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  • Griffin Jax: Slider Slingin' Relief Ace

    Matt Braun

    Jhoan Duran has melted faces, Emilio Pagán has given everyone heart attacks, and Joe Smith has rumbled on, continuing his excellence with a fastball that wouldn’t get pulled over on most highways. Yet, Griffin Jax has quietly emerged as a reliable stud in the bullpen, giving the team desperately needed bridge-outs in the middle innings with relative ease. Let’s talk about Jax, the relief ace. 

    Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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    Griffin Jax had a poor 2021 season by just about any stat you prefer. He struck out just 18.1% of batters, walked them at an 8.1% clip, and gave up 23 home runs in 82 innings, a total high enough to make Bert Blyleven blush. Unsurprisingly, his ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line looked more like the price of gas these days, as it went 6.37/6.47/5.75. Outside of a surprise, 10 strikeout game against the White Sox on August 10th, outings of upside were few and far between. 

    Jax always had a trick up his sleeve: his slider. The pitch was a bright spot in an otherwise bland repertoire, running a .275 xWOBA with characteristics favorable in Eno Sarris' pitch data collection. Ironically, his popular slide piece only recently joined his repertoire.

    You can read Jax himself describe the pitch to David Laurila in possibly the greatest baseball information series known to mankind. According to Jax, the pitch came as a fluke; “I was toying around in catch-play, right before I was about to go on the mound, and was like, ‘What if I just turned my curveball a little bit?’ That’s how I got the slider I have now.” Coaches immediately caught on to the pitch and encouraged him to continue using it. In its horizontal break, the pitch perfectly fits with the sweeper revolution in baseball, and it has buoyed Jax’s 2022 season so far. 

    With his two-pitch (basically one-pitch) mix, Jax became a reliever. His velocity has bumped up two ticks to 94.7 MPH, and he has thrown his slider a Matt Wisler-like 52.7% of the time. While the fastball remains hittable, the breaker is anything but. He owns a .195 xWOBA with it, while hitters are whiffing 47.3% of the time they swing at it. That’s good. In fact, that’s good for 11th best amongst all pitchers in MLB who have faced 25 hitters in 2022

    The total numbers are inspiring; an ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line of 1.35/2.43/2.83 that looks great in any era, dead ball or not. The only two criticisms are ‘it’s early’ and ‘it’s not sustainable.’ The first point is fair, but the second one may not be true in the age of breakers. Matt Wisler, Amir Garrett, Andrés Muñoz, Diego Castillo, and the Rogers twins are all quality relievers throwing sliders more often this season than Jax. And, well, just look at the pitch! 

    Hitters may eventually key in on the pitch, but its movement combined with Jax’s command makes it a safe bet that he’ll continue to succeed in the majors. Like we talked about with Danny Coulombe, where a pitch ends up matters as much, if not more than any movement profile. Jax knows how to put his slider juuuuuuuust in the precise place to fool hitters.


    Yeah, that’ll work.

    Griffin Jax has become a revelation, finding his proper place in the bullpen where he can unleash as many sliders as humanly possible. It has only been a handful of innings, but Jax has wholly changed course from 2021; his performance is much improved, and his stuff suggests that this will be a permanent change.




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    Jax looks good. He needs more work. With his slider, good command (most of the time) and emerging fastball, I think Jax should be among the top 3-4 pitchers called upon. Last night he gets the double play but then sits for a very long time before coming back out and he had also not pitched in a week. What the Twins need to find out is if Jax can be a two inning pitcher every third or fourth day, but maybe they know this already. Every pitchers' arm responds differently, some need several days and others can bounce back (rubber arm). I'm referring to relief stints of less than 30 pitches. Right now Jax is being used in long relief only, it seems.

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    There have been some takes in a few threads that Jax was left in too long last night and Rocco doesn’t know how to manage a bullpen. I started to reply elsewhere but it fits better here.

    The Twins need Jax to be an arm that can give them multiple innings and up to 50 pitches. There are many encouraging signs as noted above that he can be that valuable piece. There was another game earlier this year where the Twins had a good lead he was in his third inning and over 40 pitches. In that third inning he loaded the bases and Rocco showed the confidence to let him work out of it. He did. Last night was similar. It didn’t work out as well but Jax needs these opportunities to get better.

    The Twins have shown confidence in Jax this year and he is earning that confidence. You can’t develop a pitcher if you don’t give them the opportunities to work out of their own jams and pitch through trouble near the end of their pitch count. 

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    I need to see more - last night was a poor time for him to implode when you had this article ready.  I wonder if Canterino can be what everyone wants Jax to be.

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    It was the perfect time to push him and give him a chance to work out of a jam. It was the perfect time to push him towards 50 pitches. He hadn’t pitched in a week. The Twins win probability was 95% when he left the game.

    Imploding would have been giving Gimenez a center cut pitch to get a strike and watching the ball sail into the right field stands for a three run home run. He didn’t give in and ended up walking him.

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    I think it's complete smoke-and-mirrors to be honest. He's had a few good outings but I don't think the guy can be trusted, I'm more inclined to believe he'll regress and be a guy who's ERA hovers around 5+ or so.

    Hope I'm wrong, just never had a great feeling about him and I think calling him a "stud" is a perfect example of blind homerism.

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    Friday night's implosion after being sent out after such a long wait notwithstanding, I've been impressed with Jax in this new role as well as his "new" slider and higher velocity FB. 

    I know different analytics can be used in different ways to break down a pitcher for both good and bad. But despite some pretty bad final numbers in 2021 as a SP, Jax was pretty good for 3 IP, or once through the order. I don't know if he can succeed, generally, as a 3 inning, 59 pitch pitcher or not. Maybe. My hunch though is he's best for 1-2 innings cranking up that FB to 94-95 and using that impressive new slider. He seems to have the temperament to handle a BP role. He's always had pretty good control. And he is pretty bright, meaning he can adapt and "figure things out" as he goes along. There is potential there as a possible setup man, but I think he's a SO 1-2 IP 5th to 7th innings guy. And there is real value in that.

    I sure wish we were talking about Duran, Jax, AND a healthy Alcala.

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    On 5/14/2022 at 11:55 AM, bighat said:

    I think it's complete smoke-and-mirrors to be honest. He's had a few good outings but I don't think the guy can be trusted, I'm more inclined to believe he'll regress and be a guy who's ERA hovers around 5+ or so.

    Hope I'm wrong, just never had a great feeling about him and I think calling him a "stud" is a perfect example of blind homerism.

    I had never cared for him because he couldn’t even strike anyone out in college let alone pro ball. 

    But he is now, likely due to the velocity increase and the now impressive slider. If the strikeouts continue, it won’t be smoke and mirrors though.

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