The first sign of evolution for a reliever is always velocity—is he throwing harder in a pitching landscape so focused on the radar gun? To end this streak of questions, no. His average fastball has reached a new high in 2022 (91.6 MPH), but the sample of 11 innings is negligible. Looking at 2021, the year featuring the bulk of his Twins innings, the fastball remained unchanged from his “heyday” with Oakland: 90.6 MPH sitting in a sea of relative sameness.
The secret sauce in Danny Coulombe’s recipe is his off-speed collection. Unique amongst most bullpen arms, he often spins both a curve and a slider (with a healthy seasoning of changeups in 2022), giving Coulombe plenty of options to net his outs. When talking to David Laurila, Coulombe mentioned that he developed the slider to throw off hitters able to key in on the “hump” noticeable in most curveballs. The new pitch was not specifically for aiding in platoon splits, but more valuable weapons are never bad for a pitcher.
Coulombe is the kind of arm who could use as many options as possible. The public movement data from Statcast paints a rather average portrait of a reliever. Despite having enough red in his percentile rankings to make Senator Joseph McCarthy irate, his curveball’s vertical movement is the only pitch with outstanding characteristics. In fact, most of his pitches are pretty poor by advanced movement measurements.
Let’s talk about the slider. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Twins have coaxed him into tossing it more often than before. In Minnesota, Coulombe has thrown 36.5% sliders against 31.7% with the Dodgers and Athletics before 2020. But, oddly, the slider is not that great of a pitch. It produced a .304 xwOBA in 2021, which is fine but nowhere near elite; his curveball was far better at a .169 xwOBA mark. What gives?
Command might be the answer. Movement profiles and batted ball data are great, but the goal of all pitchers is still to throw the ball where they want. The first two heatmaps are for his slider and curveball locations respectively before joining the Twins, the next two afterward.
Aha! That looks significant. The Twins have moved Coulombe towards throwing his breaking balls more off the plate rather than in the strike zone. The reason should be apparent; off-speed pitches thrown for strikes are dangerous when not adequately commanded, and hitters across the board perform worse against breaking balls outside of the zone.
So what do we make of this? To venture a guess, Coulombe will generally avoid loud contact thanks to his decision to now throw breakers out of the zone, but he may run an elevated walk rate because of it. The aforementioned plan is excellent when the pitcher is working ahead, but without an 0-1 or 1-2 count, Coulombe may struggle more than your average arm. At the moment, his first-pitch strike % sits a touch below the league average for relievers (58.1% vs. 60.2%).
Gripping stuff, yes. “A pitcher needs to get ahead to succeed” isn’t new knowledge by any stretch of the imagination, but this is more “Coulombe’s entire plan succeeds or fails depending on whether he can get ahead of the count.” So far this year, the philosophy has yielded iffy xFIP numbers, and his early-count strike rate may reveal a house of cards. As always, though, it is still May, and performances can vary in the coming months. We shall see how successful Coulombe is in the future with the Twins plan, but he is undeniably a different pitcher.
So what do you think? Can Danny Coulombe be a reliable arm out of the Twins bullpen all season, or maybe even longer? Leave your COMMENTS below.