All of the great holidays are marked by high levels of anticipation. But Opening Day stands out among the more traditional observances because it is merely the beginning of the celebration to follow: seven months of 6-4-3 double plays, exploding sliders, and that sweet sound when lumber meets horsehide. It’s easy to fall pretty to the trap of overweighting observations made at the start of the regular season, and the rational observer will maintain perspective while enjoying the day's festivities. But that doesn't mean that there’s nothing to be learned from the first round of games. Early in the season, many pitchers are making real adjustments to elements of their mechanics, approach, and repertoire, and these alterations can be put under the microscope in order to get an idea of the player's developmental patterns.
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New pitches and pitchers we've gotten glimpses of already this season.
Spring: a season of renewal and rebirth. Also a time of new pitches and pitchers. A lack of bona fide new arms in the early going has slowed the usual flurry of new PITCHf/x data to ogle, but some established pitchers have made some notable changes.
Does a starter who goes deep into games really have an effect on days before and after his outings?
The complete game has become an increasingly rare beast. In 2013, there were 124 complete games registered by the 4,862 pitchers who started out on the hill, and Adam Wainwright led all of baseball with five. If a pitcher makes it through nine innings, he’s likely having a very good day, and nine innings of well-pitched baseball is nothing to sneeze at. But a complete game is more than that. It’s a sign of manliness. It’s like shouting, “I don’t need no stinkin’ bullpen!” It’s a cultural touchstone. It’s the guy yelling at his TV, “Finish what you started, you silly overpaid, coddled millionaire. I finish my day of work without calling in a reliever.” A pitcher who completes a game is just getting in touch with the common man.
The challenges of hitting a baseball are many and difficult. Depending on the speed of the pitch, a batter may have something like half a second to 1) locate the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, 2) predict its movement based on the kind of pitch it is (fastball, slider, curve, etc.), 3) decide whether to swing, and potentially 4) adjust mid-swing to the path of the ball or check his swing. All of which is to say, hitting a baseball in MLB may actually be the hardest thing in the galaxy (I’ve never done it, myself).
Arguably the most demanding part of this battle is purely mental (as Hank Aaron noted). Because of how little time there is for a hitter to perform all of the above-mentioned tasks, it is helpful to have some notion ahead of time of what, where, and how the pitcher is going to throw. Conversely, the more uncertainty and confusion a pitcher can create in the hitter, the more chance he has of catching him off guard.
What does Doug see ahead for selected pitchers in 2014?
Along with the rest of the BP staff, I’ve submitted my pre-season predictions for division standings and end-of-season award winners. I tend to stay in the neighborhood of likely outcomes for these picks, resulting in easy answers such as “Mike Trout for AL MVP” or “Tigers win the AL Central,” but I’m more intrigued by the long-shot stories that emerge once the season starts.
A close look at the mechanics of a trio of top pitching prospects.
With one week to go until Opening Day, let's tackle one final Bush League installment of the offseason, taking a look at a trio of pitchers who rank among BP's Top 50 prospects: the Rockies’ Eddie Butler, the Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow, and the Twins’ Alex Meyer. These pitchers embody some of the more common traits of high-end prospects on the mound, from stuff to mechanics, and though each player saw his stock rise during the 2013 season, there’s still a heavy dose of development needed before they’ll be ready for the show.
The Rockies' top prospect gets better before our eyes.
This week's trip through the bushes takes us to the Colorado system to evaluate the top prospect in the Rockies’ pipeline: Jonathan Gray. The 6'4”, 255-pound right-hander has an elite arsenal, with an intimidating fastball complemented by a plus slider and a changeup that is considered a major asset. That repertoire should play very well in the majors and would seem to be a strong fit for the thin air of Coors Field. Gray's profile is even more intriguing once we get past pitch selection, so let's dig into the specifics that make him such a unique specimen.
A mechanical look at the pitchers who've gained the most fastball velocity over the last couple seasons.
This week, we’re focusing on pitch velocity and identifying the arms who have seen a big change in their fastball speeds over the last couple of years. On Monday, we looked at the players who are on the velocity downslope, with offerings that fall under the radar-gun readings of their past. Today we study the other side of the coin, drawing attention to those pitchers who have added fuel to their heat over the past couple of seasons.
A mechanical look at the pitchers who lost the most fastball velocity last season.
When it comes to pitching, velocity is the straw that stirs the drink. Fastball speed provides the baseline for batter timing and sets up every other arrow in a pitcher's quiver, explaining why velocity is the most sought-after commodity in pitchers at every level of play. Consequently, it can be devastating when a big-league pitcher transitions from pumping premium octane to regular gas, as it slows the performance of the whole machine.
A mechanical look at the minor leagues' top left-handed pitching prospect.
Lefty starter Andrew Heaney was chosen by the Miami Marlins with the ninth overall selection of the 2012 draft, taken out of Oklahoma State University. He was the fifth pitcher taken in the top nine picks, and the second southpaw (behind Max Fried). Ranked no. 30 on the BP Top 101 prospect list, Heaney has enjoyed a seamless transition to pro ball, and though his strikeout rate doesn't jump off the page, his strong command has fueled excellent run prevention.
In which Doug discovers mechanical connections between the pitchers on the Nats, Cardinals, Marlins, and other teams.
I spent most of the winter in hibernation, buried within the cozy confines of my baseball-analysis den and wading through a sea of pitchers. I'm happy to say that the seeds of thought that were planted in the final weeks of 2013 are now bearing fruit, as the 2014 Starting Pitcher Guide that Paul Sporer and I produced was released last week and covers close to 400 pitchers throughout the professional ranks. This was my second year contributing mechanical reports to the Guide, and I thoroughly enjoyed the arduous-yet-rewarding process as well as the pitching discussions that were generated as a result (and which can be heard on the latest episode of TINSTAAPP).
Does former NBA star Tracy McGrady have a future on the mound?
The latest addition to the pool of pitching hopefuls is former NBA star Tracy McGrady, who’s recruited a star-studded staff of coaches, headlined by Roger Clemens, to reshape his athleticism in the pursuit of a professional gig on the mound. Considerable buzz was generated by a bullpen session in which the 34-year old McGrady faced live hitters (not that they were taking swings), and his height and long arms have been credited with both downhill plane and release-point extension. It makes this evaluator smile to hear positive references to creating depth at release point, but is the praise justified, or is it simply placating a player who is well-respected in the athletic world?