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  • What’s Gotten Into Caleb Thielbar?


    Cody Christie

    Caleb Thielbar wasn’t supposed to be here. His big-league career was over, and he was ready to move onto life’s next chapter. He’s back in a big way, and it certainly seems like something has gotten into Thielbar.

     

    Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

    Caleb Thielbar thought his days as a baseball pitcher were over. Following the 2019 minor league season, he accepted a coaching job at Augustana University in Sioux Falls as he finished up pitching for Team USA in the 2019 Premier12. Baseball had a different plan for him. Multiple teams invited him to spring training in 2020, including the Minnesota Twins. He decided to give pitching one more chance, and the decision has paid off. 

    Before the 2020 season, Thielbar hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015, but this was a much different pitcher taking the mound. He cut his pitch selection down from five in 2015 to three for his big-league return. Gone were his sinker and changeup while he focused more on his fastball, slider, and curveball. 

    After being called up in 2020, Thielbar made 17 appearances (20 innings) with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with a 22-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents didn’t get a hit against his curveball in over 90 pitches. Against his fastball, he limited batters a .213 batting average and a .234 slugging percentage. It was a small sample size, but he seemed to be trending in the right direction. 

    Thielbar changed his approach again for the 2021 season, and he has continued to evolve in the season’s second half. His fastball usage has dropped by four percent this year, but the change in his breaking pitches is even more drastic. He’s more than doubled his slider usage from 16.4% in 2020 to nearly 35% in 2021. His curveball usage has dropped by over 10%. 

    Thielbar’s fastball is averaging 91 mph for the season, but he seems to have found another level over the last couple of months. During August, he held batters to a .167 batting average and a .292 slugging percentage when facing his fastball. His slider also caused some difficulties for batters as they went 2-for-15 (.133 BA) against the pitch for the entire month. But August wasn’t his only strong month in the second half. 

    In 19 second-half appearances, Thielbar has a 2.66 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP while posting a 23-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Batters are hitting .197/.275/.394 (.669) against him since the All-Star break. Rocco Baldelli has also shown confidence in using him at various times during games, with the bulk of his innings coming in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. He’s moved from college coach to effective set-up man in less than two years. 

     Thielbar will turn 35-years-old in January, and relief pitching can be fickle. It certainly seems like something has changed with Thielbar this season, but there’s no telling what the future might hold. The Twins need to rebuild their bullpen for 2022, and Minnesota will undoubtedly want to keep Thielbar from focusing too much on his college coaching career. 

    What are your thoughts on Thielbar so far this season? What changes have you noticed? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    Don't know what has gotten into the young man, but am happy for he and his family because he is getting a major league check!  Beats the heck out of what he would have earned as the pitching coach at where was it, Augustana?

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    Can't help but think that they should invite him back again for next season, especially with these results.  No guarantee that he'll still be as solid, but it won't hurt to try and the veteran presence can be a huge boost to the younger arms in the pen and staff.

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    Hard to find good lefty relievers so have to believe they need him.  Watching him last night he looked elite.  One thing I have noticed is he looks like he is having fun out there.  Smiling trying to enjoy the cat and mouse of pitcher\batter.  In other words he looks confident out there.  Confident that he can get the job done and I think his numbers show he has been pretty good this year. 

    Baseball is full of failure so never going to be perfect he has had some tough moments as well but for the most part it just looks like he is enjoying his time out there getting some of the best hitters in the game out with his stuff.  

    His return is a great story.  I guess I never understood why he never made it back after 2015 but I for one am glad to have him back helping our team.

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    Thielbar is almost a completely different pitcher this second time around.

    And his time with Driveline and the new pitching development staff with the Twins have unlocked a lot for him.

    This thread is from August 2020, but it still applies today. Driveline helped him improve his spin rates/spin direction so that the fastball and the curveball now have mirror spin at nearly 100% active rates. 

    The Twins helped him activate more lower half muscles by staying in his glute longer during the delivery process (it's probably no wonder why he's able to generate a little more velo, especially late in the season, when he's not solely generating off his quad and arm). 

    I think this year you also see a little bit better movements out of his top half as well. He get a bit more layback in his shoulders, aiding in that slight velo increase. Credit him and the S&C staff for working on that. 

    He's also moved over to the third base side of the rubber this year, allowing for a more direct path to the plate. As someone with that good 12-6 spin, this provides the best route and maximizes that spin direction. 

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    He's pitching like his career depends on it.  And it does.  When you come out of nowhere (like Theilbar has) EVERY time you go to the mound is a chance for management to justify cutting you loose if you don't measure up.  He certainly deserves a contract for next season.  LH relief pitchers are a "commodity."  I hope the Twins and Caleb can reach a deal that's fair.

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    Michael Hughes of the Northfield News has written several good articles on Caleb Thielbar over the past few years. As Parker notes above, he spent a lot of time with Driveline and using Rapsodo to break down and improve his pitches. He's definitely used technology to his advantage, both for his fastball and his curve. Here's a clip from a Hughes' article from last July: 

    "Reinventing himself

    While it’s true Thielbar has been throwing harder the last two seasons, it’s not as simple as waking up one morning with a couple extra ticks of velocity on his fastball.

    Prior to the 2017 season, Thielbar was recommended by a friend to the philosophies of Driveline Baseball, a baseball training facility based out of Seattle. The facility’s website boils down its ethos simply to, “identifying what’s holding you back and developing a plan to fix it.”

    Initially, Thielbar enrolled in the online program, which he described as the “basic” version of the services Driveline typically offers. Still, it helped add velocity to Thielbar’s fastball and livened his secondary pitches in the months leading up to spring training.

    Once he arrived in Florida, however, the improvements and alterations fell apart, leading to the Marlins releasing him at the end of March. Knowing that Driveline’s “basic” program yielded results, Thielbar knew he needed to fully invest in the program if he wanted another opportunity.

    “I’m just going to go out there for a couple weeks and learn what I need to learn,” he thought at the time.

    After that first trip, he returned for his third stint with the St. Paul Saints and posted a 2.01 ERA in 22 1/3 innings, which led to a minor-league contract offer with the Tigers. Thielbar has since visited Driveline every winter.

    “The technology side of the game, I’ve been able to see how all my pitches spin and I’ve been able to adjust a little bit to make them even better,” he said. “It’s just a combination of everything, really, that’s put it all together. I’m not all the way to where I want to be yet, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to get there just because of some limitations with my body, but I’m trying.”"

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