Like a fool, I went and drafted wrong…
At the beginning of the season, I didn’t publically campaign for him (much) but I did take Blake Snell in probably a third of my 12/15 team leagues—like RazzSlam. Often I was targeting Snell, Burnes, Lynn as my SP1 from the backend draft slot. For Snell, I figured 1) the skill was still there (pitches were still decent and K rate was still good); 2) he’d won a CY in the past and was incredibly unlucky with the long ball in 2020 (29.4%); and 3) Moving out from Kevin Cash’s thumb and the AL East to the NL West and the friendly pitching atmosphere (literal and metaphorical) of the Padres’ and Petco Park would set him up for a very nice year much like Joe Musgrove, whom I did write about here before the season.
Well, that didn’t work out too well. Burnes and Lynn yes, but Snell not so much.
He started decent enough at the beginning of the year but the demons came out and danced in the pale moonlight of the May Gray in San Diego. His K-rate began to drop, walk rate began to rise, and especially away from Petco, his ERA inflated. I present to you, pain. From May on, Snell was essentially a hodgepadre… i.e. a specific sub-species of homeschooler. A high draft pick sank to be a lowly streamer. I’m not ashamed to cry…
He was a much different pitcher at home this year. K rate, BB rate, HR rate, and Batting Average Against all vastly different in downtown SD vs on the road. The order and dogma that was supposed to be Blake Snell the Ace, gave way to the chaos of a druidic hodgepadre. Oof.
As he spiraled deeper into chaos with more walks and fewer Ks, it came to a crescendo on July 28th with a 4 IP 7 ER 4 BB 1 K bomb at home(!) to Oakland. Snell got shelled. But then something happened, his walk rate plummeted and his K rate skyrocketed. He was working faster on the mound, yes, but there was something more. He was pitching more efficiently in addition to issuing fewer walks. The Ks became more consistent start to start, and the month became an August to remember.
So what happened in August? We know the Ks went up and the walks went down… but why?
Snell changed his pitch mix progressively through the season. Sometimes a single snapshot season to season doesn’t tell the full story, you gotta dig a little deeper and see what was happening through the process. Blake Snell was incorporating more fastballs into his pitch mix and finding the combinations that worked. Fastball usage increased and now has settled up around 60% at the expense of his changeup. It started around 20% this season, and now he has all but erased it. Also filling the void is his slider up to average around 30%.
He has simplified his approach. He’s gone the Robbie Ray route (minus the tight pants) where less is more. By doing so, it’s helped him reign in his command. Aside from command, the question then is, why is the simple approach more effective? What else has changed?
So his slider/curve is getting more drop compared to the last couple seasons, and more in line with the drop he had during his Cy Young season. More break creates further separation from the fastball. I suspect there’s more to it though, let’s keep going.
His curveball is also breaking more horizontally. So the slider is dropping more and the curve is sweeping more. But don’t get it twisted, the separation matters more because he’s throwing the fastball more. Batters see the 97 often first, and then the breaker changes the pace. So… that begs the question, how was he getting more break?
Beginning in the 2020 season, Snell adjusted his release point and lowered his arm slot to give his pitches a different look. And you can see there is at least some correlation between extending his horizontal release and getting better results. And least for him, the 3/4 release is repositioning his hand to create more break on the curve and more gyro spin on the slider.
We now know since August he’s throwing mostly fastball and slider, and ditched the changeup. We know he’s changed the look with release and shape as well. The last question then becomes, is he using those pitches in a different way?
Snell’s general fastball philosophy has remained the same (mostly up in the zone and above) but he is throwing more strikes, and specifically to RHB, he is staying away from them and the middle of the zone. He’s moving the fastball around the zone a bit more, but the strikes are the key. Starting counts with strikes puts the pitcher in the driver seat.
His pitch tunneling approach has gotten more effective. Not only are the fastballs creating more strikes, his breaking pitches (slider, curve) are simulating more strikes. “Coolwhip,” I hear you say, “WTF does that mean?”
He’s staying more in the shadow of the zone, and specifically, just below the zone but over the plate. Rather than completely burying them in the sand at the feet or out of the zone entirely, he’s keeping it closer to the zone and the greater gyro spin is also keeping the slider directed down instead of wild. So he’s making the breaking balls more tempting and throwing more strikes.
You do that, you get ahead with strikes and you become more efficient. You do THAT, good things usually follow. Fastballs high for strikes and breakers low for whiffs; pitch tunneling made better.
One other pitcher has done something similar this year…
Robbie Ray and his tight pants did the same thing! And he’s well on his way toward a Cy Young finalist bid. What Ray has done for most of the season is where Snell has found himself towards the end of it. Now their graphs are strikingly similar.
Ray has already given us the blueprint. Snell has a better array of pitches including a bump in velocity. If Snell continues this approach into next year he should prove to be a solid target with a chance at having a tight-pants Robbie Ray type of season in 2022. What a world we are in where Robbie Ray and Blake Snell have become the same pitcher. And strangely, that’s a good thing… for Snell.
I believe you are the resident Angels rooter?
I just asked G and he mentioned you’d be helpful on this one… Can I score a Jose Suarez take? Just grabbed him in a deeper dynasty for free. Idea being, I’m just gonna ride out the rest of Sept and see how his next few starts go. He’ll still be Minors eligible for my league if he doesn’t hit 200 Career IPs (he has 166 at the moment). So could be a decent trade candidate over the winter. Going to ask our guy Itch the same question in a min.
haha yes NUX, you follow me on twitter so it should be apparent.
I’m curious on Itch’s take to too, i’ve had Suarez in a 20 team dynasty league for a couple years. And trying to decide myself on keeping or selling. From what i’ve seen so far, he’s streamer for the rest of this year, watch the matchups etc see what lineups he can pick on. He’s a reverse split lefty with a good curve and decent change and sits about 93 on fb. His command has gotten a lot better as his usual prob is he lets too many men get on base. But I like what i’ve seen from him so far this season, could become a solid innings eater and potential #3
On another note. Zach Plesac or Brady Singer in akeeperleague?
Oof. My answer to that one probably changes monthly. As of right now its probably a dead heat, so I’ll lean into the better organization at developing pitchers and say Plesac.
On another note. Zach Plesac or Brady Singer in akeeperleague?
I thought I had made out like a Bandit when I traded Snell away. Guess not!
haha well, at least for the rest of this year, maybe you did.
And now Snell is out with an injury. The baseball gods mock me.
Yeah, of course this would happen right after writing up the post… good news is there’ll be plenty of time to recover.
What thoughts you regarding my 4 keepers? I have rostered:
First 4 listed are my current thought. Your opinion would be valued.
Bassitt is always undervalued, you could probably throw him back and redraft him easily
Nice post Mr. Whip. I have Snell rostered in my dynasty league and hadn’t really considered making him one of my 4 SP keepers. Guess I may have to.
Thanks for reading!