First off, go read Ralph’s post on Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. I always assumed – and I could be wrong – that many think us Razzball-ers are confined to our computers, changing our eyeglass prescription on a monthly basis as we go bleary-eyed from starting at our MLB.tv streams and Baseball Savant tabs. That is hogwash. Once a week, I make sure to step outside for an increment of 15-20 minutes. On Saturday, I took a leap of faith and decided to extend that window to a whole three hours as I absorbed a Hartford Yard Goats (this is their terrifyingly fantastic mascot) game with the almighty @ProspectJesus and fellow Razzball-ite @PaulTheMartin. It was a grand time, with extended looks at multiple top-20 prospects.
Alas, that is not what this post is about. I just couldn’t think of an intro and I wanted to brag about my weekend.
More bragging: we’ve been slaughtering it here on Razzball of late. Grey has made some fantastic sleeper calls including Patrick Corbin and others. My last pitcher-based column included Dylan Bundy, Jose Berrios, and Joey Lucchesi, three pitchers who spun fantastic outings in the past week and likely weeks to come.
Watching copious amount of baseball over the last 10 days, I noticed a slew of pitchers who were either up or down in velocity on certain pitches or entire repertoires. Analysis tends to hover around this data point for the first month of the season simply because it doesn’t take a lot for pitch velocity to stabilize, especially compared to other statistics we love to look at.
A lot of these risers and fallers, you likely already know about (think Kenley Jansen). So instead, I chose two pitchers with changes in velocity that can be linked to another aspect of their performance; maybe a little bit under the radar…
Changeup up 1.1 mph
Qualification: I didn’t have access to Berrios’ data on Brooks Baseball or Baseball Savant from his Saturday start while writing this blurb.
Berrios’ inclusion on this list is one part velocity and one part presumed pitch manipulation. Circling back to splits is something I tend to do often. Pitchers with a breaking ball as their primary offspeed pitch tend to have natural platoon splits. For right-handed pitchers, this often means they’re often working to lessen damage left-handed hitters will do against them. Jose Berrios is no different. While his issues weren’t as great as some, left-handed hitters posted a wOBA of .341 against him last year compared to right-handed hitters mustering only a .269 mark (median wOBA in 2017 was right around .330).
While Berrios’ two-seamer is likely one of the reasons he doesn’t get destroyed by left-handed bats, my willingness to edge him up a notch comes with the development of his changeup. A pitch he threw only 14 percent of the time to left-handed hitters kicked up to 20 percent in his first start. Aligning with the theme of this column, the pitch also saw an increase in velocity of roughly 1.1 mph. It’s not an eye-opening uptick, but with changeups, a small differential in velocity can matter. Success of changeups often come from velocity differentials off of a pitcher’s fastball. The most basic knowledge being that a changeup around 10+ mph of differential to a pitcher’s fastball will generate more whiffs, while one with a smaller gap 7-8 mph off of a fastball will help to induce more groundballs.
Berrios’ differential has gone from exactly 10 mph in 2017 to 8.7 mph so far this season. This suggest that the pitch might be more inclined to generate groundballs, something overall last season Berrios did at a below-average rate. There is a chance after we see the data from his start on Saturday – where I’ll note from a glance, his changeup usage was lower than average – Berrios will look a lot more like he did last year.
I don’t think it’s solely a coincidence, however, that his nine-inning gem came with elevated usage and superb location of the pitch to the Orioles. I’ll leave you with two looks at this pitch that provide a example of how feel-based changeups can sometimes be (see below). The 82-mph offering to Dee Gordon has a lot more depth compared to the 85-mph pitch to Robinson Cano. The velocity uptick might be a matter of Berrios acclimating himself to the pitch this season, or it might be alteration of his grip. I endorse the result of either result, simply because it might be signaling an elevated confidence in the pitch. If Berrios’ changeup improves, we’re looking at a fringe SP2 with an even higher ceiling.
I think there is a small buy-low window here with Berrios if his/her owner in your league considers his most recent rough-up better representative of his future. With the development of this pitch, we might see many more like his complete game as opposed to a struggle to get through five innings.
Four-Seamer down 1.6 mph
Two-Seamer down 1 mph
Changeup down 1.2 mph
Slider down 2.5 mph
Castillo’s velocity changes are across the board as opposed to an acute instance like Berrios. Unfortunately, there isn’t an uptick like one often hopes for. The reason myself and others were all-in on Castillo coming into this season comes from the two-seamer he added during the second half of last season. Combining the use of that pitch with the elevation of his relatively flat four-seamer allowed for the pitch to spike in effectiveness due to manipulation of the hitter’s eye level (and other factors). Mixed that in with his plus-plus changeup and plus slider, and we were looking at pitcher who could finally establish his fastball early in counts to bring him to his secondary offerings with being touched up.
Fast-forward to 2018 and everything Castillo lovers thought is wrong. His changeup usage has spiked, with his two-seamer usage higher and four-seamer lower than expected. My general speculation is that even with a strong changeup-to-fastball differential (still 10 mph in 2018), the drop in velocity of both pitchers might be making it easier for hitters to react and adjust. But that doesn’t explain why his slider has become a non-factor in the early going.
His release point on all of his pitches seem to be out of wack too. While he never possessed extremely structured, clean and repeatable mechanics (reminding me of Carlos Martinez aesthetically), his delivery worked based on his feel and bevy of options. Brooks baseball data is showing he may have raised his arm slot, which would naturally throw off his release point in a variety of directions. This is one of many factors I’ve speculated on that could be affecting his ability to succeed early on.
Even with all this said, and the overall dip in effectiveness, his swinging-strike rate has actually gone up to around 16 percent (4 percent increase). I hate to see a pitcher I’m high on start like this, but given what we know about his repertoire and deception, I’m leaning towards this being a fixable issue and one he can right the ship on sooner than later.
Castillo still has one of my favorite changeups in all of baseball. Here his first of the game to Harrison over the weekend, on the harder side compared to the average arm, but extremely deceptive and effective, even with his struggles.