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Article: Twins Building Off The Mound

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Article: Twins Minor League Report (8/18): Grand Slams, S...

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 07:29 AM
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Can Terry Ryan And Old School Scouting Still Build A Bullpen?

When news broke that lights-out lefty Antonio Bastardo had signed with the New York Mets, Twins faithful were understandably disappointed.

After all, the 30-year-old Antonio Bastardo represented everything that the Twins could want: a reliever with a proven successful track record and also just happen to throw with his left hand. As fate would have it, the Twins were in the market for a set-up left-hander to complement the consortium of righties in the bullpen.

Nevertheless, they missed out on Bastardo.
On the Twins network radio program, general manager Terry Ryan said he was quite content with the assortment of arms he and his staff had already started collecting. In response to missing out (or perhaps sitting out) on Bastardo, Ryan mentioned that he had confidence in finding someone who could provide that kind of production -- specifically naming the recently signed Fernando Abad.

As LaVelle Neal from the Star Tribune reported last week, the Minnesota Twins scouts say they feel that Abad had been tipping his pitches in 2015 resulting in the obliteration of many that had he spun toward home plate. When you consider that his home run rate skyrocketed to over two per nine innings pitched, as well as his well-hit average jumping from a career rate under 25% to above 35% in 2015, the theory seems plausible that hitters were tipped off by something in Abad’s methods.



Beyond those two high-level metrics, more granular data may also corroborate the Twins’ theory. For instance, when you examine Abad’s chase rate on his two most frequented pitches -- his fastball and curve ball -- over the past four seasons, the numbers show a stark drop in hitters chasing pitches out of the zone. According to ESPN/TruMedia’s data, Abad was able to get hitters to chase after a fastball out of the strike zone 28.5% of the time from 2012 through 2014. This past year, however, hitters held up much more frequently, chasing after 20% of his out-of-zone fastballs. Likewise, opponents followed his breaking ball out of the strike zone 31% of the time from 2012-2014 but chased just 24% of time in 2015. It stands to reason that if hitters were able to pick up on what was coming ahead of time, they would have a better chance at zoning the pitch. Less chance of being fooled would lead to fewer silly swings.

Tipping pitches is not exclusive to struggling relievers -- just ask David Price. In the ALCS, Price was cruising along for the Toronto Blue Jays and was shutting down the Kansas City Royals lineup in Game 2. In the seventh inning, however, the Royals began to make loud impact and put four runs on the big lefthander. Later, a member of the Royals staff confirmed to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that they had picked up on Price’s tell. When Price threw his change-up, he would take an extra deep breath and hold the ball a fraction longer than when he threw his fastball.

In the 2001 World Series, the Diamondbacks jumped all over the Yankees to a 15-2, Arizona chased Andy Pettitte out of the game early based on a tell that gave hitters a head’s up. According to broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe, Pettitte would double-tap the ball in his glove in the set position when he was coming with a fastball. Former Diamondback Jay Bell later confirmed this, saying his team had a “clear picture” of what the Yankee southpaw was going to throw.

While Price and Pettitte’s stories are the norm when it comes to tipping pitches, there are other more absurd missteps. In his book “Throwback” former catcher Jason Kendall shared the story of Ted Lilly who would actually silently mouth the word “fastball” or “curve” to his catcher if he thought the hitter was taking a warm- up swing or looking down at the third base coach. Often, Lilly would zone out and simply mouth the pitch he wanted no matter who was looking.

So what are the Twins’ scouts and hitters possibly seeing from Abad? Going over several of his outings from MLB.tv, there is one possibility of a pattern that starts to emerge in 2015. Take a look at the images below. The images are captured at the moment Abad brings his hands together before dropping his hands to his belt and delivering the pitch. In the top two images, Abad is about to throw a fastball. In the bottom, a breaking ball.

Attached Image: Abad_Fastball.PNG

Attached Image: Abad_Fastball2.PNG

Attached Image: Abad_Breaking Ball.PNG


As you can see, Abad’s hands are much higher when he collects prior to spinning a breaking ball to the Angels’ Kole Calhoun than in the other two pitches above. This seemed to happen several times over this season: His threw a fastball from the lower starting point and spun a pitch when he gathered high. It probably would not take long for a major league hitter, coach or scout to pick up on that pattern.

Posted Image
Posted Image

Could Abad’s struggles in 2015 really be sourced to an abundantly obvious tell?

Abad’s gopher ball struggles might not be completely related to the pitch tipping (although that likely didn’t help). He also lost a noticeable amount of velocity off of his fastball -- dropping nearly two miles per hour on the heat over the previous season. He also added a very meh cutter to his repertoire. Furthermore, tipping his pitches or not, Abad fell behind hitters far too often this past season. He was getting strike one at a 52% clip which was well below the league average of 60%. Once he was behind, hitters could tee off. And tee off they did. Opponents slugged .963 off of Abad in hitter’s counts -- only five other relievers with 30 or more appearances fared worse (including Minnesota’s Trevor May). A combination of a diminished fastball and an expected fastball count will equal KABLOOIE.

The Twins seem confident that they can fix Abad. In addition to eliminating his pitch tipping potential, Abad has one of the game’s best left-handed change-ups that can be harnessed. Opponents languished against the offspeed pitch, hitting just .125 while showing little ability to make much contact. It is no secret that Twins’ pitching coach Neil Allen has introduced methods for using the change-up more effectively and Abad seems like someone who could benefit greatly from that knowledge.

As someone who is a year removed from chucking 97 mile per hour darts and holding lefties to a .191 batting average, Abad is a worthy gamble. If the collective scouting brain trust feel like they have some adjustments answers that will help him get back to his 2014 success, Abad stands to be a decent addition. Then again, Abad’s entire body of work over his career isn’t all that impressive. The downside is that the Twins have not secured a suitable left-handed alternative if he doesn’t bounce back.

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62 Comments

I thought he also checked runner on breaking ball and not on fastball.  Might be a reach.

 

 

I'm glad that the Twins are fixing his potential tipping; however, I am much more interested in how they plan on helping him regain his lost velocity.

    • Thrylos, nicksaviking, DaveW and 2 others like this

Ryan may be able to build a old-school bullpen. But I don't understand why we always have to shop in the "Bargain bin". As for Fernando, I think his fastball dropping 2 mph was more likely the cause of the rough year.

    • Steve Lein, Thrylos and ShouldaCouldaWoulda like this
So Price and Pettitte had single-game episodes of pitch-tipping. Do you know any examples where it was left unchecked to derail a pitcher's whole season? Obviously a reliever pitches fewer innings to begin with, but it seems like a long time if that was really the primary factor in his 2015 results. Even after the season, Oakland cut Abad over $1.5 mil which would seem unusual if the explanation for fixing him was relatively simple.
Abad was never that good to begin with and he has mediocre velocity these days, good lord, it's not like they are trying to "fix" a Johan Santana or Cliff Lee and return them to stardom.

They are trying to fix a guy whose upside is a 6th inning MRP. Its embarrassing that LaVelle would even report on such a non story, instead of focusing on why TR, the Pohlads and company seemingly refuse to spend any amount of real money to fix an obviously shaky bullpen.

Ryan may be able to build a old-school bullpen. But I don't understand why we always have to shop in the "Bargain bin". As for Fernando, I think his fastball dropping 2 mph was more likely the cause of the rough year.


It's just more proof in Ryan (and the org as a whole) stubbornness to change. For whatever reason they always have to be the last one into the pool when it comes to any sort of obvious change of strategy. Sorta like how in 2016 they have finally decided to look for power and have only recently started trying to draft high upside hard throwers.
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Parker Hageman
Jan 27 2016 06:56 AM
"They are trying to fix a guy whose upside is a 6th inning MRP. Its embarrassing that LaVelle would even report on such a non story, instead of focusing on why TR, the Pohlads and company seemingly refuse to spend any amount of real money to fix an obviously shaky bullpen."

Frankly -- and maybe I'm alone on this -- but I enjoy baseball related insight more than payroll related ones.
    • birdwatcher, Cris E, Loosey and 14 others like this

Frankly -- and maybe I'm alone on this -- but I enjoy baseball related insight more than payroll related ones.


Here is some insight (toss money out of the equation)

Abad is not and never has been a good pitcher, his velocity is down.

Bastardo, Sipp and countless others are good pitchers.

 

The Twins had a shaky bullpen last season that cost them numerous games and potentially a playoff spot. Now their biggest "move" to fix that is to hope that they can "fix" a guy with a career 4.23 FIP out of the pen? Sorry if I'm not buying my 2016 world series ticket because of this news.

 

If they wanted a reclamation project they should go after someone with some actual upside, not Abad.

    • spycake likes this
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Parker Hageman
Jan 27 2016 07:00 AM
"So Price and Pettitte had single-game episodes of pitch-tipping. Do you know any examples where it was left unchecked to derail a pitcher's whole season?"

Supposedly Jeff Smarjajajaza. He said his entire season with Sox was because he was tipping pitches.
    • Cris E and ThejacKmp like this
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Parker Hageman
Jan 27 2016 07:03 AM
"Abad is not and never has been a good pitcher, his velocity is down."

Man, you're right. I wish the best writers would come up with some insight like that. Thanks.
    • Cris E, ThejacKmp, Craig Arko and 2 others like this

 

"Abad is not and never has been a good pitcher, his velocity is down."

Man, you're right. I wish the best writers would come up with some insight like that. Thanks.

But he isn't a good pitcher. Good pitchers don't get cut over 1.5 million dollars. The only team that cuts good players (Ortiz) over 1.5 million is our beloved Twins!

 

Listen, I think you did a great job as always on your article and your breakdown, it's just a shame you have to do it on such a non factor guy like Abad instead of someone with upside that the Twins could have brought in.

    • joeshmoe likes this
Based on what TR is saying, Abad, who was brought in on a minor league deal, is essentially a lock to make the roster.
    • DaveW, spycake and Vagnavs like this

 

Based on what TR is saying, Abad, who was brought in on a minor league deal, is essentially a lock to make the roster.

??  Yeah, I would say that's true, if he's better than he looked last year.  Not automatically.  Ryan saying they think they can fix him suggests he needs to show some upside.

    • Cris E likes this
I'm skeptical, on several fronts:

Twins scouts were the only ones to pick up on this? With LH relief always in demand, Oakland lets Abad go for nothing? No other team offers more than a minor league deal?

2015 is an outlier, but less so than 2014, Abad's only really good year. He started tipping pitches over the 2014-15 offseason?

He hasn't been dominant, even against lefties, in his career. He's allowed a .700+ OPS against LH hitters. Less than 8 K/9 overall.

Also, nitpic (or maybe not)... I'd put more stock in the article's clips if they were from the same game, preferably the same hitter. Pitchers sometimes change motions over time.
    • DaveW, spycake, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this

In 2014, Abad had an ERA+ of 238.  It isn't like it has been five years since he was pretty good.  We're not asking him to close games.  If there's ANY truth to the pitch tipping angle, and it can be fixed, there's no doubt in my mind that Abad could be a useful BP pitcher.  

    • HitInAPinch and howieramone2 like this

 

In 2014, Abad had an ERA+ of 238.  It isn't like it has been five years since he was pretty good.  We're not asking him to close games.  If there's ANY truth to the pitch tipping angle, and it can be fixed, there's no doubt in my mind that Abad could be a useful BP pitcher.  

Good results in 14 no doubt, but he was very lucky with an unsustainable BABIP (.211) and LOB% (89%). His FIP and xFIP (3.25 and 3.64) weren't bad, but that isn't pretty good for a "specialist".

 

Career ERA of 3.78, career FIP of 4.38, career xFIP of 4.28.

Nothing about this seems inspiring at all to be honest, his upside/realistic expectations is a mediocre LOOGY IMO, and we saw what his floor was from 2015...

    • Mike Sixel likes this

It will be interesting to find out. Clearly, they believe. Now, this is the same group that thought Stauffer was good, and the young players would step up, so color me skeptical. This is the same group that has built the last 4 bullpens, right?

    • Thrylos, DaveW and Vanimal46 like this

According to PitchF/X Abad was throwing 5 pitches: 4-seamer, 2-seamer, cutter, knucklecurve and change up. All but the 4-seamer and changeup were below average.Addition by subtraction might work for him.That and that 17.2% HR/FB rate that is not sustainable.So he will likely be better.Tipping or not.

 

However, the important question is how much better?Would he be an 8th inning in a contender better (which is what the Twins need)?I seriously doubt it.And if he is a 7th inning guy or a mop up guy, Rogers or Melotakis would probably have similar floor and much higher upside. 

    • Mike Sixel, nicksaviking and DaveW like this

Nice article Parker. I wish as well we had better things to write about... 

 

Can we please give Bill Smith back the checkbook?

    • Thrylos and DaveW like this
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mikecgrimes
Jan 27 2016 08:50 AM

You develop your bullpen, and trade for a hot hand down the stretch.  Betting big money that anyone but the elite will have a repeat above average season seems pretty foolish.  Given we already have Perkins May and Jepsen we only need to really find 2 others, if your willing to go with Berrios and he meets expectations now you're down to one.  You should find the other in Spring Training, but if not a minor trade can do the trick.  I know you want Berrios and/or May in the rotation but  the point is you can build a great bullpen without spending money and without downgrading the current rotation.  If Berrios is an ace starter thats almost like an addition to the bullpen by keeping them fresh every 5th day especially when the offense does it's job, if he's not an ace starter he's probably better used in the bullpen, the same is true for May.  

 

Seeing other teams have shut down bullpens doesn't mean you have to have a shutdown bullpen.  A bullpen ERA of 3 means while the Royals and Yankees give up more then zero you give up 1 from the 7th inning on, you should be able to build a roster that can make up that run elsewhere.

    • howieramone2 likes this

 

So Price and Pettitte had single-game episodes of pitch-tipping. Do you know any examples where it was left unchecked to derail a pitcher's whole season? Obviously a reliever pitches fewer innings to begin with, but it seems like a long time if that was really the primary factor in his 2015 results. Even after the season, Oakland cut Abad over $1.5 mil which would seem unusual if the explanation for fixing him was relatively simple.

 

I tweeted, maybe too many times, that I thought the Twins or Molitor or Vavra or someone picked up a tell from Chris Sale early in the season. The first time they faced him, they lit him up. I said, well, anything can happen. They lit him up all year. To me, that tells me they saw something. 

 

I hope that they can help Abad with his tell, because he can be a solid reliever. 

    • gunnarthor, dgwills, HitInAPinch and 2 others like this

 

You develop your bullpen, and trade for a hot hand down the stretch.  Betting big money that anyone but the elite will have a repeat above average season seems pretty foolish.  Given we already have Perkins May and Jepsen we only need to really find 2 others, if your willing to go with Berrios and he meets expectations now you're down to one. 

Berrios should not be in the bullpen......

 

Supposedly Jeff Smarjajajaza. He said his entire season with Sox was because he was tipping pitches.

Thanks.  One thing to note about Samardzija and Abad, they've both had rather inconsistent results over their whole careers.

 

I tweeted, maybe too many times, that I thought the Twins or Molitor or Vavra or someone picked up a tell from Chris Sale early in the season. The first time they faced him, they lit him up. I said, well, anything can happen. They lit him up all year. To me, that tells me they saw something.

Although Sale was pretty dominant otherwise, so it wound up being ~4 games over the course of the season, all against a single team.  The Twins had his number, and no one else did, so the White Sox weren't able to successfully address the problem.

 

Not sure how easily that theory translates to a reliever like Abad.  He got lit up by all 4 of his divisional opponents last year, which suggests familiarity hurt him, but that would have to be a pretty obvious "tell" to be exploited by at least 4 different teams over the course of a full season, and in that case, why wasn't Oakland able to address it?

 

Although Sale was pretty dominant otherwise, so it wound up being ~4 games over the course of the season, all against a single team.  The Twins had his number, and no one else did, so the White Sox weren't able to successfully address the problem.

 

Not sure how easily that theory translates to a reliever like Abad.  He got lit up by all 4 of his divisional opponents last year, which suggests familiarity hurt him, but that would have to be a pretty obvious "tell" to be exploited by at least 4 different teams over the course of a full season, and in that case, why wasn't Oakland able to address it?

Occam's razor would suggest that he just had an unlucky season (versus his very lucky season in 2014) and that he will likely return to the mid 4.00's FIP type pitcher he has been his whole career.


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