keyboard_arrow_uptop
BP360 is Back! One low price for a: BP subscription, 2022 Annual, 2022 Futures Guide, choice of shirt

There’s no time to waste, as the commander has ordered double-time for this week’s pitching notes. Permission to come aboard.

Corey Kluber
Kluber has been going through this rigmarole for a year and a half. Perhaps he was fortunate to string together so many dominant starts during his Cy-winning campaign of 2014, but Kluber continues to confound, with a glaring tendency toward disaster starts throughout the past two seasons. The peripherals far surpass the ERA numbers—he has a K/BB ratio of 5.2 over the past season and a half but just a 3.52 ERA to show for his work—and his excellent stuff combined with A-grade mechanics provide a steady basis for command and consistency. Yet he gets bombarded by hits and runs every few starts, and his past two turns serve as exhibits 1A and 1B.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 21

9.0

0

3

0

2

9

115

June 15

5.0

8

8

1

1

7

97

I’m an unabashed fan of Kluber’s work, perhaps biased by the outstanding delivery but otherwise wowed by the multi-shaped breaking ball that I have dubbed the Slydra for its ability to turn opposing batters who look upon the pitch to turn into stone. The right-hander has given up five or more earned runs in four of his 15 starts this season, yet he also has two shutouts and has allowed two or fewer earned runs while pitching seven or more full innings seven times. It’s not even a singular bad stretch, but rather random implosions—his five-earnie starts came on April 17, May 9, May 31 and June 15. Only five of the eight runs that he surrendered were earned in the June 15 game against the Royals, but the excuses are wearing thinner as the rough outings continue to stockpile.

His velocity might be playing a small role, given that it’s probably not a coincidence that Kluber’s pitch speed peaked in his Cy season of 2014 and is currently down 1.3 mph this season when compared to that high-water mark. This season’s velocity is actually the lowest of his career, but the difference from start-to-start is not so stark as to justify the the difference between complete-game Kluber and Christmas-tree-on-fire Kluber. The Slydra is as effective as ever, accounting for 46 of his 103 strikeouts this season, with a .076 batting average and one extra-base hit (a double) allowed in at-bats that ended on the pitch.

One element that is noticeable is that Kluber has gradually dropped his release point. His average height at release was 5.82 feet in 2014, dropped to 5.67 feet on average last season and has fallen further in 2016, with an average release height of 5.59 feet. The total is actually pretty slight, having dropped 0.24 feet over the past couple seasons (about three inches), but it becomes another data point. Of further intrigue is that Kluber doesn’t appear to be invoking any more posture than in this past, suggesting that the fatigue is likely in his throwing shoulder.

The little pieces of evidence are starting to add up a bit, but they still don’t explain how a pitcher of Kluber’s caliber can continue to have such a high frequency of blowup starts. Believe it or not, I think the issue comes down to pitch command. Kluber has a 5.4 percent walk rate this season that is a near-lock for his rates the past few seasons, but walk rate is an unreliable indicator of pitch command. All of Kluber’s pitches have incredible movement, from the wayward Slydra to a sinker with excellent arm-side run, a cutter that breaks subtly to the glove side and even the occasional fading changeup.

The problem is that these moving pitches are missing their targets, and though plenty of those pitches invoke swings and therefore register as strikes in the scorebook, they also become hittable strikes by drifting back over the strike zone when he misses his targets. It’s a perfect example of how performance can weave between statistical raindrops, and regardless of the disparity between his ERA and his FIP, Kluber has largely been responsible for his own demise when things unravel. He certainly has the tools to right the ship, but his ability to align the gears has been somewhat compromised.

Trevor Bauer
Whereas Kluber has worn a statistical shroud of consistency that masked his underlying volatility, his teammate Trevor Bauer has worn his inconsistency on his sleeve. Bauer led the AL in walks last year, and has given away free passes to more than 10 percent of the batters that he has faced in his career. His ERA hadn’t been within 5 percent of league average in any season prior to 2016, and though he teased huge upside in the strikeout department, he had been a frustrating pitcher to lean on in fantasy circles.

Bauer has an elaborate repertoire and seems to show up every season with a reworked delivery, and though he seems to have advanced knowledge of his craft, he had also fallen prey to the pitfalls that are common among young, advanced pitchers, in which they embrace complexity before they have mastered simplicity. In short, we’ve been waiting a long time for the Bauer breakout to arrive.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 22

9.0

1

3

0

1

10

113

June 17

7.0

1

4

0

3

9

115

Four starts ago, Bauer’s 2016 season was looking much like the last few years. His inconsistency cost him a rotation spot out of spring training, and though he had regained his spot in the starting rotation, Bauer entered June with a 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. But in his last four starts, something has clicked: at least seven full frames in each turn, two or fewer earned runs in each, a composite 1.42 ERA and 32 strikeouts against just six walks in 31 2/3 innings pitched. He has struck out nine or more hitters in three of those four games, and the only skepticism comes from a non-threatening slate of opponents during that stretch. That said, the results are still very encouraging from a pitcher who has been his own worst enemy in the past.

So what changed? In a word: command.

Bauer has simplified his approach, his repertoire and his delivery, the result of which has been a motion that he can repeat and a release point that he can find on a more consistent basis. He hasn’t thrown any screwballs, splitters or reverse sliders this season, according to the pitch classifications at the impeccable resource of Brooks Baseball. In the past, Bauer has changed sides of the rubber based on the handedness of the hitter, exaggerating the angle so as to sneak an additional advantage, but such a strategy takes a toll on release-point consistency; he has scrapped that idea this season, setting up on the same part of the rubber on every pitch. His velocity is more than a full tick above last season, but it is comparable to his pitch speeds from 2014, but now that he can locate the fastball by mastering simplicity, Bauer can unleash the power of his complexity and realize his potential.

It all comes down to pitch command. It’s that simple.

Wei-Yin Chen
After four years toiling in the hitter’s haven of Camden Yards, the expectation was that a move to a less flyball-friendly venue would do wonders for Chen’s counting stats. His approach seems tailor-made for the cavernous Marlins Park, and though Chen has done his part by essentially copy-pasting his rates of hits, strikeouts and walks from the American League on over to the National, his ERA has ballooned from the 3.35-4.05 range that it was with the Orioles to a career-worst mark of 5.00 even this season.

The main culprit: homers.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 18

2.1

6

7

0

2

1

77

June 13

6.0

4

7

4

1

7

104

Things have been rough the past two starts, but the scary fact is that things could have been much worse. All four of the home runs that he gave up to San Diego were solo shots, and he avoided homers in his last outing, but put the baserunners of the last game with the deep flies of the previous turn and you have the recipe for one of those horrific starts that takes months for an ERA to recover from.

Chen has always been susceptible to the longball, as evidenced by his career rate of 1.2 HR/9 entering this season, but the thought was that his homer rate would drop naturally with the change in home environment. Instead, Chen has given up a career-worst 1.7 HR/9 so far this season, coughing up a ridiculous 16 home runs in just 86 2/3 innings pitched. He gave up a whopping seven homers in a two-game stretch against the light-hitting Padres and Twins recently, followed by the six-run clunker in limited work against the Rockies in which he at least kept the ball in the yard.

To be fair, the problem has not been his home venue: Chen has given up six homers in nine home starts, covering 50 2/3 innings, but he has been beaten for 10 homers in just six road games of a combined 35 2/3 innings. Egregious homer totals often come down to, you guessed it: pitch command. A strike-thrower like Chen is particularly vulnerable to the functional difference between pitch command and control, as a pitcher that lives in and around the strike zone has to have the pinpoint command to keep the baseball away from the middle of the zone, especially a flyball pitcher like Chen who is not afraid to elevate. If he catches too much plate, the baseball often flies a long way.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe