Winding Down | Pitchers Who Could Benefit From a Simplified Approach

A look at the pitchers who should wind down on the wind up

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From a young age, most pitchers are taught to pitch from both the wind up and set positions. It’s something that a majority of pitchers will carry with them for the duration of the careers. It’s something that we’ve grown to expect too – that a pitcher will work from the wind up with the bases empty and from the stretch when those bases are occupied. That’s what makes cases such as Alex Wood – who announced he would be ditching the wind up in 2018 – so interesting.

Wood hopes that eliminating the wind up will lead to greater consistency over the course of the season. As someone with a rather high maintenance delivery, cutting down on some of the excess movement in a wind up will allow him to better repeat his delivery leading to more consistent command, velocity, and sharpness on his pitches.

Of course Wood isn’t the first pitcher to make such a change. Ditching the wind up is a common adjustment made when pitchers settle into a relief role as having two different deliveries for one inning of work is often unnecessary. However, we’ve also seen a similar trend among starters in recent years. Stephen Strasburg pitched exclusively from the set for the first time in 2018 and had a near Cy Young campaign. After dealing with poor command early in his career, Carlos Carrasco also made the decision to lose his wind up and has enjoyed plenty of success since. There are others too.

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So if we know there are pitchers out there who have had success after losing the wind up – might there be more out there?

To answer this question, I started by looking at the change in velocity each pitcher showed when going from the wind up to the stretch in 2017. If a pitcher loses significant velocity when pitching from the stretch then he probably isn’t a great candidate for this exercise. Of the 110 pitchers in the sample 79 actually exhibited fastball velocities from the stretch equal to or greater than their wind up velocities for which their are two likely explanations:

  1. The split used in this was actually ‘Bases Empty’ vs ‘Runners On’. While this is a reasonably proxy for stretch vs wind up, many pitchers will still pitch from the wind up at times despite having runners on base.
  2. Having runners on base is a higher leverage situation than when the bases are empty and therefore pitchers will often try to throw harder in order to prevent the runner from scoring.

Nonetheless, as a filter it serves its purpose. I then compared pitchers walk rates with the bases empty and with runners on. The results look like this:

NAME VELO Wind VELO Stretch VELO DELTA BB DELTA
Jharel Cotton 93.4 92.4 -1 4.97%
Drew Pomeranz 91.2 91.5 0.3 4.92%
Eduardo Rodriguez 93.5 92.7 -0.8 4.54%
Dylan Bundy 91.9 92.2 0.3 4.01%
Aaron Nola 92 91.8 -0.2 3.67%
Jason Vargas 85.5 86 0.5 3.43%
Mike Clevinger 92.4 92.5 0.1 3.06%
Rich Hill 89.2 89 -0.2 2.80%
Sonny Gray 92.8 92.5 -0.3 2.37%
Ty Blach 89.8 90.4 0.6 2.35%
Antonio Senzatela 94.4 94.1 -0.3 2.35%
Sean Manaea 91.7 91.7 0 1.86%
Marco Estrada 89.7 90.1 0.4 1.71%
Charlie Morton 95 95.1 0.1 1.48%

The two columns to note here are the two rightward columns which show the change in velocity and walk rate respectively. While Jharel Cotton and Eduardo Rodriguez both saw significant improvements in their walk rates when pitching from the set position the 1mph trade off in fastball velocity likely negates them from a change like this. However, for most of the other pitchers on this list, pitching exclusively from the set could prove advantageous.

Of course, with an adjustment like this you want to be sure it’s not coming at the expense of a pitcher’s stuff. To do that let’s now add in each pitcher’s strike out rate:

NAME VELO Wind VELO Stretch VELO DELT BB DELT K DELT KD+BBD
Drew Pomeranz 91.2 91.5 0.3 4.92% 5.24% 10.16%
Eduardo Rodriguez 93.5 92.7 -0.8 4.54% 3.90% 8.44%
Mike Clevinger 92.4 92.5 0.1 3.06% 4.14% 7.20%
Dylan Bundy 91.9 92.2 0.3 4.01% 0.68% 4.69%
Charlie Morton 95 95.1 0.1 1.48% 3.17% 4.65%
Aaron Nola 92 91.8 -0.2 3.67% 0.20% 3.87%
Sean Manaea 91.7 91.7 0 1.86% 1.67% 3.53%
Marco Estrada 89.7 90.1 0.4 1.71% 0.84% 2.55%
Sonny Gray 92.8 92.5 -0.3 2.37% -0.23% 2.14%
Jason Vargas 85.5 86 0.5 3.43% -1.73% 1.70%
Rich Hill 89.2 89 -0.2 2.80% -1.65% 1.15%
Ty Blach 89.8 90.4 0.6 2.35% -2.51% -0.16%
Jharel Cotton 93.4 92.4 -1 4.97% -6.00% -1.03%
Antonio Senzatela 94.4 94.1 -0.3 2.35% -7.19% -4.84%

Focusing again on the two rightward columns, you will now find the change in strikeout rate and then the sum of the change in strikeout rate and the change in walk rate. As with the other metrics a higher score is better.

If for some odd reason, Drew Pomeranz finds himself reading this, let me say 1) thank you for reading and 2) Drew, have a think about pitching exclusively from the stretch in 2018. As you can see in the table above, pitching with runners on (from the stretch) Pomeranz has enjoyed a 10% (!!!) increase in his K-BB%. That’s a huge uptick (approximately two standard deviations for those of you more statistically inclined) – more than the difference between a good starter and a great one. The same can be said for Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Clevinger. On the other end of the spectrum, Jharel Cotton and Antonio Senzatela would be well advised to avoid pitching from the stretch wherever possible.

As we have seen, simplifying a pitcher’s approach can prove to be the final piece of the puzzle in many player’s development. Cutting out the excess movement found in a wind up can allow for greater consistency in a pitcher’s release leading to better command and overall quality of their pitches. Though every case should be considered individually, perhaps some of these pitchers would benefit from winding down on their wind ups.

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