Quick Hits: Jacob deGrom and Sam Gaviglio Have Changed Their Pitch Mix

I’ve got more ideas for pieces than I might have ever had, but I’m also in the midst of moving. I can’t flesh out all of them at this moment, but below are some worthwhile tidbits for you to enjoy.

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Sam Gaviglio is working out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays this year and it’s going really well. He’s one of only 20 relievers to register at least 10 innings pitched so far — 305 have recorded outs, per FanGraphs — and there’s good reason. He has a 26% K-rate and a 21.4 K-BB rate. The only other times he’s done that were 2011, in four innings at Low-A; 2013, in nine innings in rookie ball; and 2018, in 29 innings at AAA.

His last stint in the minors would suggest some change, but he came up and produced a sub-par whiff rate for Toronto in nearly four times as many innings. As a guy who can barely break 90 mph, it might be fair to consider if this is just a flukey April performance. But he’s made a real change to his pitch mix this year. 

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Gaviglio’s primary pitch has become his slider, which is creating whiffs at a 26% clip. That’s nine percent better than league average. Last year it was just above average, at 19%. He’s tightened up the shape of it, but the results are a while off from us being able to fully buy in on his performance so far. It seems legitimate, though. The benefit really seems to be from trading a pitch that doesn’t get any whiffs for almost anyone — the sinker — for the one that generates the most.

Gaviglio’s got a spot in the bullpen that seems to suit his newly adapted skill set. He has a pitch that can get hitters to miss and one that they can drive into the ground, and he’s prioritizing them in that order. And remember, most guys throw harder when moved to a relief role because they can spend more energy on each pitch without having to worry about turning over the lineup multiple times. Maybe we even see a velo bump out of him at some point that helps his stuff play up even more. He’s not getting a lot of buzz right now, but he’s pretty intriguing.

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Everyone is entitled to a bad day, even when you’ve had a record-tying amount of consecutive good days. But now Jacob deGrom has had two uncharacteristic starts in a row and we haven’t seen that kind of performance from him since May of 2017. He’s gone just nine innings in his last two starts and has given up nine runs, five homers, and  five walks, to go with 12 Ks. His velocity is fine. The ball is juiced again. But there’s still some weird stuff happening under the hood.

One is that his pitch mix has changed. He’s siphoned away from the pitches he uses least — his curveball and two-seamer — and replaced them almost all with four-seamer, which he’s now throwing more than 50% of the time. He’s never done that in his entire career.

His nasty slider has also straightened out. As a dominant pitch, it’s never had a ton of drop or bite, but now it’s lost about a half inch on both horizontal and vertical break. The results have not been pretty. Batters are slapping it to the tune of a .474 wOBA. The league average hovers slightly above .260 and last year, batters only squeaked out a .206 wOBA against deGrom’s. These numbers are far from stable — his only has six hits against it — but pitch shape actually stabilizes really fast. It’s odd.

DeGrom is also throwing the slider 1.3 mph faster, and he isn’t spotting it well. It’s going more clearly out of the zone instead of painting the edge. His fastball has also been all over, and it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a tiny mechanical issue going on.

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Below are two stills from right before deGrom brings his arm up as he delivers the ball to the plate. They’re both from Citi Field. On the left is from 2018, and on the right is from this year. In each, he’s throwing a slider.

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Maybe I’ve stared at this too long, but it seems like he was more open to the plate last year, and that he’s more compact this year. We can see this in his throwing hand being closer to his body and his hips being slightly more closed this year. At 6’4″, he’s got big levers, and maybe he isn’t optimizing them right now. These are tiny details, but we all know that tiny details can scale big in this game.

You can look at the clips here and here and play it slowly for yourself if you’d like. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on deGrom moving forward for reasons we probably didn’t expect.

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That’s all for now. Keep your eyes peeled for a similar post on hitters as we settle into our new place. Until then, may you consume as much baseball as possible.

All data from Statcast unless specified. Feature photo: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/NewsDay

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