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Looking at pitcher release points

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, January 5th, 2022

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Thank God for Baseball Savant. If it weren’t for that marvelous website, I don’t know how I’d be coming up with new stuff for these Rockpiles when MLB is in a total stoppage. Thanks to Savant, however, we have new stuff, and this week we’re going to be taking a look at release points, one of the most important unsung heroes behind almost every great pitcher. Major League hitters are great at picking up on small mechanical differences that let them know when a different pitch is coming, and this is magnified now in the age of advanced video scouting and, uh, cheating, so it’s very important for pitchers to be consistent with their release points. If you drop your arm on a slider, a hitter is going to notice. If you get too on top a curveball, teams are going to know and hammer it.

We’re going to take a look at the release points of most Rockies pitchers that look to have a significant role on the staff heading into 2022 (the ones I have significant data for), and see if we can find something weird or cool with their release points. I’ve used the Savant Illustrator for this purpose before, when talking about how Kyle Freeland was tipping his pitches in May/June of last season, so I get to play around with one of its features yet again. I’d also like to hear if the data corroborates what you, the reader, see in games, or adds something you never noticed. Let’s see what we have here.

Germán Márquez

Let’s start with the ace of the staff:

Germán is very good at keeping his fastball and slider coming out of the same arm slot, but he does tend to raise it ever so slightly on his knuckle-curve. One interesting thing to note here is that his changeup is also often coming out of the same slot as his fastball/slider, despite it being a pitch he has very little confidence in. I’ve long believed the cambio to be the key for Márquez’s next step as a pitcher, and this doesn’t change my opinion,

Antonio Senzatela

This I could’ve told you without Statcast data. Senza’s release point gets noticeably (on TV, at least) higher on curveballs, while the fastball-slider-change combination is more consistent. He sometimes drops his arm on heaters too, which needs to be fixed. Can’t be a pitch to contact guy and give away what you’re throwing.

Kyle Freeland

I’ve written about Freeland before, as I’ve said, so there’s not really a lot of new ground to go over here. His arm slot is consistent between his fourseam-curve mix and his sinker-slider-change mix, but not in between other mixes. It’s especially noticeable between the four-seamer and the slider.

Austin Gomber

Fairly similar to Freeland, Gomber has some dispersion, most noticeable on his changeup. He’s improved with his consistency over the years, by the way, but there’s still a bit of work to.

So far, this looks pretty standard, right? Germán is the best at being consistent among the four important starters (unsurprising), Freeland has some issues, etc. But -and this is a first for me- the bullpen is where it gets interesting. Let’s see.

Daniel Bard

Okay, THAT is a problem. The difference in release point between Bard’s four-seamer and slider is very easy to see, and this absolutely helps explain how a guy with such crazy stuff can get hit so hard and so often. Same goes for his changeup, too, so this is a very real issue. And now, for someone who’s basically the exact opposite:

Tyler Kinley

Much better, isn’t it? This really does help explain why Kinley’s slider is so good. He has an issue with homers, but the walks came down last season and that breaking ball is filthy. Look for Kinley to be a pretty good reliever next season (heard it here first). And speaking of another solid reliever:

Carlos Estévez

Estévez’s cambio became a fantastic weapon for him in 2021, and you can see part of the reason here. A guy who used to be a typical fastball-slider-throw-em-as-hard-as-you-can reliever now has two non-fastballs he throws, one for each handedness, and he does a fine job with his release points. His change generates a .217 xwOBA against last season, a terrific number, and I’d bet on him throwing more of it next season.

Jhoulys Chacín

Aside from a few low arm slot sinkers, which were likely intentional, Chacín is remarkably consistent. You probably don’t even see his slider there, which he threw 209 times, because it’s perfectly in sync with his curveball and sinker/four-seamer combination. Nice stuff!

Robert Stephenson

Here’s a slight issue. Stephenson’s four-seamer and curve are pretty much out of the same slot, but his slider can get a bit up there. It’s not a massive change, but it’s noticeable enough when compared to some other guys. Perhaps that’s why his slider usage dropped like crazy as soon as he got to Colorado, as I noted in a previous piece about him? I don’t know, but at least it’s a semi-plausible explanation.

Lucas Gilbreath

And finally, Lucas Gilbreath. The lefty had a great under-the-radar season last year (3.38 ERA in 42.2 IP, striking out over a batter per frame) by making use of his fastball-slider combo, and he tunnels the heck out of those two pitches. Consider Gilbreath one of the few relievers that intrigue me moving forward.

So, who and what jumped out to me? Bard was the one who clearly needs a fix, and I was pleasantly surprised by both Estévez and Gilbreath. I also noticed some issues with the slider/fastball blending for some guys, and not a whole lot of variety in terms of different arm slots throughout the staff. Release point consistency is one of the most important aspects of good pitching, and it can help a pitcher’s raw stuff play up. If you don’t believe, check out Shane Bieber’s release points:

Bieber doesn’t really throw all that hard for modern standards, but his ability to make all of his pitches look the same out of his hand is a big reason why he is the pitcher he is. Simultaneously, poor consistency can make a good pitch in a vaccuum be a lot more hittable in game, because MLB hitters are great and they will pick up on any missteps, and if they don’t, the pre-game preparation will take care of it. Such is life in baseball in 2021.

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