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June 17, 2015 6:00 am
What is two-pitch pitcher Lance McCullers if he's actually a three-pitch pitcher?
I wasn’t a Lance McCullers fan. When he was called up, I wasn’t expecting great things. He had middle-of-the-rotation potential, but I thought his more realistic role was back-end starter or late-inning reliever. I wasn’t alone.
In April of last year Chris Rodriguez saw McCullers twice, giving him a 60 OFP ceiling and a 55 realistic grade as an eighth-inning reliever. Ron Shah saw him in July and had the same outlook. McCullers was the seventh-best prospect on the Astros’ Top 10 according to the BP Prospect Staff, though you could argue that says more about the Houston farm than McCullers.
Harry draws on a conversation with former big-leaguer Brian Bannister to extend his PITCHf/x research on changeups from earlier in the year.
A few months ago, I started a series on changeups focused on figuring out the qualities that make a good one. Click the following links to read part one and part two.
If there was a noteworthy finding in the early stages, it was that pitchers who succeed at coaxing ground balls with their changeups generally looked dissimilar from those who missed bats with theirs. The pitchers who can do both are the best. Stephen Strasburg topped that list, so the first waft of the sniff test was passed.
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There are certain rules about changeup usage. The Rays, unsurprisingly, aren't beholden to those rules.
“The game evolves constantly,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey tells me on a Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, after wrapping up a bullpen session an hour before first pitch. Evolution in baseball works a lot like it does in real life: traits that confer a competitive advantage tend to be passed on. But before a new approach is adopted around the league, Hickey says, “someone’s going to have to be successful doing it.”
The Rays are often that someone. If the Rays have an identity—aside from their status as a team that doesn’t draw, locked into a lease that never expires—it’s that they do things differently. Driven by their need to make the most of their limited resources and the creativity of their front office and field staff, the Rays under General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have authored a long list of innovations. Shifting more aggressively than almost any other team. Giving defensive specialist Jose Molina a starting job for the first time at age 37. Opening an academy in Brazil. Refusing to sign free agent starters (before Roberto Hernandez). And so on.
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