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Zack Littell on Throwing Multiple Sliders

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 06:27 AM
https://blogs.fangra...is-two-sliders/ Interesting piece over at FanGraphs where Zack Littell discusses the two different sliders he used...
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Verlander

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 05:36 AM
Per Spotrac:   Justin Verlander signed a 2 year / $66,000,000 contract with the Houston Astros, including $66,000,000 guaranteed, an...
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MLB.com Top 30 Twins Prospects

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 12:05 AM
MLB redesigned their prospect ranking pages and released the Twins top 30 today. 
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Thorpe leaving camp for a spell

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 07:28 PM
  "To who this may concern! I’ve left camp for a week or 2 for personal matters. I’m healthy and excited for this year. I’ll be bac...
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YouTube TV Drops Fox Sports Regional Networks

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 07:16 PM
Does MLB and its TV affiliates (mostly Fox Sports channels) realize how idiotic they are being by not being available to be watched on ma...
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Recent Blogs


How Zack Littell Became a Solid Reliever for the Twins in 2019

Remember when the Twins acquired Jaimie Garcia for prospect Huascar Ynoa and then traded Garcia for Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns a week later? Good times. Now, with Zack Littel, the Twins have the best player remaining from both of those deals. He was a solid reliever last season.
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
Zack Littell had an excellent second half last season that was largely underappreciated because Rogers, Romo, May, and Duffey stole the spotlight. Littell was quietly right in the middle of that core of relievers with a 1.14 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 23 2/3 innings in the second half. Something just seemed to click for Zack once the Twins took him out of his normal starting role and tried him out of the bullpen. The most significant change in the bullpen was him becoming a two-pitch pitcher.

Attached Image: Annotation 2020-01-18 203637.png

As you can see above, he basically dropped the sinker, curve, and changeup completely. In 2018 he threw them a combined 34.5% of the time, but that dropped to just 2.9% in 2019. Instead he relied completely on the slider (48.6%), and fastball (48.3%). This proved to be effective as batters hit only .200 with a .214 wOBA against the slider. Switching to this new approach in the bullpen also played a role in him going from 6.20 K/9 to 7.78 in one season.

Is his success sustainable?

Something concerning I found while looking at Littell’s number was that everything is pointing to a lot of regression. He was able to avoid it last season, but the secondary numbers are worrisome. For example, his ERA was an excellent 2.68 but his FIP was almost a full run higher at 3.62 and then his xFIP was another half run above that at 4.10. This also wasn’t the only number pointing to regression. From Statcast, his barrel% (9.5%), hard hit% (47.6%), and exit velocity allowed (90.7 MPH) were all significantly above league average but for some reason batters just weren’t getting their hits to fall.

At the end of the day, those stats don’t actually affect much of the success he saw in 2019 and they are just a good talking point towards his potential next season. With more experience under his belt and a seemingly clear role on the Opening Day roster, I expect Littell to continue to get better.

So what do you think of Littell going forward? Are you glad he was moved to the bullpen? He will likely be the Twins sixth or seventh option behind Rogers, Duffey, May, Romo, and Clippard so the Twins are looking pretty good in the bullpen.

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14 Comments

Switching to this new approach in the bullpen also played a role in him going from 6.20 K/9 to 7.78 in one season.

I'm not a super big fan of K/9, which answers the question, what are the chances a given out is achieved via strikeout. Instead, I'd rather know the chances that a given plate appearance will result in a K. That's K%. And in the case of Littell, that number went up even more between 2018 and 2019, namely from 13.9% to 21.9%. K/9 understates the improvement, since it can be high even if the pitcher is giving up tons of hits. An improvement in K% means there's simply that many fewer opportunities for damage.

 

His BB% also improved year-over-year.

 

That said, it's still not an elite level of strikeouts. The AL had dozens of guys in the 30s. The league average was 22.7%.

 

He's young and may improve but I'm not really banking on him.

    • Brock Beauchamp, Mike Frasier Law and JoshDungan1 like this
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Andrew Bryzgornia
Jan 19 2020 12:39 PM

Throwing harder with better control definitely helped him. I see parallels between him and Cody Stashak, another fastball/slider guy (though Stashak also has a change-up) that overperformed last year. I think Littell and Stashak will be good 6th inning guys, but the late innings will definitely see plenty of Rogers, Romo, May, and Clippard. 

I think he's a perfect guy to mix and match in the leverage role behind Rogers, Doof, May. Definitely had some luck last year but I think his base skills are good enough to be a serviceable reliever. May have a bit more room to grow too since he only just transitioned to the bullpen.
I just look at his game log and he went 8 or 9 appearances between allowing an earned run. What else matters?

And his minor league ERA as a starter are excellent.

I say give him a shot at the rotation. Isn’t that the issue with the Twins? They turn good minor league starters into major league relievers?

What I like about Littell is his bulldog like attitude. He doesn’t act hopeless when things go wrong, he gets angry.

Was good to see the improvement last year from Littell.Don't know how high of leverage situations I'd trust him in right now.Fortunately, they have plenty of guys for those.

Starter? Big difference between pitching one inninng and 5-6 innings. Hopefully he remains a solid reliever in low leverage opportunities maybe progresses with more experience.

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specialiststeve
Jan 19 2020 03:14 PM

I like that they (the Twins) figured out that good arms should be used. If they can figure out a niche and is helping the team in a quality way... let him stay. Having a quality bullpen in this day and age is very important and having him at a cost effective way is even better.  

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LylesCrocodiles
Jan 19 2020 05:04 PM
I could see Littell being an opener or a multi inning reliever. It would max his current value. A guy who COULD be a back of the rotation starter or a solid long man in the pen.
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LylesCrocodiles
Jan 19 2020 05:07 PM
I could see Romero in this type of role too. Just depends on how healthy the squad is in spring training. And who emerges in March.
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Homerhankie
Jan 19 2020 05:27 PM
Let's us remember that availibilty is a top ability. He has been solid to very good with no health issues. Always ready to take the ball and pitch an effective inning or 2.
    • wabene likes this
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howieramone2
Jan 19 2020 05:56 PM
If it's not broken, don't fix it.

I think he can be a solid middle reliever now, he has decent stuff but no real ++ thing to make him back of the pen.

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stringer bell
Jan 20 2020 08:41 AM

His velocity as a reliever was pretty good IIRC, and improved from his starter days. I would predict some regression unless he makes another adjustment (add a third pitch?). I believe Littell still has an option remaining so he could shuttle back and forth to Rochester if the bullpen gets overcrowded. 

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Alex Schieferdecker
Jan 20 2020 12:34 PM

Remember that his stats are slightly skewed by that sacrificial outing against Tampa Bay, where he had to come in and eat up a ton of innings after Perez got hammered.

 

That wasn't a traditional relief outing, and it's not the kind of outing the Twins will be looking to use him in. Stats that include that outing should include an asterisk.

    • ashbury likes this