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Mechanical Adjustments Make for Wicked Matt Wisler

An early-offseason, low-level acquisition that barely moved anyone’s needle, the slider specialist is now another monster in a Twins bullpen full of them.
Image courtesy of © Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
When the Twins snapped up Matt Wisler as a free agent back in November, there was little thought that he would become an important high-leverage arm for them. In fact, if spring training had gone according to plan and everyone had stayed healthy, Wisler might well have been squeezed out of the picture before he even appeared for the Twins. He could easily be elsewhere right now, trying to make things work with a sixth team in three seasons.

Instead, Wisler has pitched six scoreless innings already for the mighty Minnesota relief corps. He’s fanned nine of the 23 batters he’s faced, and he’s only allowed six total baserunners. Coming in, we knew he was a slider monster, but his track record suggested he would struggle to convert that into elite strikeout rates, let alone to manage contact and attack the zone well enough to dominate. The Twins’ vaunted pitching development machine has gotten ahold of him, though, and Wisler has made changes that give him a great chance to remain a top-tier right-handed reliever.

As recently as early 2018, Wisler was a 25-year-old starter whose stuff and prospect cachet still tantalized both the Braves and other interested teams. After he was dealt to the Reds, he finally moved to the bullpen, but neither the Reds nor the Padres (to where he returned, after they’d drafted him in 2011 and traded him to Atlanta in the Craig Kimbrel deal in April 2015) could help him tap fully into his potential for missing bats and keeping the ball in the park.

Both teams did help him, though, because as he got comfortable in a relief role, he started throwing his slider much, much more often. That pitch is his ticket to success in the big leagues, and throwing it well over 50 percent of the time is his only chance to be more than a fringe arm. After the Mariners purchased his contract in mid-2019, he took another small step forward, fanning 29 of the 95 batters he faced for Seattle. He also brought his walk rate down. However, he continued to give up way too many homers, and his ERA ballooned to over 6.00. That’s why he was freely available when the Twins called in November.

Let’s talk about where that vulnerability came from, and how he’s worked to address it. Since moving to relief, Wisler has eliminated his windup, working out of the stretch with or without runners on base. In the past, his delivery was very quick, and often, it was hurried. He had a modified slide step, a low leg kick designed to shorten his time to home plate and control the running game, but it had knock-on effects. He would break his hands almost as soon as he lifted his leg, and before sinking into his legs, he would already be moving down the mound. He could sometimes get away with this, especially while he was younger and his arm was a bit faster, because he has a very short-arm action early in his delivery, keeping the ball fairly close to his body and his arm bent.

At release, Wisler has considerable spine tilt, artificially raising his release point and arm angle but forcing him to fall off toward the first-base side of home plate. His stride pattern is fairly open, meaning that as he comes down the mound, his momentum carries him toward the first-base dugout anyway. (The spine tilt and stride pattern haven’t changed in Minnesota.) In combination with the early hand-break and rushed leg kick, that progress down the mound often led to Wisler leaving pitches up and in the middle of the strike zone.

Here’s Wisler with San Diego, just as he’s begun his delivery. Note that his foot is barely off the ground, but he’s already pulled the ball out of his glove. That front leg is already starting to drift downhill.

Attached Image: Wisler 19.PNG


He’s a different pitcher, at the beginning of his delivery, in 2020. Here he is at the moment when he breaks his hands.

Attached Image: Wisler 20.PNG


The leg kick isn’t just higher. It comes with a kind of gathering, balancing tilt, before he shifts into gear and heads down the mound. As he takes the ball out of the glove, his upper body is turned more from home plate, and (because he now has time to) he tucks the ball slightly in toward his rib cage before starting the spiral-staircase arm swing that gets him to his release point. He hides the ball a bit better, but more importantly, he’s giving himself time to get his arm through to his desired release point more consistently.

Even as he went slider-heavy in 2019, Wisler threw two variations of his fastball, and he rarely targeted anything more specific than “the strike zone” with it. This year, he’s purely using his slider and four-seamer, and he’s using the heat only high and on the third-base side of the plate, setting up the slider (or, as is often the case, letting the slider set up the heat).

Wisler will never be a control artist or a ground-ball guy. If you’re watching him rack up strikeouts and wondering whether that success is sustainable, though, you should lean toward believing in it. The tangible mechanical and mental changes here suggest the Twins went after him for a very specific reason, and that Wisler has put together some of the pieces that refused to gel in his previous stops.

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13 Comments

The Twins have another older reliever who throws a ton of sliders. While reading this, was wondering if perhaps he has been working with Sergio?

 

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BrianBuchanan
Aug 05 2020 07:23 AM

This is great content!  

    • Otwins, blindeke and Tom Froemming like this

I love to keep seeing scrap heap guys that the Twins identify as someone they can make adjustments to and fix.Right now they are slider heavy guys and looking get high fastballs with good tunneling(at least that was what I read before)I wonder in a few years if hitters start to adjust to new heavy pitching if there will be a swing back to heavy sinker guys.Right now so much of the league learned to hit the low sinker well, so Falvey identified that high fast balls and sliders have become good change.If hitters made changes I bet Falvey will help adjust who to recruit and how to teach them. 

    • Danchat and Dman like this
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puckstopper1
Aug 05 2020 09:15 AM

I was wondering if Wisler's early season success was smoke and mirrors, and the article is evidence that it is not.

 

I sure hope that he can continue his success as the Twins are going to need him - especially with all the injuries lack of innings out of the SPs.

    • Dman likes this
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Parker Hageman
Aug 05 2020 09:20 AM

3 things i've noticed about his movements is that 

 

1. he occasionally goes into the slide step similar to 2019 but he did this with no one on base against the pirates the other night. seems to me he is messing with timing of the hitter when he does this now.

 

2. although he modified his delivery in the second half of last season to be closer to what he is today he and the twins still cleaned a lot of his actions up for this season. they tightened up his arm action, as matthew mentioned, but they also gave him the wes johnson revamp where pitchers are sitting on their back heel more through the delivery. so his weight sinks into his backside more now than he did in the second half last year. this helps clean up direction for a pitcher. 

 

3. the last thing i'll mention with some hesitation is that his pitches are moving differently so far this year. i say that with hesitation because people tell me that the hawkeye system that mlb replaced trackman with has been providing some really bad data. like to the point that some teams are using other data sources instead of the league approved one (and one you find at baseball savant). there will definitely be some faulty player analysis coming out based on this i'm sure. but if you look at brooks baseball's profile, which i have a little more confidence in because they clean their data, they show that wisler's slider is moving on a different axis (potentially a different grip or a byproduct of the arm action) and running about 3 more inches on average than it did last year. 

 

the really impressive thing is how the twins have set up an amazing system to identify players and then coach them into making changes. 

    • birdwatcher, h2oface, Dman and 3 others like this

A good slider seems to be one of the harder pitches to barrel up for most guys.

Nice article. I think hiding the ball as long as possible is a pitching advantage, giving the hitter less time to track the ball. It seems this front office has the ability to pinpoint certain players in other organizations they feel they can work with should they become available. This sounds simple but not always easy to produce results. Makes it extra fun when they pick up a guy.

    • beckmt, DocBauer and Tom Froemming like this
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birdwatcher
Aug 05 2020 09:40 AM

This is such interesting stuff! Although if I tried to share it with the people in my real life, I would not be invited back...

    • h2oface, DocBauer, Tom Froemming and 4 others like this

I believe I called Wisler a Clown when we moved to get him as his stat profile was bad.He had the one good pitch and a fastball that guys hit over the fence.I was definitely not on board with the pickup at the time.  

 

So far this season I am the one looking like a clown.Hope he keeps it up.Getting a guys for free that performs like that really helps a team out.

    • birdwatcher, 70charger, Tom Froemming and 4 others like this
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TouchEmAllGuy
Aug 05 2020 10:24 AM

Very cool article. Thanks for putting this together.

    • Tom Froemming and BeatTheRich like this
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MMMordabito
Aug 05 2020 10:35 AM

Wow.That's some well-presented detailed information. Thank you!

    • Tom Froemming likes this
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MMMordabito
Aug 05 2020 10:37 AM

 

This is such interesting stuff! Although if I tried to share it with the people in my real life, I would not be invited back...

 

I usually get, "Thanks, Statman.More useless information taking up square-footage in your brain cells."

    • birdwatcher, h2oface and Tom Froemming like this
If his slider is really running three inches more than last year, that's huge!

Hard to imagine always throwing the same kind of fastball to the same location will work forever, even if he is tunneling it with his slider. But hey, you can't argue with success!