In the article written by Dean Spiros of the Pioneer Press, Shoemaker says he is now pitching "the opposite of how the Twins wanted [him] to pitch." Perhaps this is why in 20 innings with the St. Paul Saints, he has a 1.80/3.82 ERA/FIP with improved strikeout and walk rates compared to the 60 1/3 innings he pitched with the Twins. Although 20 innings is a small sample, he's also keeping opposing hitters in the ballpark, which was a massive problem in his time with the Twins, where he has the third-highest home run per nine innings rate among all pitchers who have thrown 60 or more innings.
In fairness to Shoemaker, he didn't completely trash the Twins and shouldered some of the blame by saying that "[he] could have said no." He also hopes to be back with the big league club at some point by saying, "I really like the Twins organization," he said. "The guys up top, the staff, that's where it's tough…." Truthfully, I don't think there is anything wrong with what Shoemaker said and how he said it. I believe that some of the headlines generated from these quotes made Shoemaker out to be the bad guy when in reality, he was taking some responsibility for his struggles.
I'm not here to debate the semantics of what was said and how the media and fans interpreted it. But we can look into his claims that the Twins asked him to make adjustments that ultimately lead to him getting DFA'd, unclaimed, and assigned to the St. Paul Saints on July 1st.
Before coming to the Twins, Matt Shoemaker had thrown more than 600 innings with a 3.86/4.03 ERA/FIP, 3.7 K/BB, and a 1.3 HR/9 over eight injury-riddled seasons. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014 and had an excellent 2016 season, but since then, he hasn't thrown 80 innings in a season due to various injuries to his arm, knee, and shoulder. The Twins were undoubtedly taking a risk on him, but most assumed that he would be a suitable piece for the back end of a rotation that had World Series hopes as long as he's healthy. Even the biggest naysayer couldn't have predicted the season that Shoemaker ended up having. Even Jeremy Maschino, who has no affiliation to the Twins or Shoemaker, was optimistic about the signing.
In the aforementioned Pioneer Press article, Shoemaker claims that he's had success when he works up and down in the strike zone with changing speeds. Being that he's been oft-injured from 2017 to 2020, I decided to go back to his last full season in 2016, which also happens to be the most successful season of his career.
Reviewing his Statcast Pitch Arsenal on Baseball Savant in that season, you can see that he'd throw his four-seam fastball and sinker up in the zone while Shoemaker threw his change-up and slider down in the zone. Quick note: depending on the year and the source, his change-up can also be classified as a split-finger. That change-up/split-finger, in particular, was about eight miles per hour slower than his four-seam with significantly more vertical movement and, according to Brooks Baseball, hitters slugged just .286 off of the pitch in 2016. These tendencies remained consistent when I looked at his career from 2013 to 2020 and seemingly aligned with what he said in the article. So what does "the opposite" of those tendencies look like for Shoemaker?
2021 Tendencies with the Twins
Right away, I'll again point out that what was classified as a "change-up" in 2016 was re-classified as a split-finger in 2017 and every year since. You can also see pretty quickly that Shoemaker did seem to adjust to the "Twins way" by relying more heavily on his slider in 2021 (thrown 24.5-percent of the time) than throughout his entire career (16.5-percent). That change may be what Shoemaker is referring to, which hitters have slugged .484 before the 2021 season. This year hitters are slugging .507 off his slider while his split-finger is still his most effective pitch with an opponent slugging percentage of .392. That said, I think Shoemaker needs to take a little more responsibility than saying, "I could have said no."
Despite the increase in slider usage, his fastball, sinker, and split-finger tendencies are primarily in line with what he had done throughout his career. He throws his fastball higher in the zone coupled with his split-finger down in the zone, although his sinker heat map appears to be a little more erratic. In general, all of his heat maps are more erratic than those from his 2016, which is where I think he needs to take some responsibility for his struggles. Moreover, he may disagree with the pitch calling, but I can't imagine that the Twins were asking you to throw 92 mile per hour fastballs down the heart of the plate.
There is plenty of blame to share here. It's not all on the Twins, and it's not all on Matt Shoemaker. I think the Twins are at fault for asking Shoemaker to increase usage on the least effective pitch in his arsenal. As Shoemaker suggested in the article, what might work for one guy isn't necessarily going to work for the next guy. What's concerning to me is that his career numbers suggested that, yet the Twins went ahead with their heavy slider approach anyway. At the same time, it's clear that Shoemaker isn't as effective with his pitches as he was pre-injuries. Is that something that will improve as he gets more innings under his belt or something that can be fixed with a stint in the Minors? Time will tell, and now that the trade deadline has come and gone, I think it's only a matter of time before we see Shoemaker back in a Twins uniform.
What were your thoughts on Shoemaker's claims? Were they legit or just a disgruntled player failing to own up to his struggles?
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