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What Does Aaron Slegers Have In Common With Jake Arrieta?

Aaron Slegers is one of the tallest pitchers to ever grace a major league mound, standing 6-foot-10. That height comes with some advantages, but exactly how does he stand to benefit from being so tall? Having that extreme length makes his fastball appear a few clicks quicker and allows him to throw from a unique release point without making any other dramatic alterations to his mechanics. Just how unique?
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Well, among the 562 right-handed pitchers Baseball Savant has data on from 2017, Slegers is one of just three who averaged a release point of at least 6.2 feet vertically and 3.3 feet horizontally. What’s especially surprising is he uses his length more horizontally. Slegers’ vertical release point was 6.33 feet, in the top 13 percent among right-handers, but his horizontal release point was inside the top three percent at 3.34 feet.

It would make sense to guess that former Twin Alex Meyer is in that same class. After all, he’s 6-foot-9. Well it appears Meyer may not make as good use of his height, as his vertical (5.38 feet) and horizontal (2.13 feet) release points both trail Slegers by nearly a foot. So who are those other two pitchers similar to Slegers and how do they accomplish such a unique angle to pitch from?

One of them is 6-foot-6 reliever Taylor Jungmann. He only threw 0.2 innings for the Brewers last season, so there’s not much data to dig into. The other guy, however, is much more interesting. That would be 6'4" free agent Jake Arrieta. How is that possible? He must have freakishly long arms or the ability to get incredible extension, right? No, for Arrieta it’s more about his feet than his arms.

Arrieta accomplishes his release point by throwing from the extreme third base side of the rubber. During his 2015 Cy Young Award season, Rob Arthur over at FiveThirtyEight wrote an excellent piece about that release point evolution. Circling back to Meyer, the main reason why he has a less dramatic release point is the fact he pitches more in the middle, or maybe even slightly toward the first base side of the rubber. I’d guess that’s in an effort to keep more of his pitches in the strike zone.

To give you more of a visual, here are the release point charts from Baseball Savant, starting with Slegers:
Attached Image: SlegersRelease.png
Below is Arrieta’s chart. It’s worth noting that there are likely some more inconsistencies because he threw a ton more pitches in the majors than Slegers last year:
Attached Image: ArrietaRelease.png
And finally, just for further reference here’s Meyer’s chart:
Attached Image: MeyerRelease.png
This is inconsistent to the point I would assume Meyer was tinkering around with his release during the year. Maybe something for you fantasy baseball players out there to look into over the winter.

It’s usually pretty great to have something in common with a former Cy Young Award winner, but what does it mean? I’m not sure, but I want to make it clear that I’m not calling Aaron Slegers the next Jake Arrieta. The reason behind avoiding that comparison, however, may be different than you’d think.

The perception seems to be that Slegers is a soft tosser. Yes, he did only average 90.6 mph on his fastballs during his time with the Twins, but his height/extension comes into play. Of 746 pitchers to log data at Baseball Savant in 2017, Slegers had the fourth-highest increase in effective fastball velocity vs. actual fastball velocity at +1.7 mph, meaning the effective velocity on his fastballs was 92.3 mph. Of the 315 players classified as starting pitchers by Baseball Savant, that mark ranks 116th, or inside the top 36.8 percent. Still not elite velocity, and Slegers is never going to be a power pitcher, but there’s nothing to suggest he can’t be successful because he doesn’t throw hard enough.

Slegers actually had a better effective fastball velocity than Arrieta’s 91.75 mph in 2017, but he had much less impressive spin rates. Arrieta averaged 2,308 rpm on all his pitches, Slegers just 1,954 rpm. Lumping all their pitch types together is a very simplified way to look at it, but I’m not a spin rate expert, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Simply put, Arrieta has far superior stuff.

So what am I trying to say here? Aaron Slegers is a lot more interesting a pitcher than I think most people realized, myself included. I’ve seen multiple people both at Twins Daily and elsewhere suggest he’s a DFA candidate. This is a pitcher entering his age 25 season coming off a strong showing in Triple-A.

Nick Nelson made an interesting point in a recent article, noting Slegers’ strong finish and saying “I'm very curious to see if he can pick up where he left off, and what type of untapped potential might lie in him yet, especially if he returns to the Twins and jibes with new pitching coach Garvin Alston.”

Arrieta clearly overhauled his mechanics in order to throw from a slot that Slegers is already able to pitch from naturally. Here's a look at how Arriet's horizontal slot has evolved over the years:
Attached Image: ArrietaBBChart.jpeg
It will be interesting to see if Slegers benefits from some of the changes that have been made to the pitching analysis and instruction staff. Is there someone in the org who can help him get more effective spin and improve the quality of his arsenal?

It seems a lot of the lack of excitement is related to the fact that Slegers wasn’t, and still isn’t, considered a top prospect, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that he barely pitched as an amateur. According to this New York Times article, Slegers grew seven inches between his junior and senior years of high school. That put so much stress on his body he was barely able to pitch his senior year. What if instead he stayed healthy and had a great season?

He ended up going to college at Indiana University and was able to pitch only six total games his freshman and sophomore seasons due to injuries. He was the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year as a junior, but do you think the Twins would’ve been able to get him in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft had there not been so many questions surrounding his ability to stay healthy?

In his first four full seasons as a professional, Slegers has made 23, 25, 25 and 27 starts. How much earlier would he have gone If you could’ve assured teams he was going to be this durable? Of course none of that stuff really matters in the grand scheme of things at this point, but I do imagine if Slegers had been drafted a few rounds higher and put up these exact same numbers people would look at him much differently.

Is Slegers someone the Twins should be making room for in their 2017 rotation? Absolutely not, but this is an intriguing pitcher who has had a successful minor league career and won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2021. That’s a great depth piece to have in case of emergency. Considering the Twins difficulties in developing starting pitchers, this is not somebody you just cast aside.

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34 Comments

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Halsey Hall
Dec 11 2017 06:17 PM

I'd assume he'll get a shot in spring training and probably do very well. 

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Deduno Abides
Dec 11 2017 06:21 PM
Excellent article. Oh, and is the answer that they both have eleven letters in their names?
    • Thrylos, Mike Sixel, gil4 and 4 others like this

Six years ago we were promoting guys that were failing in the minors (Ok, failing might be strong but certainly not guys we were itching to see based on their performances).Guys like Seger may or may not thrive in the majors but at least we have several pitchers in the minors that have earned a shot rather than just get promoted because there is no one else.

    • Mike Sixel, gil4, Twins33 and 7 others like this

I like the optimism. I think the Twins will give him a shot.

    • sploorp, BuxtonBandwagon and Doctor Wu like this

Straight fastballs at 90 or 93 will be knocked all over the place, and release point or not, if you don't have at least one plus pitch, you are replacement level.So is Slegers.

Honestly, the first and only thing I could think of that they had in common is their consumption of oxygen. I'm not at all high on Slegers ... or pretty much any Big 10 Pitchers of the Year.

 

Excellent article. Oh, and is the answer that they both have eleven letters in their names?

Uh, Aaron Slegers is 12 letters.

    • gil4, Oldgoat_MN and snap4birds like this

His decrease in walks and increase in strikeouts compared to last year is encouraging.  

When Garvin Alston was hired and one of the only pieces of information on him was focusing on release points/extension, Slegers was the first name that came to mind on guys he could help continue to refine.

    • ashburyjohn, Twins33, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this
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ashburyjohn
Dec 11 2017 07:21 PM

Uh, Aaron Slegers is 12 letters.

You have to have 11, before you can have 12. That's just math.

    • USAFChief, Blake, Mike Sixel and 13 others like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Dec 11 2017 08:16 PM

I'd assume he'll get a shot in spring training and probably do very well.

H.alsey, Where have you been? It is good to see your post
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tarheeltwinsfan
Dec 11 2017 08:27 PM
/Interesting article and charts. How would you rank the importance to a pitcher of the following: Control, movement, speed, a smart catcher who is the best pitch framer in the majors and who studies the hitters and can call a good game mixing up pitches and location, a gold glove center fielder, release points, endurance, health?

I doubt he'll be successful in MLB but stranger things have happened.I wouldn't DFA him as he does have some value as a relatively competent guy you can call up to make an emergency start or two and give you a chance in those games.  

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Baseball Bat
Dec 11 2017 10:55 PM

I'm pretty low on Slegers and have advocated DFAing him in order to add Burdi or Reed to the 40 man (I'd DFA Hughes and Boshers before DFAing Slegers though). So naturally this would be an article written. Have to admit it has valid points and makes me want to reconsider my Slegers position. However, as you mentioned, Arrieta has far superior stuff. I'm always very biased against a minor league pitcher who has a long track record of not missing bats. I hope I am proved wrong, but I think his ceiling is a #5 starter with Kyle Gibson 2014 / 2015 numbers 

I'd be interested to know what the bell curve off MLB average spin rate looks like.

Those two numbers don't really mean anything to 99.9% of people that follow baseball
    • 70charger and Tom Froemming like this
Also, how incredibly fascinating would Tim Wakefield's spin rate pitchFX data be?

I assume I could look at it for hours.

"Oh, Shiiiiiiiiiit!!!!!! He got one in single digits!!!!!!"
    • bdodge22, JLease, Tom Froemming and 1 other like this
I think Slegers is interesting. I seem to recall a lot of talk with Alex Meyer about how very tall guys tend to develop later ala Randy Johnson. With Slegers consistency of release point that he already seems to have I am curious to see what the new regime pitching staff might be able to get out of him.
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Parker Hageman
Dec 12 2017 12:07 AM

This is inconsistent to the point I would assume Meyer was tinkering around with his release during the year. Maybe something for you fantasy baseball players out there to look into over the winter.

 

 

 

This is a fairly common phenomenon when looking at release point charts for pitchers. There are pitchers who have made adjustments on the rubber in-season -- shifting from first base side to third base side -- and so the release point cluster will shift along with it.

 

Here's Doug Fister's release point chart. Like Meyer, Fister also moved from one side of the rubber to the other in-season.

 

Attached Image: Doug Fister (1).png

 

    • Tom Froemming likes this

Fascinating article. Thanks for writing that one. Yes, the optimist in me certainly hopes that Slegers can make use of this unique attribute and win some games for us this year!

    • Carole Keller and Tom Froemming like this

Slegers could be a solid 4th-5th type pitcher.Nothing wrong with that.He's still young and needs to learn how to pitch at the Big League Level.We all saw how long it took Barrios to adjust.I'd expect to see Slegers more then others do because of his consistency.You need someone to go to the mound and throw quality pitches, every time out.I think Slegers can do that.  

    • Oldgoat_MN and Tom Froemming like this
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Tom Froemming
Dec 12 2017 08:13 AM

 

I'd be interested to know what the bell curve off MLB average spin rate looks like.

Those two numbers don't really mean anything to 99.9% of people that follow baseball

In the sample of 315 pitchers Baseball Savant lists as starters, Arrieta ranked 73rd in average spin rate and Slegers 290th. But spin is kinda like velocity in that just because you have a high number doesn't mean you're going to be a good pitcher. Nik Turley had the third-best spin rate in that sample and Dallas Keuchel was 270th. 

 

Again I'm not a spin expert, but from what I understand there is such thing as effective spin. There may be a certain gap between your pitches you want to shoot for in terms of spin rate, so more spin isn't always a good thing. So to really break a guy down in terms of effective spin it seems you'd want to look at each of his individual pitches, which is a little out of my league at this point. But I think it's safe to say Slegers would likely benefit from more spin.

 

The good thing is we know guys can effectively mess around with these things to a point. The Twins most certainly learned some things from having Craig Breslow around last year. Maybe they can take some of those lessons learned and apply them to a guy like Slegers and see what happens.

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Tom Froemming
Dec 12 2017 08:27 AM

 

/Interesting article and charts. How would you rank the importance to a pitcher of the following: Control, movement, speed, a smart catcher who is the best pitch framer in the majors and who studies the hitters and can call a good game mixing up pitches and location, a gold glove center fielder, release points, endurance, health?

Yes to all of the above.

 

I think the less stuff you have the more important it is to have control/command. Jose Berrios can afford to have some control/command concerns because he's so nasty. A guy like Slegers has to be an artist. He can't afford to miss spots and he's gonna get hammered if he falls behind in the count too often.

 

In his minor league career Slegers has a 2.0 BB/9 and only gave up 38 homers in 601 minor league innings (0.6 HR/9). I'd think that suggest that along with just not walking guys he's hitting his spots in the zone too. Just for reference, those are nearly the exact numbers Adalberto Mejia posted in the minors.

 

How many super tall guys get that part of their game figured out by the time they're 25? Basically what I'm saying is Slegers has the building blocks, now it's time to figure out how all those other things you mentioned can be manipulated to his advantage. Can they figure out how to use his unique release point/extension and tweak something to give his pitches a boost? Maybe, maybe not, but at least we know this guy can put the ball where he wants it to go. It's a good starting point.

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Carole Keller
Dec 12 2017 10:33 AM

 

Slegers could be a solid 4th-5th type pitcher.Nothing wrong with that.He's still young and needs to learn how to pitch at the Big League Level.We all saw how long it took Barrios to adjust.I'd expect to see Slegers more then others do because of his consistency.You need someone to go to the mound and throw quality pitches, every time out.I think Slegers can do that.  

Welcome to the site!

    • Tom Froemming likes this

I think he's going to get some looks in 2018 by default especially if Falvey and Levine fail to acquire starters. 

 

Sure he doesn't feature a sexy high velocity FB with movement but he did manage to go 15-4 in 148 innings in AAA last season and certainly looked head and shoulders better than Turley or Hurlbut. 

 

We keep hearing that Gonsalves is just about ready and he might end up competing for an opening day job, but he's only pitched 22 innings in Rochester so far and i gotta imagine he'll spend a significant portion of the season there unless he hits the ground running in Minnesota. 

 

Nik Turley is gone from the organization and Jason Wheeler and David Hurlbut aren't major league starting material.So really the ranks of AAA ready starters are thin until Gonsalves gets a little more seasoning and guys like Enns and Littell are promoted from Chattanooga.

 

Santana

Berrios

Gibson

Meija 

? (maybe they should sign Colon again until one of the kids is ready to take the #5 spot)

 

...

Santana

Berrios

Gibson

Meija 

? (maybe they should sign Colon again until one of the kids is ready to take the #5 spot)

 

You forgot the sarcasm emoji.

    • Wyorev, laloesch and twinssouth like this

Great article ... I enjoyed reading this comparison piece.

 

Of note: Arrieta pitched about 120 innings at a 5.34 FIP in his age 25 season. Now that was for a 69 win Baltimore team that could afford more patience, and I'm sure were all hopeful that Twins will fare much better than that.But, I don't think it would be ridiculous to project Slegers to top that age 25 season, if he's assigned the innings.


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