Cody Stashak Was More than Just a Command Wizard in 2019
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY SportsWalks are by no means unique in any game as pitchers sometimes lose command in a given plate appearance or hitters have some especially good takes. But for Stashak, that walk is the only one he allowed in the 25 innings he pitched at the major league level this year. This gave him a BB/9 on the year of 0.36 and a BB% that was an astonishing 1% in 2019. For comparison, Josh Tomlin and Chris Martin both held the lowest BB% by a qualified reliever in 2019 with a 2.3% mark.
Right around when he was called up, Stashak talked about what his focus was for pitching in MLB:
A straight-to-the-point answer, yes, but sometimes flippancy is the most effective way at communicating a game plan and for Stashak, his game plan was executed to perfection.
Before I move on, just know that I am about to bastardize the concept of sample size and draw from evidence that is not completely whole given that Stashak has just 25 innings to his name at the major league level. But, there is no statistician that can currently reach me and strangle me to death before I do this so I will continue on until forced otherwise.
“Just throw strikes” is a bit of a buzz phrase in baseball mostly yelled by angry middle-aged men who would crap themselves if they ever got buzzed by an average heater. Never mind the fact that every pitcher, ever, knows that he needs to throw strikes or that not throwing strikes may actually be the superior plan. No, throwing strikes to some is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or Radiohead’s “Kid A”.
Throwing strikes seems to be almost an addiction for Stashak, something he just can’t help himself from doing. He led the league in rate of pitches in the strike zone (minimum 20 innings) at 52.3%. A rookie throwing strikes at such a rate is almost unheard of and Stashak’s zone% in 2019 would put him 13th among all rookie relievers with at least 20 IP since 2010. Is that too contrived? Well, Stashak’s zone% is also seventh best among all rookie pitchers with at least 20 IP over the last three years.
Stashak has been more than just a strike-thrower, though. If you’re looking for swing-and-miss ability. Stashak's 17.1% swinging strike rate ranked 15th among all pitchers with at least 20 IP in 2019 and was the highest of any Twin. Somewhat predictably, his odds of getting a swing on a pitch outside of the zone (O-Swing %) was the 12th highest in MLB among pitchers with at least 20 IP (38.6% was oddly enough right behind Randy Dobnak who had a 39.2% rate).
What makes Stashak so deadly is that he has been formed in the mold of a modern reliever in that he matches a high fastball with a slider low and away to right-handed hitters. Stashak’s fastball has two less inches of drop compared to league average fastballs and his slider has four more inches of horizontal break compared to league average sliders.
Less drop on his fastball gives it that “rising” effect that some hitters talk about and makes it a great pitch up in the zone while the extra horizontal slider movement makes his breaker especially effective when thrown outside to righties.
Stashak was a strike-throwing machine who could get his stuff by hitters with ease even when not throwing pitches in the zone and without elite velocity (average fastball velo was 91.8 MPH). He understands what he has to do in order to get hitters out with his stuff and he has the precise ability to execute that plan. There aren’t many players who I can give a comp with as most relievers these days tend to hold a higher velocity. But as long as Stashak continues throwing fastballs up and sliders low, he should be able to get hitters out at the major league level. While he was not much of a prospect, Stashak has solidified himself in a major league bullpen and will look to be an important piece for the Twins going forward.
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