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  1. Smeltzer has a unique set of skills that combats his lack of velocity. His fastball rarely cracks 90 which puts him in the 6th percentile for velo among MLB pitchers. The lefty, however, can seriously spin it. His fastball comes in at a 2,400 rpm. The curveball twirls up to the plate at 2,700 rpm. He can also kill the spin on his changeup to get an above average amount of vertical drop. The slider? It was a nothing pitch. The ugly duckling to his three other quality offerings. It backed up a lot, hanging for a moment in the zone, or it would dive well beyond the strike zone, leaving hitters to just watch it skip in the dirt. While Smeltzer’s three-pitch mix worked for him in 2019, having a legitimate slider could be a massive leap forward. The Twins’ pitching analysts like Josh Kalk have long known the benefits of having a slider. Thrown properly, it looks like a fastball longer before darting. In 2008 Kalk wrote about what makes sliders so effective. “ecause curves tend to produce a larger hump, a fast-reacting hitter has slightly more time in which to put on the brakes (or alter his swing) when he realizes that the pitch is not a fastball,” Kalk wrote. “Because sliders tend to stay hidden much further down the line, a batter who is fooled in the information-gathering stage has much less time to recover.” Over 10 years ago, long before “tunneling” had even entered the standard baseball lexicon, Kalk had discovered that curveballs can pop out of the pitcher’s tunnel to give hitters a hint that something is up. This is one reason why the team has encouraged some pitchers to develop a slider. Trevor May to transition to a new slider in 2019 after he played around with a new grip that resulted in better tunneling and more movement. Tyler Duffey also added velocity to his curveball and created a pitch that had more slider-like qualities. Taylor Rogers’ emergence as a late innings force is likewise due to embracing the slider mentality. Curveballs are out, sliders are in. In order to improve his slider, Smeltzer says he targeted three metrics on his Rapsodo: Spin rate, spin axis, and velocity. “I knew what my spin, axis and velo on it needed to be,” Smeltzer says regarding his pitch design targets. “So if I had two of the three that wasn’t it. I had to keep tweaking it.” He tinkered with different grips until he found the one that helped him attain those numbers consistently. “It finally started to click and I really stuck with the grip, it’s pretty unconventional grip but through a lot of talks it just made sense from a physical standpoint of the ball’s got one direction of where to go with how I’m throwing it and it’s out. Again, I just throw it like a fastball and let the grip work.” The unconventional part is that Smeltzer throws his slider off of a one finger grip. Standard sliders are typically thrown using both the index and middle finger applying pressure to the ball but Smeltzer discovered that the middle-finger dominant release was not working. “In the past, I’ve gotten very middle finger dominant and it makes the pitch not as aggressive and it becomes loopy and very inconsistent because that finger, pressure-wise, isn’t a strength for that pitch for me,” Smeltzer explains. Smeltzer continues his pitch design tutorial to the Zoom viewers. “So with this grip here,” he says as he creates a “C” out of his index and thumb, “I’m pressing between these two and when I’m throwing it like a fastball and, because of physics, the ball can only come out this way when I’m coming through so it’s cutting through and kicking that gyro spin.” What Smeltzer is saying is that he’s reducing that loopiness his former slider had. He said that he would often drop down to release that slider and get around the ball, tipping hitters off in the process. Now he can just rip it like he would his fastball and the grip does the work. Why is this particular pitch important for his development? Inconsistent and loopy results in hitters leaving the bat on the shoulder. The 24-year-old left-hander needed something with more action, a viable weapon -- particularly against lefties. Smeltzer has pronounced reverse splits, demonstrating the ability to get right-handed hitters out at a much higher clip than left-handed ones. While his fastball and changeup combination performed well against righties, adding an aggressive slider to his mix would likely help him against those same-sided opponents, as well as keeping righties off-balance. The Twins have created a cottage industry of getting pitchers to improve their slider offerings and see big gains. Devin Smeltzer might be the next on that list.
  2. The Minnesota Twins minor league camp has a different feel in 2019. “If you go out on our backfields right now you will see some really helpful and quality work being done,” says manager Rocco Baldelli. “It’s actually really cool.” Really cool indeed. The Twins organization has invested heavily in both people and technology to make significant strides in improving player development. What is happening away from the major league side should blow your doors off.About three hundred yards away from Hammond Stadium – or, if you prefer the dinger system, one Nelson Cruz batting practice bomb – is the area commonly referred to as the backfields. The Twins’ backfield wheel contains three full-sized fields and a truncated infield-only one. There are two bullpen areas wedged between three of the fields, and an observation tower blasting tasty tunes. Here, minor-league players will have almost every swing, pitch, throw and catch tracked. The number of people gathering data has grown exponentially from the previous season. Then again, the number of tracking devices has also grown exponentially. The Trackman units have been hanging on the fencing behind home plate at the three large fields for several seasons. The many Rapsodo 2.0 devices are new this year, as are the multiple high-speed cameras. Hitters have Blast motion sensors attached to their bats and will undergo a 4D body movement sensor session in the covered batting cages before the day's activity starts. Meanwhile, when live at-bats begin, standing behind the pitcher's mound are Twins employees, protected by screens, charting everything on iPads. The Rapsodo devices in front of every home plate area are rapping along. Trackman, the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky, is tracking man. The place is buzzing with data collection. “Just comparing this year to last year, it’s drastically different,” says Tanner Swanson, the organization’s catching coordinator who was brought in before the 2018 season. The data isn’t the only new element. Coaches and players both rave about the new schedule and some of the new training methods. ”Drastically more efficient,” Swanson says about the workouts. “I think there’s a lot of teaching going on, which you could argue may or may not be the norm for the typical spring training environment. It’s been a major upgrade, I think. Players have more energy, are excited, feels like they are progressing and getting better. It’s been a good start, no question.” One bullpen area is filled with pitchers and catchers trading throws in a popping cadence. It may appear routine but the Twins have made tweaks to this activity as well. According to side-arming prospect Tom Hackimer, the bullpen sessions are separated into two categories – one for the pitcher to focus on his mechanics and one for the pitcher to focus on executing over the plate. “It’s half of what we call ‘over the rubber,’ what you want to work on, the second half we work on is ‘over the plate,’ pitch sequencing, catcher calling the game, where you want to locate your stuff,” says Hackimer. “It’s definitely a big step forward having that structure.” There’s classroom time for all practices. On the pitching side, Twins’ minor-league pitching coordinator Pete Maki holds meetings to discuss strategy, philosophy, and the technology to help players understand why they may feel like lab rats at times. “We just had a meeting,” Hackimer says. “The Core Principles of Pitching meeting. It can easily be an hour, hour-and-a-half meeting but Pete Maki just cut it off at a half-hour. He’s like, most people can’t pay attention after a half-hour, that includes the coaches, that includes you guys, so we’re gonna cut it right here.” On the other bullpen area, hitters stand in against pitchers. There are Rapsodo devices here as well. Cameras too. Staff members charting everything. Former Twins great Johan Santana observes the program. And paid umpires are calling balls and strikes. This was a concept Swanson and the minor league staff came up with to help replicate the in-season experience. The hitter nods then rifles the next series of pitches into the opposite field gap like Fatse directed. “See, that’s the way,” he exclaims. “I should hug you right now.” Fatse sticks out his arms from behind the screen like he was offering the hitter a squeeze from 50 feet away. The player laughs. Michael Cuddyer joins another session to give his input. This is a newer endeavor, getting the former big league players to interact with the minor league players and staff. Earlier in the week, Torii Hunter spent time at the minor league cages. “He was giving us some high praise in respect to how we were going about what we’re doing,” Fatse said of his experience with Hunter. "We didn’t have too many big league players come down and talk to us,” recalled Cuddyer during his tenure in the minors. Players like Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew spent time with Cuddyer but only after he made the Twins. For Twins prospect Taylor Grzelakowski, a catcher who finished 2018 third on the Miracle in home runs (8) and slugging (.458), he got the chance to tap into not only Fatse’s biomechanical expertise but with Cuddyer’s knowledge from his 15-year career. Thus begins a master class in hip direction. Cuddyer demonstrates how he would fire his hips in the swing behind the ball, imparting violent rotational contact. Fatse shares his piece. Grzelakowski nods, has a dialogue with the two instructors and goes back into the batting turtle to try to implement that feel to his swing. “Perception is not always reality,” Cuddyer says about trying to translate a feel in the swing component to the young prospect. “What he feels might not always be what he’s doing. And same with me. What I feel in my swing, I might not be verbalizing well. That’s what hitting is, it’s conversations. There’s not one way to do it. There are many different cues that result in the same swing and certain language works for different players.” Fatse echoes Cuddyer’s comments about the common language of hitting. “We’re trying to get guys to understand how their body moves and how to execute their swing as opposed to just thinking about things that are like, ‘hey just take your hands to the ball,' ” Fatse says. “That can mean seven different things to seven different people.” The hitting development component is heavily influenced by science and modern hitting theory. They have underload/overload bat-speed programs. They have two pitching machines which fire a high-spin fastball and a breaking ball, and the hitter doesn’t know which is coming, hoping to improve pitch recognition. De-emphasized are tools like batting tees, as Fatse says players should focus on hitting a moving target over a stationary one. Some of the Twins players have taken notice of the new practices. “When I first got here before camp, it was pretty crazy to see what they are doing on the minor league side with all the radar guns and using weighted bats to speed up their bats,” says outfielder Max Kepler. “I wish I had that when I was younger.” The minor league camp, with its wonderful toys, isn’t an island unto itself. The team invested heavily in coaches – coaches who are constant learners and thrive in a data-driven environment, and they don’t plan to hide them out there. “One thing that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, and hopefully even more as time goes on, is the exchanging of ideas and bringing both sides instead of there being separation between the big leagues and minor league,” Baldelli says. The cohesion happened almost immediately for some. Fatse says when he was hired, Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson invited him out to dinner to talk shop. The dinner discussion wound up lasting over four hours. “I think the one unique thing about the Twins is that there’s no divide,” Fatse says. “They’ve made it (a) really transparent feel here. They want there to be constant collaboration and dialogue and the fact that there are big league players that come down and hang out on the backfields with players, you just don’t find that everywhere.” “Rocco and his staff have been unbelievable,” Swanson added. “They have an open door policy for coordinators and coaches to come and go. I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth. They’ve made it clear from the beginning that they want it to be an inclusive environment and they’ve gone out of their way to make myself and others feel welcomed and valued. There’s definitely a cohesiveness going on between our major-league operations and our minor-league groups.” When you step back to appreciate the activities, the sheer logistics of the multi-faceted practice is mind-blowing. Hundred of bodies are accounted for and every one of them appears to be participating in something at any given moment. It’s a baseball development mosaic, a well-tuned symphony designed with a singular purpose: to make players better. The Twins, indeed, are doing quality work back here. Click here to view the article
  3. About three hundred yards away from Hammond Stadium – or, if you prefer the dinger system, one Nelson Cruz batting practice bomb – is the area commonly referred to as the backfields. The Twins’ backfield wheel contains three full-sized fields and a truncated infield-only one. There are two bullpen areas wedged between three of the fields, and an observation tower blasting tasty tunes. Here, minor-league players will have almost every swing, pitch, throw and catch tracked. The number of people gathering data has grown exponentially from the previous season. Then again, the number of tracking devices has also grown exponentially. The Trackman units have been hanging on the fencing behind home plate at the three large fields for several seasons. The many Rapsodo 2.0 devices are new this year, as are the multiple high-speed cameras. Hitters have Blast motion sensors attached to their bats and will undergo a 4D body movement sensor session in the covered batting cages before the day's activity starts. Meanwhile, when live at-bats begin, standing behind the pitcher's mound are Twins employees, protected by screens, charting everything on iPads. The Rapsodo devices in front of every home plate area are rapping along. Trackman, the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky, is tracking man. The place is buzzing with data collection. “Just comparing this year to last year, it’s drastically different,” says Tanner Swanson, the organization’s catching coordinator who was brought in before the 2018 season. The data isn’t the only new element. Coaches and players both rave about the new schedule and some of the new training methods. ”Drastically more efficient,” Swanson says about the workouts. “I think there’s a lot of teaching going on, which you could argue may or may not be the norm for the typical spring training environment. It’s been a major upgrade, I think. Players have more energy, are excited, feels like they are progressing and getting better. It’s been a good start, no question.” One bullpen area is filled with pitchers and catchers trading throws in a popping cadence. It may appear routine but the Twins have made tweaks to this activity as well. According to side-arming prospect Tom Hackimer, the bullpen sessions are separated into two categories – one for the pitcher to focus on his mechanics and one for the pitcher to focus on executing over the plate. “It’s half of what we call ‘over the rubber,’ what you want to work on, the second half we work on is ‘over the plate,’ pitch sequencing, catcher calling the game, where you want to locate your stuff,” says Hackimer. “It’s definitely a big step forward having that structure.” There’s classroom time for all practices. On the pitching side, Twins’ minor-league pitching coordinator Pete Maki holds meetings to discuss strategy, philosophy, and the technology to help players understand why they may feel like lab rats at times. “We just had a meeting,” Hackimer says. “The Core Principles of Pitching meeting. It can easily be an hour, hour-and-a-half meeting but Pete Maki just cut it off at a half-hour. He’s like, most people can’t pay attention after a half-hour, that includes the coaches, that includes you guys, so we’re gonna cut it right here.” On the other bullpen area, hitters stand in against pitchers. There are Rapsodo devices here as well. Cameras too. Staff members charting everything. Former Twins great Johan Santana observes the program. And paid umpires are calling balls and strikes. This was a concept Swanson and the minor league staff came up with to help replicate the in-season experience. https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1102606359751725059 “It was an attempt to give our catchers more objective feedback,” says Swanson. “It’s one thing to say with your eyes, ‘hey, looks good’ or ‘nice job,’ but to really look and say, okay we gained strikes here, we lost strikes here.” Another improvement is individualized hitting plans led by newly hired minor-league hitting coordinator Pete Fatse and his coaching staff. While the bulk of the work happens inside the cages, hitters get to take small group BP on the field to see the fruits of their labor in the sun. With one group of hitters, Fatse throws batting practice. One hitter pulls his first pitch — a hard-hit one-hop smash down the third base line. Fatse shakes his head. “That way,” he sticks out his arm and gestures toward the left-center field gap. “That way!” Fatse says he wants the hitters to design their swing paths similar to Miguel Cabrera or JD Martinez, who laser baseballs into the middle of the field but can do damage pull side on pitches inside. https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1102992752575463424 The hitter nods then rifles the next series of pitches into the opposite field gap like Fatse directed. “See, that’s the way,” he exclaims. “I should hug you right now.” Fatse sticks out his arms from behind the screen like he was offering the hitter a squeeze from 50 feet away. The player laughs. Michael Cuddyer joins another session to give his input. This is a newer endeavor, getting the former big league players to interact with the minor league players and staff. Earlier in the week, Torii Hunter spent time at the minor league cages. “He was giving us some high praise in respect to how we were going about what we’re doing,” Fatse said of his experience with Hunter. "We didn’t have too many big league players come down and talk to us,” recalled Cuddyer during his tenure in the minors. Players like Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew spent time with Cuddyer but only after he made the Twins. For Twins prospect Taylor Grzelakowski, a catcher who finished 2018 third on the Miracle in home runs (8) and slugging (.458), he got the chance to tap into not only Fatse’s biomechanical expertise but with Cuddyer’s knowledge from his 15-year career. Thus begins a master class in hip direction. Cuddyer demonstrates how he would fire his hips in the swing behind the ball, imparting violent rotational contact. Fatse shares his piece. Grzelakowski nods, has a dialogue with the two instructors and goes back into the batting turtle to try to implement that feel to his swing. “Perception is not always reality,” Cuddyer says about trying to translate a feel in the swing component to the young prospect. “What he feels might not always be what he’s doing. And same with me. What I feel in my swing, I might not be verbalizing well. That’s what hitting is, it’s conversations. There’s not one way to do it. There are many different cues that result in the same swing and certain language works for different players.” Fatse echoes Cuddyer’s comments about the common language of hitting. “We’re trying to get guys to understand how their body moves and how to execute their swing as opposed to just thinking about things that are like, ‘hey just take your hands to the ball,' ” Fatse says. “That can mean seven different things to seven different people.” The hitting development component is heavily influenced by science and modern hitting theory. They have underload/overload bat-speed programs. They have two pitching machines which fire a high-spin fastball and a breaking ball, and the hitter doesn’t know which is coming, hoping to improve pitch recognition. De-emphasized are tools like batting tees, as Fatse says players should focus on hitting a moving target over a stationary one. Some of the Twins players have taken notice of the new practices. “When I first got here before camp, it was pretty crazy to see what they are doing on the minor league side with all the radar guns and using weighted bats to speed up their bats,” says outfielder Max Kepler. “I wish I had that when I was younger.” The minor league camp, with its wonderful toys, isn’t an island unto itself. The team invested heavily in coaches – coaches who are constant learners and thrive in a data-driven environment, and they don’t plan to hide them out there. “One thing that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, and hopefully even more as time goes on, is the exchanging of ideas and bringing both sides instead of there being separation between the big leagues and minor league,” Baldelli says. The cohesion happened almost immediately for some. Fatse says when he was hired, Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson invited him out to dinner to talk shop. The dinner discussion wound up lasting over four hours. “I think the one unique thing about the Twins is that there’s no divide,” Fatse says. “They’ve made it (a) really transparent feel here. They want there to be constant collaboration and dialogue and the fact that there are big league players that come down and hang out on the backfields with players, you just don’t find that everywhere.” “Rocco and his staff have been unbelievable,” Swanson added. “They have an open door policy for coordinators and coaches to come and go. I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth. They’ve made it clear from the beginning that they want it to be an inclusive environment and they’ve gone out of their way to make myself and others feel welcomed and valued. There’s definitely a cohesiveness going on between our major-league operations and our minor-league groups.” When you step back to appreciate the activities, the sheer logistics of the multi-faceted practice is mind-blowing. Hundred of bodies are accounted for and every one of them appears to be participating in something at any given moment. It’s a baseball development mosaic, a well-tuned symphony designed with a singular purpose: to make players better. The Twins, indeed, are doing quality work back here.
  4. Several weeks ago in this space we discussed how Rapsodo technology can help pitchers and coaches establish a baseline with their breaking balls. Now it is time to look at what data says about the heater.This past March, the Chanhassen High School baseball program visited Starters Sports Training in Shakopee to put all of our arms under the Rapsodo microscope. One of the first things we got the data back from Starters was convert all fastballs into Bauer Units. For those unfamiliar, Driveline Baseball champions Bauer Units as a good measuring stick to tell if a player’s fastball is better suited for a 4-seam or 2-seam based on the spin rate divided by the velocity. If the fastball had a high Bauer Unit -- 27 BUs or higher -- a pitcher’s fastball would play better with a 4-seam grip. A lower Bauer Unit -- says 21 or lower -- and it would be better to use a 2-seam fastball. This would give us a fastball roadmap for each pitcher. Why is knowing fastball spin rate important? After all, for generations players and coaches used their eyes and intuition to figure out how a fastball moves. It’s heavy. It has late-life. It has rise. It has sink. Why should we strive to assign a number to every aspect of the game? As a real world example (and to loosely tie this into a Twins-related subject for Twins-related website) let’s consider Jake Odorizzi and Trevor May. In terms of velocity, Odorizzi (whose 4-seamer comes in at 92.8 mph on average) has a fastball that is 2 clicks below May's (94.9). Factoring in spin rate, May has approximately 100 more rpms on his fastball (2,338 rpm) than Odorizzi (2,239 rpm). Based on those two data points alone one might think May has a superior fastball. However, both share fastball Bauer Units of 24. While that amounts to a decisively average Bauer Unit among all MLB pitchers according to the Baseball Savant database, it is partly the reason why Odorizzi can be so effective at the top of the zone with a little less firepower than May. On the surface, Odorizzi might be considered a softer throwing arm in the modern era — seeing that his fastball “only” averages 93 — but it is with the additional metadata that you can concoct a game plan for him. Prior to the prolIferation of TrackMan, Rapsodo, et al, pitchers like Odorizzi may have been told to work on keeping his fastball down in the zone — which is exactly what happened to Odor: In fact, both Milwaukee and Kansas City informed Odorizziduring his player development days that if he didn’t adjust and hit the bottom of the zone, he wouldn’t make it in the big leagues. That changed when he arrived in the forward-thinking Tampa Bay organization and he would embrace the high ride heater. This year, 57 of his 70 strikeouts on fastballs have been located in the upper third of the zone or higher. It makes you wonder how many pitchers were jettisoned because they were higher-spin pitchers instructed to throw the ball down in the zone (or else). How can this information be applied to the amateur ranks? With regard to the Chanhassen program, we found that the bulk of the fastballs fell within the average Bauer Units range — leaning toward neither end of the spectrum. As a practice, those with average-ish Bauer Units who had three-quarter deliveries were asked to try 2-seam or cut fastballs and those with higher Bauer Units and more over-the-top deliveries worked on getting behind their 4-seamers in efforts to get better spin direction and carry (like Odorizzi). The high spin Bauer Unit rate guys were interesting to observe. In subsequent bullpen sessions or warmups, some confessed that they were taught to shoot for the knees, a counterproductive concept based on their stuff. It seemed clear that years of being told to hit the bottom of the zone was deeply ingrained whereas intentionally elevating felt foreign. Meanwhile, in game action, you could watch the same pitchers throw fastballs above the belt and hitters swing underneath as they struggled to reconcile the fact that the pitch’s trajectory was not falling the way their brains were suggesting it would. With high spin fastballs being all the rage and 2-seamers the cargo shorts of the pitching world, we needed to consider what to do with two intriguing outliers with super low Bauer Units. The first, Cade Plath (2019), was a genuine athlete. Here was a big, strong young man who is headed to play Division 1 football and had a mid-80s fastball. However, the combination of a low three-quarter slot and 4-seam grip seemed to result in a ton of glove-side carry. He also had a Bauer Unit of 15, a telltale sign that a 4-seam fastball might not be conducive to success for him. Following the Rapsodo session, Cade tried out a fresh new 2-seam grip, trying to capture that laminar flowgoodness. In his first live AB session, teammates who stepped into the box against him were impressed by what they perceived as late movement darting to his arm side. We lacked the funds for a high-speed slow-mo camera but even from the grainy iPhone camera you can still see the difference in movement between the 4-seam grip (from March on the left) and the 2-seam grip (from June on the right): Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (8).GIF What was interesting is that those two pitches above — despite having very different movement — spit out virtually the same movement data from the Rapsodo. Download attachment: PLATH FB.PNG This was confounding. We figured he had made the necessary grip change and the feedback from hitters and catchers suggested this pitch was doing something different. Why wasn’t the data saying so? Turns out, Driveline Baseball already studied this very phenomenon. According to their research Rapsodo “detects the ball’s spin rate, spin direction, and velocity and recalculates trajectory based on a physics model – hence why it thinks both pitches shown in the video have nearly identical movement when in reality they are quite different.” In short, there is an issue when using Rapsodo data to try to incorporate a . Armed with his 2-seam action, Cade’s in-season results were impressive. His walk rate dropped significantly from the previous season and he increased his swing-and-miss rate. A lot of his success came because of his steadfast conditioning, overall athleticism, and the fact he threw a “heavy ball” from a three-quarter slot but swapping out fastball grips played a role in his being able to locate that pitch more effectively. The other super low Bauer Units pitcher was junior Kody Dalen (2020). During the initial March session, Kody told us that he threw a 2-seamer, even showing us his grip, yet the Rapsodo data didn’t reflect 2-seam action. If anything, it had the exact opposite movement -- it had cut and a healthy amount of vertical drop. The low spin rate made it difficult to hit — another example of the proverbial “heavy fastball”. In season, Kody’s fastballs averaged approximately 80 mph, but touched 84. His 63 percent ground ball rate was second on the staff only to Cade (65 percent ground ball rate) while allowing just seven hits in 18.2 innings. After one of his outings, an umpire, supposedly impartial referees maintaining law and order, approached a member of our coaching staff and said how impressed he was at his movement. The cases of Cade and Kody raised more questions: Why, if two pitchers who have the same low spin rate, similar arm slots, and used the same 2-seam grip, are they producing two very different movements? It was only later that we came to find out the difference was generated by how the ball came out of their hand -- something that Rapsodo can’t pick up (or the human eye for that matter). In the clip below, you will see a side-by-side of Kody (left) vs Cade’s (right) 2-seam fastball. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (7).GIF For Kody, his 2-seam is punctuated by glove-side run and a late sharp downward break. Cade’s more conventional laminar 2-seamer fights against the glove-side run and moves back toward right-handed batters late in the path. Now watch how the ball comes out of their hands: Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (9).GIF If thrown the conventional way, the two black dots should be spinning outward. Cade, on the right, has his fingers stay behind the baseball at release, imparting both the tilt and spin angle necessarily to give the pitch the standard 2-seam run. Meanwhile Kody supinates his hand at release, getting his fingers to the side of the baseball producing the cut action. This action likely costs him some velocity but the added movement appears to make up for it threefold. You often hear of pitchers having natural cut on their pitches and this is one of those in action. Kody’s movement is just that. To revisit the initial question -- why is knowing a fastball’s spin rate important -- it is because that knowledge helps take the guesswork out. If you know that a pitcher has a high-speed, high-carry fastball, you can work with them to develop a more vertical breaking ball. Now you have a solid plan of attack: high fastballs up at the top of the zone and a 12-6 curveball to drop out of that same tunnel. If you have a repertoire like Kody who has a bunch of pitches that run in to a left-handed batter, it was suggested by one of Starters’ instructors to tinker with a slider to give him a variety of pitches that run in (the Dalin Betances model). You absolutely could accomplish the same thing without the use of technology but, to paraphrase the reigning College World Series champions’ director of player development, if you don’t use it, you are behind. Click here to view the article
  5. This past March, the Chanhassen High School baseball program visited Starters Sports Training in Shakopee to put all of our arms under the Rapsodo microscope. One of the first things we got the data back from Starters was convert all fastballs into Bauer Units. For those unfamiliar, Driveline Baseball champions Bauer Units as a good measuring stick to tell if a player’s fastball is better suited for a 4-seam or 2-seam based on the spin rate divided by the velocity. If the fastball had a high Bauer Unit -- 27 BUs or higher -- a pitcher’s fastball would play better with a 4-seam grip. A lower Bauer Unit -- says 21 or lower -- and it would be better to use a 2-seam fastball. This would give us a fastball roadmap for each pitcher. Why is knowing fastball spin rate important? After all, for generations players and coaches used their eyes and intuition to figure out how a fastball moves. It’s heavy. It has late-life. It has rise. It has sink. Why should we strive to assign a number to every aspect of the game? As a real world example (and to loosely tie this into a Twins-related subject for Twins-related website) let’s consider Jake Odorizzi and Trevor May. In terms of velocity, Odorizzi (whose 4-seamer comes in at 92.8 mph on average) has a fastball that is 2 clicks below May's (94.9). Factoring in spin rate, May has approximately 100 more rpms on his fastball (2,338 rpm) than Odorizzi (2,239 rpm). Based on those two data points alone one might think May has a superior fastball. However, both share fastball Bauer Units of 24. While that amounts to a decisively average Bauer Unit among all MLB pitchers according to the Baseball Savant database, it is partly the reason why Odorizzi can be so effective at the top of the zone with a little less firepower than May. On the surface, Odorizzi might be considered a softer throwing arm in the modern era — seeing that his fastball “only” averages 93 — but it is with the additional metadata that you can concoct a game plan for him. Prior to the prolIferation of TrackMan, Rapsodo, et al, pitchers like Odorizzi may have been told to work on keeping his fastball down in the zone — which is exactly what happened to Odor: In fact, both Milwaukee and Kansas City informed Odorizzi during his player development days that if he didn’t adjust and hit the bottom of the zone, he wouldn’t make it in the big leagues. That changed when he arrived in the forward-thinking Tampa Bay organization and he would embrace the high ride heater. This year, 57 of his 70 strikeouts on fastballs have been located in the upper third of the zone or higher. It makes you wonder how many pitchers were jettisoned because they were higher-spin pitchers instructed to throw the ball down in the zone (or else). How can this information be applied to the amateur ranks? With regard to the Chanhassen program, we found that the bulk of the fastballs fell within the average Bauer Units range — leaning toward neither end of the spectrum. As a practice, those with average-ish Bauer Units who had three-quarter deliveries were asked to try 2-seam or cut fastballs and those with higher Bauer Units and more over-the-top deliveries worked on getting behind their 4-seamers in efforts to get better spin direction and carry (like Odorizzi). The high spin Bauer Unit rate guys were interesting to observe. In subsequent bullpen sessions or warmups, some confessed that they were taught to shoot for the knees, a counterproductive concept based on their stuff. It seemed clear that years of being told to hit the bottom of the zone was deeply ingrained whereas intentionally elevating felt foreign. Meanwhile, in game action, you could watch the same pitchers throw fastballs above the belt and hitters swing underneath as they struggled to reconcile the fact that the pitch’s trajectory was not falling the way their brains were suggesting it would. With high spin fastballs being all the rage and 2-seamers the cargo shorts of the pitching world, we needed to consider what to do with two intriguing outliers with super low Bauer Units. The first, Cade Plath (2019), was a genuine athlete. Here was a big, strong young man who is headed to play Division 1 football and had a mid-80s fastball. However, the combination of a low three-quarter slot and 4-seam grip seemed to result in a ton of glove-side carry. He also had a Bauer Unit of 15, a telltale sign that a 4-seam fastball might not be conducive to success for him. Following the Rapsodo session, Cade tried out a fresh new 2-seam grip, trying to capture that laminar flow goodness. In his first live AB session, teammates who stepped into the box against him were impressed by what they perceived as late movement darting to his arm side. We lacked the funds for a high-speed slow-mo camera but even from the grainy iPhone camera you can still see the difference in movement between the 4-seam grip (from March on the left) and the 2-seam grip (from June on the right): What was interesting is that those two pitches above — despite having very different movement — spit out virtually the same movement data from the Rapsodo. This was confounding. We figured he had made the necessary grip change and the feedback from hitters and catchers suggested this pitch was doing something different. Why wasn’t the data saying so? Turns out, Driveline Baseball already studied this very phenomenon. According to their research Rapsodo “detects the ball’s spin rate, spin direction, and velocity and recalculates trajectory based on a physics model – hence why it thinks both pitches shown in the video have nearly identical movement when in reality they are quite different.” In short, there is an issue when using Rapsodo data to try to incorporate a .Armed with his 2-seam action, Cade’s in-season results were impressive. His walk rate dropped significantly from the previous season and he increased his swing-and-miss rate. A lot of his success came because of his steadfast conditioning, overall athleticism, and the fact he threw a “heavy ball” from a three-quarter slot but swapping out fastball grips played a role in his being able to locate that pitch more effectively. The other super low Bauer Units pitcher was junior Kody Dalen (2020). During the initial March session, Kody told us that he threw a 2-seamer, even showing us his grip, yet the Rapsodo data didn’t reflect 2-seam action. If anything, it had the exact opposite movement -- it had cut and a healthy amount of vertical drop. The low spin rate made it difficult to hit — another example of the proverbial “heavy fastball”. In season, Kody’s fastballs averaged approximately 80 mph, but touched 84. His 63 percent ground ball rate was second on the staff only to Cade (65 percent ground ball rate) while allowing just seven hits in 18.2 innings. After one of his outings, an umpire, supposedly impartial referees maintaining law and order, approached a member of our coaching staff and said how impressed he was at his movement. The cases of Cade and Kody raised more questions: Why, if two pitchers who have the same low spin rate, similar arm slots, and used the same 2-seam grip, are they producing two very different movements? It was only later that we came to find out the difference was generated by how the ball came out of their hand -- something that Rapsodo can’t pick up (or the human eye for that matter). In the clip below, you will see a side-by-side of Kody (left) vs Cade’s (right) 2-seam fastball. For Kody, his 2-seam is punctuated by glove-side run and a late sharp downward break. Cade’s more conventional laminar 2-seamer fights against the glove-side run and moves back toward right-handed batters late in the path. Now watch how the ball comes out of their hands: If thrown the conventional way, the two black dots should be spinning outward. Cade, on the right, has his fingers stay behind the baseball at release, imparting both the tilt and spin angle necessarily to give the pitch the standard 2-seam run. Meanwhile Kody supinates his hand at release, getting his fingers to the side of the baseball producing the cut action. This action likely costs him some velocity but the added movement appears to make up for it threefold. You often hear of pitchers having natural cut on their pitches and this is one of those in action. Kody’s movement is just that. To revisit the initial question -- why is knowing a fastball’s spin rate important -- it is because that knowledge helps take the guesswork out. If you know that a pitcher has a high-speed, high-carry fastball, you can work with them to develop a more vertical breaking ball. Now you have a solid plan of attack: high fastballs up at the top of the zone and a 12-6 curveball to drop out of that same tunnel. If you have a repertoire like Kody who has a bunch of pitches that run in to a left-handed batter, it was suggested by one of Starters’ instructors to tinker with a slider to give him a variety of pitches that run in (the Dalin Betances model). You absolutely could accomplish the same thing without the use of technology but, to paraphrase the reigning College World Series champions’ director of player development, if you don’t use it, you are behind.
  6. Nearly every team in Major League Baseball uses some variation of pitch tracking technologies to analyze their pitchers. By now, you have undoubtedly heard that the Minnesota Twins have gone all-in on the Rapsodo craze. However, if you are not entrenched in a team's analytics department or pitching staff, you may not know what that provides. Fortunately, this past spring our high school baseball program had the luxury of having our pitchers throw under the watchful, data-collecting eye of a Rapsodo device. Here’s what we discovered.To other coaches and players out there: Buy one. I cannot recommend this enough. There is almost no substitute for the advantage that this tech can create as far as pitching development goes. If you cannot afford the $4,000 price tag -- which, let’s be honest, not many high school programs can -- go find a nearby college program or a private baseball training facility that has one and see if you can use it. That's what we did. In March Chanhassen High School’s newly minted head coach Ross VanHauen -- a forward-thinking, Driveline podcast-listening, constant learner -- connected with Starters Sports Training in Shakopee and arranged for the program the use of Starter’s Rapsodo device at their facility as part of the pitching evaluation process. Not only would we get a consistent velocity baseline for pitchers across all grade levels, we would also be able to gather spin rates — maybe even identifying a Ryne Harper-type pitcher who may have underwhelming velo but spun breaking balls at an unhittable rate. Plenty of the arms in the system had worked with private instructors and some had experience using Rapsodo device but for those that didn’t participate in club programs or showcase events, we wanted a better understanding of what we were working with. We wanted, nay, needed to the data. From my personal perspective, as a new member of the Chanhassen coaching staff, these were pitchers with whom I had no prior interaction and this data could help quickly establish a roadmap going forward. In most cases, it would take days, weeks, and hours of observing bullpens and game action to properly quantify how a pitcher’s arsenal works. There are some obvious things that can be ascertained from watching a bullpen -- for instance, a pitcher’s arm slot can tell you a lot about how certain pitches should behave -- but Rapsodo data was a bridge that connected the seen and the unseen. What the first visit amounted to was a basic light bullpen session: Each player threw 25-30 pitches, displaying their fastballs, changeups and whatever they felt was their breaking ball. One of the initial objectives was to determine how everyone’s breaking ball works. When you ask a young pitcher what they throw, they will often say “curveball”, a generic catchall for their secondary pitch. In actuality, it spins or moves closer to a slider or slurve. Rapsodo can differentiate this because it measures spin efficiency — basically the ratio of the transverse spin (movement spin) to total spin. Curveballs tend to have a spin efficiency over 60% (with most of the big league curveballs operating at a near 100% spin efficiency mark). What we learned on the first day with a Rapsodo was that the vast majority of pitchers in our program fell short of that rate. By our account, there were approximately four pitchers in the entire program who threw what would be truly classified as a curveball. Here is a real world example of the difference between a high spin efficiency and a low spin efficiency breaking ball. These two right-handed pitchers in the Chanhassen program have very good secondary pitches that have distinctly different movements. On the left is junior Greg Ryun (2020) while on the right is freshman Jake Ryan (2022). Here is their breaking ball grips at release: On the left, Greg’s breaking ball had over ten inches of horizontal break and five inches of drop on average with a 49 percent spin efficiency. This running slurve aided Greg in registering 27 strikeouts in 20.1 innings in the varsity season. Comparatively, Jake, who spent his first year in the program at the junior varsity level, had a breaking ball with five inches of horizontal run and nearly 20 inches of vertical break and a robust spin efficiency of 89 percent. This big breaking 12-to-6er complemented his high spin fastball extremely well. You can see how the two pitches fall on the pitch type spectrum. Download attachment: GRJS_RP.PNG A lot of how a pitcher’s breaking ball moves is connected with his arm slots. As pitching instructor Lantz Wheeler explains, it’s an arranged marriage: Those with a three-quarter or lower tend of have more slurve, horizontal running breaking balls while those with over-the-top deliveries favor 12-6 breaking ball action. This was a big distinction between pitchers like Greg, who released his pitch at a little over five feet in height, compared to Jake, who released his closer to six feet in height. What can you do once with that data and knowledge? Let’s say you are a pitcher with a low spin efficiency breaking ball, what could you do going forward? From a practical standpoint, you could do several things. You could attempt to adjust the grip and/or release to create more of a curveball action. You could embrace the slider ride, trying to reduce that spin efficiency and increase some velocity. Using Greg’s slurve as an example, if he were so inclined he could refine it into more of a slider, adding velocity and reducing the spin efficiency. It would better suit his arm angle. That said, if he wanted to have more of a curve sharp he could work on increasing the vertical drop. Or do both. However, without regular access to a Rapsodo and having a high-speed camera fixed on the pitcher’s release point, trying to adjust is a time-consuming trial-and-error experiment. Coach: Try to spike the seam and do this at release. Pitcher: How’d that look? Coach: Better...maybe? Did you keep your fingers to the side or on top? Pitcher: I don’t know. Coach: OK, well, try that out on the mound next game and see what happens. That’s why professional organizations have invested heavily in that technology. As recently as 2016, then-Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins talked about his process of trying to tweak his slider grip where he simply threw it a few times in the bullpen, felt like it moved better north-south, and then threw it that night in a game. No data. No numbers. All feel. The next offseason following Perkins’ slider tweak, journeyman reliever Craig Breslow tried to rejuvenate this career with the help of a Rapsodo device, which earned him a contract with the Minnesota Twins. That spring, the Twins bought one of their own and tried it out on their spring training backfields. Now they have them everywhere. You can choose to approach player development without that information of course, but it is an analog approach in a digital world. In just limited exposure to the machines, the value Rapsodo data can provide in analyzing breaking ball was clear to see. In the next post, we will discuss how fastballs can be optimized under the power provided by the pitch-tracking tech. Click here to view the article
  7. To other coaches and players out there: Buy one. I cannot recommend this enough. There is almost no substitute for the advantage that this tech can create as far as pitching development goes. If you cannot afford the $4,000 price tag -- which, let’s be honest, not many high school programs can -- go find a nearby college program or a private baseball training facility that has one and see if you can use it. That's what we did. In March Chanhassen High School’s newly minted head coach Ross VanHauen -- a forward-thinking, Driveline podcast-listening, constant learner -- connected with Starters Sports Training in Shakopee and arranged for the program the use of Starter’s Rapsodo device at their facility as part of the pitching evaluation process. Not only would we get a consistent velocity baseline for pitchers across all grade levels, we would also be able to gather spin rates — maybe even identifying a Ryne Harper-type pitcher who may have underwhelming velo but spun breaking balls at an unhittable rate. Plenty of the arms in the system had worked with private instructors and some had experience using Rapsodo device but for those that didn’t participate in club programs or showcase events, we wanted a better understanding of what we were working with. We wanted, nay, needed to the data. From my personal perspective, as a new member of the Chanhassen coaching staff, these were pitchers with whom I had no prior interaction and this data could help quickly establish a roadmap going forward. In most cases, it would take days, weeks, and hours of observing bullpens and game action to properly quantify how a pitcher’s arsenal works. There are some obvious things that can be ascertained from watching a bullpen -- for instance, a pitcher’s arm slot can tell you a lot about how certain pitches should behave -- but Rapsodo data was a bridge that connected the seen and the unseen. What the first visit amounted to was a basic light bullpen session: Each player threw 25-30 pitches, displaying their fastballs, changeups and whatever they felt was their breaking ball. One of the initial objectives was to determine how everyone’s breaking ball works. When you ask a young pitcher what they throw, they will often say “curveball”, a generic catchall for their secondary pitch. In actuality, it spins or moves closer to a slider or slurve. Rapsodo can differentiate this because it measures spin efficiency — basically the ratio of the transverse spin (movement spin) to total spin. Curveballs tend to have a spin efficiency over 60% (with most of the big league curveballs operating at a near 100% spin efficiency mark). What we learned on the first day with a Rapsodo was that the vast majority of pitchers in our program fell short of that rate. By our account, there were approximately four pitchers in the entire program who threw what would be truly classified as a curveball. Here is a real world example of the difference between a high spin efficiency and a low spin efficiency breaking ball. These two right-handed pitchers in the Chanhassen program have very good secondary pitches that have distinctly different movements. On the left is junior Greg Ryun (2020) while on the right is freshman Jake Ryan (2022). Here is their breaking ball grips at release: On the left, Greg’s breaking ball had over ten inches of horizontal break and five inches of drop on average with a 49 percent spin efficiency. This running slurve aided Greg in registering 27 strikeouts in 20.1 innings in the varsity season. Comparatively, Jake, who spent his first year in the program at the junior varsity level, had a breaking ball with five inches of horizontal run and nearly 20 inches of vertical break and a robust spin efficiency of 89 percent. This big breaking 12-to-6er complemented his high spin fastball extremely well. You can see how the two pitches fall on the pitch type spectrum. A lot of how a pitcher’s breaking ball moves is connected with his arm slots. As pitching instructor Lantz Wheeler explains, it’s an arranged marriage: Those with a three-quarter or lower tend of have more slurve, horizontal running breaking balls while those with over-the-top deliveries favor 12-6 breaking ball action. This was a big distinction between pitchers like Greg, who released his pitch at a little over five feet in height, compared to Jake, who released his closer to six feet in height. What can you do once with that data and knowledge? Let’s say you are a pitcher with a low spin efficiency breaking ball, what could you do going forward? From a practical standpoint, you could do several things. You could attempt to adjust the grip and/or release to create more of a curveball action. You could embrace the slider ride, trying to reduce that spin efficiency and increase some velocity. Using Greg’s slurve as an example, if he were so inclined he could refine it into more of a slider, adding velocity and reducing the spin efficiency. It would better suit his arm angle. That said, if he wanted to have more of a curve sharp he could work on increasing the vertical drop. Or do both. However, without regular access to a Rapsodo and having a high-speed camera fixed on the pitcher’s release point, trying to adjust is a time-consuming trial-and-error experiment. Coach: Try to spike the seam and do this at release. Pitcher: How’d that look? Coach: Better...maybe? Did you keep your fingers to the side or on top? Pitcher: I don’t know. Coach: OK, well, try that out on the mound next game and see what happens. That’s why professional organizations have invested heavily in that technology. As recently as 2016, then-Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins talked about his process of trying to tweak his slider grip where he simply threw it a few times in the bullpen, felt like it moved better north-south, and then threw it that night in a game. No data. No numbers. All feel. The next offseason following Perkins’ slider tweak, journeyman reliever Craig Breslow tried to rejuvenate this career with the help of a Rapsodo device, which earned him a contract with the Minnesota Twins. That spring, the Twins bought one of their own and tried it out on their spring training backfields. Now they have them everywhere. You can choose to approach player development without that information of course, but it is an analog approach in a digital world. In just limited exposure to the machines, the value Rapsodo data can provide in analyzing breaking ball was clear to see. In the next post, we will discuss how fastballs can be optimized under the power provided by the pitch-tracking tech.
  8. It’s January so, like most of the of the young and inexperienced pitchers, Fernando Romero’s future role with the Minnesota Twins is up in the air. What we do know is that with the signing of Martin Perez, the traditional starting rotation is currently full. There is the possibility that Romero emerges as a primary pitcher -- the guy who follows the opener. There’s also a chance he lands as a late-innings power arm. It could be in Minnesota. Or it could be in Rochester.The Twins acknowledged that Romero is currently a two-pitch pitcher. Technically, he has three types of fastballs (but two movement patterns), a promising slider, and a developing change-up but, functionally, he has a fastball and a slider. Because of this, the front office believes he is better served coming out of the bullpen (or at least in a role that limits his times through the order). Foundationally, Romero’s fastballs are solid for any pitching role. The mid-90s-plus 4-seam fastball can be elevated while his 2-seam and 1-seam fastballs burrow down-and-in to right-handed hitters. From a pitch sequencing standpoint, this is something to build upon. In the most basic sense, depending on the shape of a pitcher’s breaking pitch, when you have an elevated fastball, it would be best to have a curveball that can tunnel with it before descending out of the path. Likewise, if you have a running sinker, you would like to pair it more with a slider running the other direction, similar to how Kyle Gibson tunnels his. Ideally, a pitcher would have a variety of pitches moving in different directions to keep hitters defending the entire zone but a pair of complementary pitches can carve opponents up. After all, Glen Perkins had an impressive run as the Twins’ closer with a two-pitch repertoire. So what is the shape of Romero’s slider? The greasy techie data says that it is one that has 8.2 inches of break length from release to the plate, which is average from a right-handed pitcher, and a below average break angle of -2.9. The break angle essentially means which direction and how much the pitch is running. A break angle of 0 means the pitch follows a straight path from the release point to the target with no movement in any direction. If the break angle is positive, it means it is moving toward a right-handed hitter. Negative, toward a lefty. Romero’s -2.9 break angle means it has some movement toward left-handed hitters while the average right-hander’s slider has a break angle of -8.1. (To give a better picture of what break angle means, you can compare Fernando Romero’s -2.9 break angle slider with the new Yankee Adam Ottavino’s frisbee slider with a -21.5 break angle slider who is on the opposite end of the slider movement spectrum.) So that is the essence of his best secondary pitch. It’s thrown fairly hard (the average slider is thrown at 84 mph and his clocks in at 87), moves slightly away from right-handed hitters, and has about league-average break. Before coming to the big club, Paul Molitor described Romero’s slider as “inconsistent”, which is exactly how it played for the Twins. On occasion, Romero would spin a nasty hoochie woochie but on others, it would back up and sit on a platter for a lucky batter. While Romero’s 36 percent miss rate on the slider is above average (and actually higher than that of the oft-celebrated Ottavino), opponents posted a .723 OPS and an 88 mph exit velocity (higher than the MLB slider average of 85.8 mph) off of it. It is a small sampling, to be sure, but one can look at these numbers as an affirmation of what Molitor suggested. One reason for the middling production was simply location. If you divided the zone in half across the middle, separating upper and lower quadrants, his slider landed in the upper quadrant 40.1 percent of the time (significantly higher than the 25 percent league average). The good news is that hitters did not completely decimate sliders left up - but they didn’t swing through them either (just a 5% swinging strike rate up compared to a 25% one when he kept it down). Download attachment: fernando romero.png The location cost him some strikeouts, leaving the ball spinning up in two-strike counts where an otherwise well-executed slider would have been a kill shot. Download attachment: trumedia_baseball_heatmap (7).png In terms of sequencing, Romero’s slider has actually played well off of the 4-seam fastball, enticing a miss rate of 40 percent and a 39 percent chase rate out of the zone in a fastball-slider pairing. On the other hand, opponents may be able to tell the difference between his slider and sinker as they have a 33 percent miss rate and just a 15 percent chase rate on his slider after being set up by his sinker. If Romero does nothing to tweak his slider heading into the 2019 season, at the very least he should be pairing it more frequently off his fastball. Here is where the new-look, data savvy, tech-reliant Twins organization might be able to optimize Fernando Romero’s stuff. It would seem that Romero is a prime candidate to receive the pitch design treatment — a retooling of his pitches guided by Rapsodo technology and high-speed Edgertronic cameras. Championed by Driveline Baseball, the baseball training company has found some best practices that can identify issues and improve a pitch’s performance based on certain modifications. Before pitch design technology became available, the previous best method to improve this was to have a pitching coach observe bullpens, giving the pitcher cues and provide affirmation when the ball seems to react differently. Then they hope that a player carries whatever feel they had during the pen into the game. Between the diagnostic process and communicating what the problem and solution might be, there could be a long trial-and-error period. Now, however, armed with the new tools, a pitcher and the player development team can isolate the issue, diagnose it and set forth a plan to correct it. The first issue for Romero is consistency, which seems to track back to the moment the pitch leaves his hand. When he releases the slider, it may be that he is letting go too early or with different hand tilts. As researchers at Driveline have demonstrated, even the smallest minutiae such as fingertip contact points can wildly change the spin and flight path. Admittedly, without the high-speed cameras, it is difficult to properly diagnose the issue but from the limited slow-motion release clips, we can see where Romero’s slider needs work. Here is an example of how the slider comes out of Romero’s hand. Romero’s thumb is tucked and his fingers are wrapped around the bottom of the baseball. At this juncture, the thumb is making very minimal contact while his index and middle fingertips are applying pressure. Then he snaps across. On average, he imparts 2,431 rpm worth of spin on his slider, which is about the league average spin rate for right-handed sliders (2,413). Now compare that to Justin Verlander’s slider grip and release (image courtesy of Pitching Ninja) -- the one that Verlander reportedly improved upon while using the Astros’ bevy of Edgertronic cameras to isolate his release point. Notice how his fingers wrap the side with more contact points on his fingers. His release motion also comes down diagonally through the ball. The results were two more inches of run than Romero’s slider as well as 200 more rpms of spin (2,684 average). The added rpms is important because each increase of 100 or more translates into more swing and misses. Of course, not everyone has the same release or arm path. Verlander’s 6-5 frame and over-the-top delivery might preclude Romero from copying his style. Romero’s slider release almost mimics that of Marcus Stroman, whose pitch was the basis for Trevor Bauer’s recent slider rebuild (which is now superb). This may be a template for Romero to unleash hell on an improved pitch. Like Verlander’s, Stroman’s slider grip is held deeper in the hand, which can account for more spin. Stroman’s release has his hand placement similar to Romero’s (underneath rather than like Verlander’s wrapping the side) but unlike Romero’s, Stroman has more contact with the baseball, most noticeably with his thumb (Stroman’s is flush whereas Romero’s makes contact on the side of his). The action differs slightly too as Romero pulls across while Stroman’s hand pulls down. To be fair, Romero’s slider numbers actually outperformed Stroman’s in 2018, with a higher swinging strike percentage, but Stroman’s numbers took a step back on the pitch this last season where he had previously had a swinging strike rate of 21 percent and a chase rate of 41 percent (with 17 and 33 being league average on the pitch). That said, Stroman’s metrics exceed those of Romero, with a 12-inch break and a 2,654 rpm spin rate. If Romero can emulate this pitch consistently, it will give him a significantly improved weapon and be a cornerstone swing-and-miss pitch vital for late innings relief. At the very least, tweaking his slider to give it more consistent depth and tilt could help create a monster in the bullpen. What’s more, if he reinvents his slider and maintains the more cutter-ish version, he might have the necessary three-pitch mix to be a force in the rotation. The Twins have built a player development infrastructure -- both the best tech and the best minds — to address this very issue. Now we will get to see it in action. Exciting times. Click here to view the article
  9. The Twins acknowledged that Romero is currently a two-pitch pitcher. Technically, he has three types of fastballs (but two movement patterns), a promising slider, and a developing change-up but, functionally, he has a fastball and a slider. Because of this, the front office believes he is better served coming out of the bullpen (or at least in a role that limits his times through the order). Foundationally, Romero’s fastballs are solid for any pitching role. The mid-90s-plus 4-seam fastball can be elevated while his 2-seam and 1-seam fastballs burrow down-and-in to right-handed hitters. From a pitch sequencing standpoint, this is something to build upon. In the most basic sense, depending on the shape of a pitcher’s breaking pitch, when you have an elevated fastball, it would be best to have a curveball that can tunnel with it before descending out of the path. Likewise, if you have a running sinker, you would like to pair it more with a slider running the other direction, similar to how Kyle Gibson tunnels his. Ideally, a pitcher would have a variety of pitches moving in different directions to keep hitters defending the entire zone but a pair of complementary pitches can carve opponents up. After all, Glen Perkins had an impressive run as the Twins’ closer with a two-pitch repertoire. So what is the shape of Romero’s slider? The greasy techie data says that it is one that has 8.2 inches of break length from release to the plate, which is average from a right-handed pitcher, and a below average break angle of -2.9. The break angle essentially means which direction and how much the pitch is running. A break angle of 0 means the pitch follows a straight path from the release point to the target with no movement in any direction. If the break angle is positive, it means it is moving toward a right-handed hitter. Negative, toward a lefty. Romero’s -2.9 break angle means it has some movement toward left-handed hitters while the average right-hander’s slider has a break angle of -8.1. (To give a better picture of what break angle means, you can compare Fernando Romero’s -2.9 break angle slider with the new Yankee Adam Ottavino’s frisbee slider with a -21.5 break angle slider who is on the opposite end of the slider movement spectrum.) So that is the essence of his best secondary pitch. It’s thrown fairly hard (the average slider is thrown at 84 mph and his clocks in at 87), moves slightly away from right-handed hitters, and has about league-average break. Before coming to the big club, Paul Molitor described Romero’s slider as “inconsistent”, which is exactly how it played for the Twins. On occasion, Romero would spin a nasty hoochie woochie but on others, it would back up and sit on a platter for a lucky batter. While Romero’s 36 percent miss rate on the slider is above average (and actually higher than that of the oft-celebrated Ottavino), opponents posted a .723 OPS and an 88 mph exit velocity (higher than the MLB slider average of 85.8 mph) off of it. It is a small sampling, to be sure, but one can look at these numbers as an affirmation of what Molitor suggested. One reason for the middling production was simply location. If you divided the zone in half across the middle, separating upper and lower quadrants, his slider landed in the upper quadrant 40.1 percent of the time (significantly higher than the 25 percent league average). The good news is that hitters did not completely decimate sliders left up - but they didn’t swing through them either (just a 5% swinging strike rate up compared to a 25% one when he kept it down). The location cost him some strikeouts, leaving the ball spinning up in two-strike counts where an otherwise well-executed slider would have been a kill shot. In terms of sequencing, Romero’s slider has actually played well off of the 4-seam fastball, enticing a miss rate of 40 percent and a 39 percent chase rate out of the zone in a fastball-slider pairing. On the other hand, opponents may be able to tell the difference between his slider and sinker as they have a 33 percent miss rate and just a 15 percent chase rate on his slider after being set up by his sinker. If Romero does nothing to tweak his slider heading into the 2019 season, at the very least he should be pairing it more frequently off his fastball. Here is where the new-look, data savvy, tech-reliant Twins organization might be able to optimize Fernando Romero’s stuff. It would seem that Romero is a prime candidate to receive the pitch design treatment — a retooling of his pitches guided by Rapsodo technology and high-speed Edgertronic cameras. Championed by Driveline Baseball, the baseball training company has found some best practices that can identify issues and improve a pitch’s performance based on certain modifications. Before pitch design technology became available, the previous best method to improve this was to have a pitching coach observe bullpens, giving the pitcher cues and provide affirmation when the ball seems to react differently. Then they hope that a player carries whatever feel they had during the pen into the game. Between the diagnostic process and communicating what the problem and solution might be, there could be a long trial-and-error period. Now, however, armed with the new tools, a pitcher and the player development team can isolate the issue, diagnose it and set forth a plan to correct it. The first issue for Romero is consistency, which seems to track back to the moment the pitch leaves his hand. When he releases the slider, it may be that he is letting go too early or with different hand tilts. As researchers at Driveline have demonstrated, even the smallest minutiae such as fingertip contact points can wildly change the spin and flight path. Admittedly, without the high-speed cameras, it is difficult to properly diagnose the issue but from the limited slow-motion release clips, we can see where Romero’s slider needs work. Here is an example of how the slider comes out of Romero’s hand. Romero’s thumb is tucked and his fingers are wrapped around the bottom of the baseball. At this juncture, the thumb is making very minimal contact while his index and middle fingertips are applying pressure. Then he snaps across. On average, he imparts 2,431 rpm worth of spin on his slider, which is about the league average spin rate for right-handed sliders (2,413). Now compare that to Justin Verlander’s slider grip and release (image courtesy of Pitching Ninja) -- the one that Verlander reportedly improved upon while using the Astros’ bevy of Edgertronic cameras to isolate his release point. Notice how his fingers wrap the side with more contact points on his fingers. His release motion also comes down diagonally through the ball. The results were two more inches of run than Romero’s slider as well as 200 more rpms of spin (2,684 average). The added rpms is important because each increase of 100 or more translates into more swing and misses. Of course, not everyone has the same release or arm path. Verlander’s 6-5 frame and over-the-top delivery might preclude Romero from copying his style. Romero’s slider release almost mimics that of Marcus Stroman, whose pitch was the basis for Trevor Bauer’s recent slider rebuild (which is now superb). This may be a template for Romero to unleash hell on an improved pitch. Like Verlander’s, Stroman’s slider grip is held deeper in the hand, which can account for more spin. Stroman’s release has his hand placement similar to Romero’s (underneath rather than like Verlander’s wrapping the side) but unlike Romero’s, Stroman has more contact with the baseball, most noticeably with his thumb (Stroman’s is flush whereas Romero’s makes contact on the side of his). The action differs slightly too as Romero pulls across while Stroman’s hand pulls down. To be fair, Romero’s slider numbers actually outperformed Stroman’s in 2018, with a higher swinging strike percentage, but Stroman’s numbers took a step back on the pitch this last season where he had previously had a swinging strike rate of 21 percent and a chase rate of 41 percent (with 17 and 33 being league average on the pitch). That said, Stroman’s metrics exceed those of Romero, with a 12-inch break and a 2,654 rpm spin rate. If Romero can emulate this pitch consistently, it will give him a significantly improved weapon and be a cornerstone swing-and-miss pitch vital for late innings relief. At the very least, tweaking his slider to give it more consistent depth and tilt could help create a monster in the bullpen. What’s more, if he reinvents his slider and maintains the more cutter-ish version, he might have the necessary three-pitch mix to be a force in the rotation. The Twins have built a player development infrastructure -- both the best tech and the best minds — to address this very issue. Now we will get to see it in action. Exciting times.
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