“Romantic scouting date” is exactly what it sounds like: Ralph, myself, and a baseball game. We ventured up to slightly warmer weather than Hartford brought us a few weekends ago for more looks at Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Ralph wrote about it (right here) and I had a great time looking at the mechanics of Sean Reid-Foley (TOR) and Dillon Tate (NYY) on my Twitter feed.

For the sake of brevity, let’s get right into two pitchers I’ve had my eye on in this edition of Pitcher Thoughts.

Andrew Triggs

Triggs signature “hop” off of the mound is easy to notice. Some look at their fantasy assets like soul-less stat producers, but I have a heart. I enjoy pitchers with unique attributes, whether statistically or aesthetically. While Triggs’ hop and true sidearm delivery both place him in the aesthetic category of unique, a little strikeout jump early this season has edged up his profile to the point of relevance.

We’re not talking about Patrick Corbin levels of relevance, or even teammate Sean Manaea levels, but a sinker-ball pitcher with a slider-curveball combination and interesting alterations caught my eye.

Triggs’ slider was his go-to offering last year, a pitch that graded out well per Fangraphs’ Pitch Value metric, but even his elevated usage of the pitch couldn’t get him above 7 K/9. Come 2018, the righty has made his curveball the featured breaker, continued hurling a steady diet of sinkers, and added a four-seam fastball and changeup, the latter exclusively to left-handed hitters.

We typically don’t see a pitcher take a pitch, that on results alone, we’d consider “plus,” and decrease its usage. In fact, the majority of pitchers the industry has gravitated towards in the early going have actually embraced their best breaking balls (Corbin is a great example).

While I can spin this as negative, wondering why a pitcher would deviate from a successful pitch, the positive train of thought is equally as satisfying: Triggs has a feel two breaking balls. Even if we haven’t seen both pitches succeed concurrently (his slider has been mediocre this season), it’s feel nonetheless.

My claim of feel is moderately backed up by his standing on spin rate leaderboards and his location, particularly with his curveball, after a year where his slider stole the show. Spin isn’t the end-all-be-all of pitch effectiveness, but it’s a useful data point given research done to show the connection of spin to break and eventually to whiffs.

Triggs’ curveball sits in the 86th percentile of the league among pitchers who have thrown curves at least 25 times. He’s been able to locate the pitch well this season, but the same can’t be said for his slider, which has been around the plate and elevated more than he would like (source: BaseballSavant).

Yet elevation is something he has embraced with the four-seamer he added, locating it consistently in the upper third of the zone. Below is a visual of this location for Triggs – good curveball location with upper-third fastball location. The theory behind this is simply to vary the eye level of a hitter. Even if a pitch isn’t “tunneled” well – which I often go to when talking about changeups – it can still be effective simply because of the variation in location in the zone.

I often find pitchers like Triggs and put them in a part of my brain that cites success as an effect of alteration, but the alteration itself isn’t met with changes that pass the peripheral sniff test (simplest way to tell is his sub-9 percent swinging strike rate, a few ticks below league average). Change something, hitters don’t expect it, and for a short to extended period of time – depending on the change and other variables – success in varying forms will be found. You can even spin this around in the other direction for hitters, the recurring theme being the league’s tendency to adjust back.

Triggs looks like a very different pitcher from last year. If my definition of “very different” possesses a lower bar to clear then so be it, but he’s mixing in two pitches that were obsolete last year, pivoted on his preferred breaking ball, and his results have been more promising than any point prior.

What I’d love to see is the re-development of his slider, a pitch that as you’ll see in the gif below, that has cutter-like action, but enough vertical drop to succeed if placed low in the zone like his curveball. That would give him two plus breaking balls with a sinker that sits right around league average. The product of that change could be whiffs and grounders, something that will never go out of style.

Triggs is a great AL-Only option, a streamer when the matchup feels right, and a deep-league darling. Don’t get too hyped up, but join me in hoping his slider rounds back into form.

J.A. Happ

A mini-theme of this column is fastball elevation. It’s something I wrote about recently for the St. Louis Cardinals SB Nation site, Viva El Birdos, I mentioned it in relation to Triggs above, and J.A. Happ has been the poster boy for it this season.

Another stellar start on Sunday (7 IP, 2 ER, 9 K) brings his elite strikeout and swinging strike rate further north. At 35 years old, to say the meddling Happ has found a second (or third?) wind is an understatement.

Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs details what I want to bring up better than I ever could, but I simply want to point out that the nature of what Happ is doing appears sustainable. He’s using a higher-spin fastball than he had last year up in the zone, to generate one of the strongest whiff-inducing heaters we’ll see all season in the league.

On top of that, he has reduced the spin on his sinker – which is a good thing; confusing, I know – and embraced the offering as a ground-ball pitch.

The two features of Happ’s resurgence combine to paint a picture of increased fastball usage, nearly 75 percent to be exact, something that I denounced with Triggs above. It’s a weird formula for success, but while some have taken the path of more breaking balls, others are zagging towards success with elevation and fastballs. As I will always say, baseball is weird and pitchers are even weirder.

Can you think of another pitcher with elevated fastball usage who has had a breakout 2018?

What about that Gerrit Cole guy from that big state in the south?

Razzball’s rest of season Player Rater has Happ as just about an SP3 (38th SP), and a top-150 player (143rd overall). I never thought I’d be comfortable with Happ as my third starter, but the year is 2018 and here we are. I could be convinced that regression is coming, especially given the futility of both his breaking balls, but for the time being, this approach seems odd enough that I think hitters will take issue with adjusting in a timely manner, more issue than they will in adjusting to Triggs.

 

If you want more pitcher thoughts, check out my Two Strike Approach podcast on Stitcher, iTunes/Podcast App, and Spotify.

If you like prospects, check out all the work Ralph and I do on the Razzball Prospect Podcast channel.

I’ll be back for more next monday and spoiler: it may or may not have to do with spin rate and/or tunneling.

Pull the trigger and follow me on Twitter!

@LanceBrozdow

More of my work…

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  1. Ian says:
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    Nice stuff as always. Trade my Solarte for Domingo Santana? Solarte is filling in at 3rd for me but I should have Rendon back soon. Domingo would be a 4th OF/Util for me if he gets going.
    I do like Solarte’s versatility. He could slide into 2nd or SS if Whit and Segura suck or get hurt.

  2. Lance

    Lance says:
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    @Ian:
    Thanks!

    I’d go with Santana rest of season and hope he turns it around/gets more playing time.

    I think the rest of season player rater agrees as well.

  3. OddBall Herrera says:
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    Happ reminds me of 2015/2016 Brandon McCarthy. Analysts kept pounding the table on how the ERA would eventually match the peripherals, but the guy had a way of looking great for strikeouts but also giving up loud contact in the zone. So we ended up with a 5 ERA and a 2.something xFIP.

    I just think in that stadium, with that division, he may keep putting up high strikeout numbers, but he’s also going to disappoint in terms of ‘ERA vs. expected ERA’.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @OddBall Herrera:
      This is an interesting take, I think the biggest thing to understanding is that he’s a pretty different pitcher now, the biggest of which being his newfound ground-ball tendency, which I think helps a ton in a tough AL East.

      He’s always been right around his peripherals as well through the latter part of his career too.

      I was perpetually low on Happ through the years, but it’s hard to dismiss how good his fastball looks.

      Guess we agree to disagree here!

  4. GrassyKnollRedding says:
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    Hey Lance, great in-depth stuff here!

    Am I right in assuming Luke Weaver won’t have the breakout everyone was expecting this year? He seemed to be cruising right along until the manager pushed him up a day to make him face the Cubs–handing his juicy matchup against CIN to Wacha–and since then Luke’s been smacked around by everyone. Please tell me I shouldn’t feel guilty about dropping a guy I took in the 11th round…

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @GrassyKnollRedding:
      Funny, I just got another question about this as well on Twitter.

      I think the expectations may have just been too high honestly. I personally always had him in this SP3-SP4 range and think he’s going to end up there by year’s end. I don’t know if he has the potential to be an ace-level pitcher in my eyes, but I think the aggregate floor is pretty high.

      He hasn’t abandoned the curve either, it’s still there, standard usage yesterday with the pitch. It’s just not a plus pitch, which is a distinction between a blow-up like Severino, where he adds a plus-plus CH to a plus-plus slider.

      His main problem is that his changeup hasn’t been as good, which could have to do with a plethora of things.

      Deep breaths on Weaver would be my advice.

  5. coacher says:
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    Good stuff, Lance.

    I just lost Corey Seagar.
    I have VIllar and Baez (elig at SS) so I need an MI.

    I’m looking at MI options in our 5×5 roto (OBP-HR-SB-R-RBI) and can go one of two ways. I can grab either Tulo or Pedroia and stash them on the DL after starting them a week or go ahead and grab a healthy dude. Lourdes Gurriel, Chad Pinder, Johan Camargo (qualifies at MI), Pat Valaika, Neil Walker, Miguel Rojas, Nick Ahmed, and Freddy Galvis are all interesting WW guys.

    What do you think?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @coacher:
      Thanks!

      Bummer too, hate seeing young guys like him go down.

      Pedroia would be the DL stash for me, I don’t trust Tulo at all.

      The boring, but safe pick is Galvis. He’s gonna play a ton and at least gives you some average floor. Gurriel is the upside-y pick, I just saw him out in Hartford before he got the call and I think his bat-to-ball is pretty legit, just more of a concern on playing time, staying power there.

      I don’t think you should be too attached to any of those though either, I might just play matchups on a daily/weekly basis.

      • dfrench23 says:
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        @Lance: Sounds good. Thanks.

      • coacher says:
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        @Lance: Someone just dropped Zobrist. Is he a better “add” than Galvis or Gurriel?

  6. Nightpandas says:
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    Lance

    Got an offer of Cueto for my Kingery…15 team keep 11

    Have already got Bichette Senzel Gleybar Eloy to cover…think i can get a few more years out of Johnny ?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Nightpandas:
      Ehh, would depend on how much I think Cueto puts me over the top, which given that I’m not the biggest Cueto guy, means he probably doesn’t.

      I’m holding Kingery in this spot.

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