kind of a freak. I love those freaks, who compel you to check their numbers every other day just to fully absorb the silliness. Of course Capps sort of bent the rules with his delivery, and that would be annoying from an opponent’s perspective, but, man, do you see what he did last year? I wanted that again this year. I’m in love with the extraordinary.

Barraclough isn’t a freak in the way Capps is a freak. He doesn’t have the unorthodox throwing motion, and the walks are kind of out of control. Capps was all about dominance; Barraclough is more about discomfort. Quietly, the Marlins added Barraclough last July in exchange for a struggling Steve Cishek. Barraclough was basically a non-prospect, someone you might not expect to hear from again. But he did get himself into the majors, and now this year he’s peculiar. Barraclough has become more interesting than the pitcher for whom he was dealt. And Cishek is a side-arming closer.

Let’s get this out of the way. There’s one immediate reason to love Kyle Barraclough. Said reason:

You can tell from reading the name that however it’s pronounced is going to be awesome, but it’s pronounced “bear claw,” which is better than anything you could’ve possibly imagined. No need for a nickname here. No need to go down the obvious barracuda path. His name is the thing a giant animal uses to maul the other animals it’s looking to slaughter. Bear claw. His name is Kyle Bear-claw. It’s exactly as intimidating as Albert Pujols‘ name isn’t. Barraclough was born to be a fire-balling reliever, or a warrior with insatiable bloodthirst.

We can talk now about the pitching. Dude throws hard. He was deemed expendable by the Cardinals because of problems with control. Those guys usually don’t figure it out, and I wouldn’t say Barraclough has figured it out, exactly. But he doesn’t allow balls to be put into play. This is where the headline comes in. Here are all the pitchers in baseball with at least 20 innings thrown on the season:


Only two pitchers out of a few hundred have a higher strikeout rate than Barraclough. Only one pitcher out of a few hundred has a higher walk rate than Barraclough. Of course there’s some kind of relationship between strikeouts and walks, since they both come out of getting into deep counts, but Barraclough here is observed as one of the freaks. Not a Capps kind of freak. A kind of freak all his own.

This should be easy enough to explain. That Vine above cuts off right before a pitch. Here is that pitch:

Barraclough throws a fastball in the mid- to high-90s, and he doesn’t so much try to throw it through the catcher as he tries to throw it through the backstop. The control problems haven’t been resolved. But they have, at least, been refined, and Barraclough’s real calling card is his slider. It’s a phenomenal slider. This is that slider:

It’s a weapon against right-handed hitters, and it’s become a weapon against left-handed hitters. Barraclough also folds in a show-me changeup, and that keeps lefties off the heat, but the slider is the putaway pitch, and it has one of the highest whiff rates among sliders in the game. It actually compares well to Andrew Miller’s slider, but for the whole lefty/righty thing. Barraclough knows what his strength is, and if he can get to it, the hitter is in trouble. When he doesn’t get to it, he himself is in trouble. Barraclough has allowed a .354 OBP, but just a .311 slugging percentage.

Sticking again with the headline, here’s a table. Here are the 10 pitchers with the lowest rates of pitches put into play, out of all pitches thrown:

Lowest In-Play Rates
Pitcher In Play%
Kyle Barraclough 8.5%
Dellin Betances 10.1%
Trevor Rosenthal 10.6%
Ryan Buchter 11.0%
Craig Kimbrel 11.5%
Andrew Miller 11.8%
Jason Grilli 12.0%
Hunter Cervenka 12.3%
Tyler Thornburg 12.3%
Mychal Givens 12.9%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Yet!, you say, Barraclough sure seems to throw a lot of balls. So let’s look at the same table, only this time using strikes as the denominator instead of all pitches:

Lowest In-Play Rates
Pitcher In Play/Strike%
Kyle Barraclough 14.6%
Dellin Betances 16.1%
Trevor Rosenthal 16.8%
Andrew Miller 16.9%
Craig Kimbrel 18.2%
Ryan Buchter 18.3%
Tyler Thornburg 19.2%
Shawn Kelley 19.8%
Jason Grilli 20.0%
Hunter Cervenka 20.0%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Barraclough comfortably leads both lists. He has the lowest rate out of everyone of pitches hit into play. And he has the lowest rate, even when you narrow just to strikes. Hitters pretty clearly don’t know what to do with him, making this one of the better examples of a pitcher being effectively wild. Few pitchers are as wild as Barraclough is, but his stuff still keeps hitters on the defensive.

Consider that Barraclough has baseball’s third-highest strikeout rate, while also having baseball’s sixth-lowest first-pitch-strike rate. He hasn’t done a great job of getting ahead. But he has been able to claw back because hitters just aren’t particularly inclined to offer. One more granular stat I looked up: Barraclough has baseball’s second-lowest swing rate in non-two-strike counts. When batters haven’t had to be in swing mode, they’ve been content to let Barraclough do whatever. Sometimes, he puts the guy on base. More often, he’ll find a second strike, and then the slider is weaponized. It’s not the most elegant style of relieving, but it’s worked to date. The Marlins bullpen has needed someone somewhat reliable.

The experience of watching Kyle Barraclough is one of discomfort. It’s true for opponents just as it’s true for his own team, but you can tolerate the walks when the strikeouts start to skyrocket. Barraclough is not in consistent command. But pitchers don’t get much more fielder-independent.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

You say maul, slaughter and intimidating. I say, inviting, buttery, almond-laden pastry. Tomato tomahto.