Do me a favor and watch this home run Jake Bird gave up in Monday’s ballgame to Padres youngster C.J. Abrams, on a hanging curveball:
C.J. Abrams - San Diego Padres (2)— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) July 12, 2022
Now watch this one from Cody Bellinger about two weeks ago, on a sinker right at the knees. Do you notice anything different?
Cody Bellinger - Los Angeles Dodgers (10)— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) June 30, 2022
Do you see it? If not, here’s a clue: watch Bird’s release, and the height and angle of his throwing hand as the ball is about to be hurled towards home plate. Here’s the side-by-side comparison. The sinker to the left, the curveball to the right:
That’s quite clear, isn’t it? Bird’s release point on his curveball is noticeably higher than on his sinker (and cutter). Major Leaguer hitters, front offices and coaching staffs are smart, and even though Bird has barely pitched in the Big Leagues so far, you can bet that the scouting report is out there. Let’s dive into Bird’s career, his repertoire, and the importance of fixing this issue.
The Trajectory of Jake Bird
Bird, who went to UCLA, pitched as a starter in his final few seasons in college. The Rockies drafted him in the 5th round of the 2018 Draft, deployed him as a multi-inning reliever right out of the gate, and he performed well, keeping his ERA below 4 in extremely high run-scoring environments. After losing the 2020 Minor League season, Bird put himself on the map starting in 2021 after responding brilliantly to his Double-A assignment (2.21 ERA across 20.1 IP and a tremendous 70.9% groundball rate) and more than holding his own in the high-octane PCL after a quick promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque. After getting a non-roster invite to 2022 Spring Training, he repeated the AAA level to start the 2022 season and knifed his way through it, putting up a 2.77 ERA in 26.0 IP and combining striking out almost a third of all batters faced with a 64.4% groundball rate. He was called up to Colorado’s main roster on June 11th, just over a month, and hasn’t gone back down yet.
There are many great attributes that Jake Bird possesses. For starters, he’s a low-slot, sidearming right-hander, which is a different mechanical look from almost every pitcher on the Rockies roster. The value of showing hitters different looks is hard to quantify, but normal logic and the modus operandi of many of the best pitching teams in the Majors (the Rays, Brewers, etc) says it’s a legitimate strategy.
Another point for Bird: unlike most low-slot relievers, he has very good velocity. His sinker averages 95.3 MPH and has significant tailing action, generating groundballs in bunches. He throws a low 90’s cutter and his breaking ball (which Savant calls a curveball) is around 81-83 MPH, both with glove-side movement. That he has two different speeds on pitches that move away from righties and towards lefties helps them play up, and it seems like a truly good arsenal overall. Three speeds, three shapes, good velocity, all from a funky, low-slot release point. That seems like the blueprint for a rock-solid reliever who can work good innings for a decade. Can it all be so simple, then? No, not yet.
The Release Point Problem
As we mentioned right at the start of the piece, Bird’s release point is not quite consistent across the board:
This is a significant problem. If batters can pick up on it (and they probably can), Bird becomes predictable, and his stuff is not overwhelming enough to bully hitters anyway. The tricky part is that, of course, fixing this is not as simple as it might seem. Lowering his arm slot on his breaking ball to pair with his normal release point should be what Bird does, but that type of change can very easily lead to a significant change in pitch movement. I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a positive, by the way. We talked last week about Daniel Bard’s sweeping slider and its benefits, after all, but this type of change can be tough to make in the middle of a season.
It’s a change that absolutely needs to happen, however. If batters start taking away Bird’s breaking ball, they’re going to hit him, period. There’s a version of Jake Bird that features his nasty low-slot sinker and a cutter-sweeping slider combination that would be a proper high leverage reliever, and here’s to hoping it can be unlocked.
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A brilliant piece from Danielle Allentuck about Yonathan Daza’s life and all the harsh turns it has taken until he finally arrived in the Major Leagues. Must read.
Yes, it’s not a Rockies-related piece, but it’s a great look at how a young, modern hitting coach (Fuller is 32) approaches helping guys. Good swing decisions, swing planes matching up with opposing pitchers... etc. It’s an interesting read.
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On The Farm
A rare, low scoring ballgame in the PCL. Antonio Senzatela started this one for Albuquerque in a rehab outing, and did well (5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR), getting the win and passing the baton to the bullpen, which allowed just one more run the rest of the way. The Isotopes actually struck out 16 times, yet managed to put up five runs in large part thanks to a bases-clearing double from first baseman D.J. Peterson in the top of the 4th inning. Right sequencing, good pitching, and that’s a win for the now 40-45 Isotopes in the series opener against Sacramento. Ashton Goudeau (0-3, 12.46 ERA) will get the start for ABQ today in the second ballgame of the set.
D.J. Peterson ropes a bases-clearing double to the right field wall! Turn the music up!— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) July 13, 2022
M4: Isotopes 4, River Cats 0 pic.twitter.com/ybGuWcnfeb
The Yard Goats (49-33) showed a lot of fight, coming back from an early hole, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback. Tony Locey, making his second Double-A start, was pretty wild and got shelled and pulled in the second inning (1.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 0 K, 1 HR). Hartford was in a 6-0 deficit heading into the 4th inning. They outscored Harrisburg 7-2 the rest of the way, with some standout performances like Grant Lavigne (2-for-4 with his first Double-A home run, a walk and three RBI), Kyle Datres (3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI) and Hunter Stovall (3-for-5 with a triple). Michael Toglia and Daniel Montano each had a double and a walk, too. The Yard Goats put the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth, but they couldn’t bring it in. Their starter for today’s ballgame is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
Grant Lavigne CRUSHES this ball to right! His first home run since being promoted to AA Hartford! pic.twitter.com/1cVgiGUxuw— Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) July 13, 2022
Spokane is now 41-38 after a dominant win in Eugene. Starter Andrew Quezada dominated for six innings (6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and the lineup backed him up, with five different players with at least two hits. In particular, Zac Veen (3-for-6 with a home run, a stolen base and three RBI), Julio Carreras (3-for-5 with a double, a homer and two RBI) and Warming Bernabel (3-for-5 with a home run) pounded Emeralds pitching. Bernabel is hitting .346 and slugging .808 with only two strikeouts in his first 26 plate appearances in High-A. Spokane scored six runs in the fifth inning, including four two-out runs. Mike Ruff (5-5, 4.00 ERA) gets the ball today for the second game of the six-game series.
It’s tough to win a game when you use seven pitchers and all but one of them gives up at least one run, and the Grizzlies had their five-game win streak snapped. It was a disastrous performance all around, as Fresno pitchers handed out 13 (!!) walks and gave up 11 hits, and you can’t win that way. The Grizzlies hit well themselves, with 14 hits (six of them for extra bases), but it wasn’t enough. The best Fresno batters were Juan Guerrero (3-for-5 with a homer), Juan Brito (2-for-3 with two walks) and Benny Montgomery (2-for-4 with a double and a walk). Adael Amador and Yanquiel Fernández added home runs of their own, and they’ll try to spearhead the Grizzlies against the Quakes today, as right-hander Case Williams (7-2, 4.38 ERA) takes the mound, looking for his fourth win in a row.
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