What Hector Neris Might Teach Brad Brach

Believe it or not, I actually agonized over how to title this post. Ultimately, I couldn’t come up with anything better, not if I didn’t want to outright deceive. Because this is a post about Hector Neris, and about Brad Brach, and there’s no way around that. You should be aware of that from the start. Now the only people in here are people who might give a damn, and that’s better than me feeling like I tricked you.

Neris is someone who’s been on my radar for a few weeks. Before that, he was absolutely not on my radar, even though he pitched in the majors in each of the previous two years. I became aware of him after a Phillies person told me to become aware of him, and Neris is in the early stages of a breakthrough major-league campaign. It’s been quiet, because he’s not a closer, and because he’s not a starter. Non-closing relievers take a while to command attention. But Neris has allowed four runs in 20 innings. More impressively, he’s increased his strikeout rate by more than fifty percent.

Much has gone into Neris’ emergence, so I don’t want to oversimplify, but the biggest thing is that splitter he throws. Neris last year threw his splitter 28% of the time. Neris this year has thrown his splitter 58% of the time. It’s a pitch batters just haven’t been able to pick up, and by leaning on it, Neris has thrived, at least through a month and a week. Just as I was learning more about Neris, Mike Petriello wrote about him. Everything that Mike writes is good! And in there, he linked to this. An excerpt, quoting Neris’ manager:

We told him late in the spring to start throwing that split more than he has been.

There you go. There’s the Phillies’ own explanation. Again, I’m sure Neris has taken some other steps forward, or made some other tweaks, but this is mostly about the splitter. Neris’ splitter got into my mind. And then I started screwing around on the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards.

I like the pitch, and I like the simplicity of what’s taken place. Neris had a good pitch, so he made himself better by throwing it more. Petriello was right when he wrote that the pitch has somewhat unusual movement. So I set out to find some comps, following the old pitch-comp method I’ve written about probably dozens of times. This is where the PITCHf/x leaderboards come in, and even though Neris’ pitch is a splitter, I decided to combine splitters and changeups, because while they’re not identical, movements overlap. Splitters and changeups can resemble each other.

I ran all the math and, let me just get straight to the point. I looked at all the splitters and changeups. I compared them to the characteristics of Neris’ split. The very strongest comp thrown on anything close to a regular basis: the changeup belonging to Orioles reliever Brad Brach. Brach’s changeup drops the same. It has the same velocity. It has very similar horizontal break. Brach doesn’t literally throw Hector Neris’ splitter, but as far as PITCHf/x is concerned, he might as well.

Helpfully, both pitchers are right-handed. They have similar vertical release points, and they have similar fastballs, with Brach’s being a little bit faster. And wouldn’t you know it, but just last year, Brach doubled his changeup usage. That’s carried over into this season — Brach throws his change roughly a quarter of the time, and it scores well by all the performance metrics. Brach’s changeup is a great weapon, and you can tell that he’s got good control of the pitch. From Baseball Savant, here are Neris’ splitters:


And here are Brach’s changeups:


The pitch stays down. When Brach uses it against righties, he usually keeps it low, over the plate. When he uses it against lefties, he usually keeps it low, and away. Brach obviously has a lot of confidence in his changeup. Oh, I should probably show you what it looks like. Here are two of them:

I mentioned that Brach throws his changeup about a quarter of the time. He throws his fastball about three-fifths of the time, and he throws a slider a little under one-fifth of the time. Credit to Brach — not a lot of relievers out there have three somewhat reliable pitches. The Orioles like to say Brach has a starter’s repertoire. But it seems to me the slider lags behind the changeup. It also seems to me the fastball might be a bit too frequent.

This is where I think Brach might be able to learn something from Neris. Brach clearly has a good changeup, but I’m not convinced he’s getting the most out of it that he can. He’s been perfectly effective, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be better, and if he were to become better, that might come from mixing around his usage patterns. There’s room for that changeup to come more often. Room for more of them to lefties, and room for more of them to righties. Brach doesn’t need to eliminate the slider, not if he likes it. And he obviously needs the fastball in order for the changeup to be a changeup relative to something. But based on Hector Neris, Brach might thrive at 40% changeups. He might thrive at 50% changeups. I don’t know where the limit is; I just sense he isn’t at it.

That’s all. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Neris splitter gives hitters a completely different look. That much, I can’t speak to. But I have what I have, and what I have loves the Brad Brach changeup. It’s entirely possible Brach doesn’t love it enough.

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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7 years ago

Jeff, the strike zone plots are hard to read because the axes are scaled differently. And the zone is smaller in the changeups graph.