Trevor Hildenberger And Tipping Pitches
Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsAccording to the Pioneer Press’s Mike Berardino, manager Paul Molitor said that the team’s video scouts were scouring through tape to find any signs of tipping from Hildenberger, but Molitor felt that there wasn’t any signs of tipping.
If that is the case how is it that opponents have gone from hitting .120 with nine extra base hits on his changeup and slider from the beginning of the year until July 15 to hitting .454 with eight extra base hits since July 15?
The first element of Hildenberger’s second-half issues is predictability.
There were patterns that started to emerge from early in the season that may have influenced the results in the latter portion.
In his appearances against the Rays in Tampa, Hildenberger didn’t allow a hit off his secondary stuff. In the recent series in Minnesota, the Rays were 4-for-4. Joey Wendle was one of the Rays hitters to reach against his changeup. In the first two matchups in Tampa, Hildenberger struck Wendle out but he may have left a bread crumb for the left-handed hitter: In both meetings, Hildenberger threw a 1-1 changeup to him. At Target Field, facing yet another 1-1 count Wendle sat on Hildenberger’s changeup and laced it into center field for another hit.
Another example was his battles with the Royals’ Whit Merrifield. From May 28 until July 21, Hildenberger faced Merrifield four times. In each occasion, Hildenberger started Merrifield off with a slider. The fourth time around Merrifield swung at the slider and knocked a single. In two ABs since that hit, Hildenberger has started him off with sinkers.
But while the Royals and Rays did a number on Hildenberger, it has been the Cleveland Indians who have inflicted the most damage.
Prior to the rough stretch, Hildenberger made three appearances against the Indians. During those appearances, he held the Indians hitless against his secondary pitches (0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts). Since July 15 Hildenberger has made four additional appearances against Cleveland and has had the same lineup trash his secondary stuff (6-for-12, 2 HR) -- including Francisco Lindor’s game-winning walk-off home run on August 8.
What led up to Lindor’s game-winning tank shot? Leading into that August 8th match-up, Hildenberger had faced Lindor five times in 2018. In three of those occasions he started Lindor off with a changeup. If you are Lindor, chances are you can sit on the changeup and take a Daddy Hack.
Hildenberger faced Jason Kipnis twice this year. Once at the beginning of the year where he started him with a sinker then two changeups in a row. In their second meeting -- an at-bat that preceded Lindor’s home run by two hitters -- Hildenberger once again started him with a fastball and then threw two changeups -- the second of which Kipnis lifted into left field for a base hit.
The second element that may be behind Hildenberger’s struggles is a combination of the predictability and, yes, some pitch-tipping.
According to Berardino’s article, Molitor appeared fairly confident that Hildenberger was not doing anything explicit to tip his pitches (flaring his glove or slowing his delivery to telegraph a particular pitch). And that may be true. But before we outright dismiss it, let’s consider there does seem to be a window in which Hildenberger could be tipping his hand.
When Hildenberger breaks his hands, he does so away from his body. While he contorts, twists and bends, there appears to be a momentary flash where hitters can see the ball in Hildenberger’s hand.
Compare Hildenberger’s away from his body hand break approach to the Padres’ submarining reliever Kazuhisa Makita. Makita keeps his hands close to his body and doe not give the hitter one iota of a glimpse at the baseball until it is frisbeeing towards the plate at the opposite of breakneck speed.
This slow motion side angle demonstrates how Hildenberger drops his hand from his glove with the circle change grip (the OK sign around the ball) facing the hitter.
Most people will obviously say that’s an easy thing to pick up in slow motion but near impossible to decipher in real time. That’s where hitters like Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas would tell you you are wrong. In breaking down the changes Yankees’ starter Luis Severino made, Rodriguez commended the pitcher for hiding the ball more, starting his hands at the belt and breaking them behind his leg versus out away from his body. As Rodriguez shows in the video below, even a brief flash of the changeup grip would tip off a hitter.
While not every team may be wise to his, the Indians may be one ballclub that has picked up on it. With the familiarity and perhaps an extra advantage in knowing what pitch may be coming, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear this is why Cleveland has been able to batter Hildenberger around so much in July and August.
Again, the latter portion of this is a theory. The Twins have multiple camera angles, such as views from behind home plate, that could confirm this. Plus, if he were tipping, one of the members of the catching crew -- either Bobby Wilson or Mitch Garver -- likely would have mentioned something to the staff. If hitters are seeing something, catchers should definitely be able to as well.
That being said, the Twins have little incentive to acknowledge or broadcast the notion that Hildenberger’s tipping pitches. If his mechanics are giving something away -- and again, IF -- the Twins would most likely want to get him quietly to the offseason where they could begin to address it (hiding the ball better like the aforementioned Makita).
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