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The Rockies version of Dinelson Lamet

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

When the Rockies claimed Dinelson Lamet from the Milwaukee Brewers back in early August, I was one of many who loved the move as a low-risk, potentially high-upside move. Lamet’s career is a tale we’ve all heard many times: a talented pitcher with an electric arm, slowed down by injury and inconsistency. The former Padre was less than two years removed from a masterful 2020 season in which he put up a 2.09 ERA across 69.0 IP, striking over a third of all batters faced and netting a fourth-place Cy Young finish. Lamet then had some injury scares (including a close shave with having to get Tommy John surgery), ended up being moved to the bullpen, and struggled in San Diego, allowing 36 earned runs in 59.1 innings between 2021 and parts of 2022. He was sent to Milwaukee as part of the Josh Hader deal but never pitched a game for the Brewers, who designated him for assignment on August 5th. The Rockies picked him up and close to a month later, Lamet has worked 8.2 frames for Colorado, striking out nine and walking only three. His ERA sits at a sterling 2.08 in purple. What is Lamet’s profile as a pitcher? What’s he doing differently? Is he doing anything differently? And could Coors Field be helping him in a way?

The Slide Piece

Lamet’s best pitch has always been his slider, a multi-faceted breaking ball with hard, sharp, vertical movement that’s quite similar to Germán Márquez’s curveball. You can see it in action down below:

If you noticed, I said multi-faceted, and that’s because it truly is that. For years, Lamet has been known to modify the shape and velocity of his slider at will, sometimes throwing it harder and with less break, sometimes throwing what’s almost a hard curveball. This has continued in 2022, and with the Rockies as well: Lamet’s thrown his slider as hard as 87.7 MPH (he can tune it all the way up to almost 90 MPH), and as slow as 83.9 MPH. And look at the variance in slider movement he’s had this season:

Baseball Savant

You’re reading that chart right. Lamet’s thrown sliders with about 25 inches of difference in terms of horizontal and vertical movement. This gives him three pitches in one: a hard cutter, a normal slider, and a hard curveball. All three are variations of the slider. Lamet’s breaker has been its usual self with the Rockies: high usage (53.5%) lots of soft contact, a 42.1% strikeout rate and great results all around. That hasn’t changed, although he is throwing it for strikes less often than with San Diego (42.9% in Colorado, 49.3% as a Padre), which I’d like to see change. That hasn’t been different about Lamet in Colorado.

The Fastball Changes

For just about his entire career, Lamet threw two different fastballs: a four-seamer and a sinker, both around 96 MPH. His sinker is called that by pitch tracking systems, but it’s really tough to call it that based on movement:

Baseball Savant

What you’re looking at is a chart that represents pitch movement. The oval shapes represent the movement of Lamet’s pitches in 2022, and the gear-shaped circles represent league average movement for each type. Red is the four-seam, orange the sinker, yellow the slider. Check out that “sinker”, which actually sinks less than his four-seamer. This has always been the case for Lamet, by the way: his sinker is not a sinker, it’s a running fastball that moves towards righties. That tailing fastball (a pitch type that tends to have significant platoon splits) had already seen its usage go down, but it’s been flat out removed from his repertoire since becoming a Rockie:

Baseball Savant

There’s a change he’s made: the sinker is gone. But is it a significant change? Not to me, really. He always used his four-seamer more, and it’s not like the Rockies have put a fantastic pitch on the shelf: Lamet’s “sinker” has always been hit quite hard, it’s never been a groundball pitch, and it’s likely that the four-seam tunnels better with his breaking ball, so it doesn’t look surprising to me that the Rockies decided to scrap it.

It’s an interesting pitch, however, at least from a data standpoint. If Lamet’s sinker were to be considered a four-seamer, it would compare favorably to, say, Pirates closer David Bednar’s four seamer, a very good pitch. Lamet’s sinker drops only 12.7 inches, runs 12.4 inches to the armside and is thrown at 95.6 MPH. There’s not a single four-seam fastball with that combination of traits among qualified pitchers, and if you watch video of it, you might just be puzzled as to why the Rockies look to have removed it from his arsenal.

I have no real answers for that, of course, only guesses. Pitches don’t work in a vacuum, they work in tandem, and better pitch tunneling could be a reason for it. It’s entirely possible to have too much movement, to the point where your pitches are easier to identify. Lamet never had that problem thanks to his slider’s gravity-helped, gyro-spin movement profile, but he is having some issues getting batters to chase in 2022 that have continued so far as a Rockie: his chase rate is a very low 22.5% so far, mainly a result of hitters not going after fastballs out of the zone (11.1% chase rate on heaters so far, small sample size warning). This is where I’d throw a sinker here and there against righties, but I’m no expert.

Could Coors Help Lamet?

That’s the thing, really. Lamet hasn’t done things all that differently in Colorado compared to what he was doing as a Padre. He’s throwing a few more sliders out of the zone and he’s scrapped the sinker, but he didn’t use it a lot to begin with. He’s throwing a similar number of pitches in the strikezone, getting a similar number of chases, and so on. What Lamet has excelled at so far has been soft contact: his average exit velo has been 83.9 MPH, and his expected slash line against (.179/.293/.302) isn’t all that different from his actual slash line against (.161/.278/.290). This is mostly because of his four-seamer, which has been a heavy groundball pitch as a Rockie (2.1º launch angle against). Lamet throws from a relatively over-the-top angle similar to Antonio Senzatela which, combined with gravity, gives his fastball more sink than expected when he throws it down in the zone. I suspect that and his slider’s profile was a big part of why the Rockies liked him and wasted no time in claiming him.

With the obvious warning of a very small sample size (8.2 innings so far), there’s a possibility that since Lamet isn’t doing anything differently (at least that I can see), this could be a rare case where pitching at altitude helps a hurler and his mix. Lamet’s slider is great because of his ability to manipulate it, its good tunnel with his fastball, and because of its gyro spin. This type of pitch isn’t affected by the thin air of Coors Field as much as other because it creates movement based on gravity, not perfect spin. Again, think Germán Márquez’s curveball (which is really a gyro slider in disguise). And his fastball, which has never been a dominant pitch for him, now gets the Coors boost of extra gravity to help it sink a bit more.

It’s not a perfect mix, but it gives Lamet a strong combination: a wipeout pitch he can throw in any count, and a groundball heater he can throw in the zone with more confidence. Lamet has been getting higher and higher leverage spots for Bud Black as of late, and aside from a little meltdown in St. Louis, has been nails in purple and could end up a great setup man for Daniel Bard if he keeps gaining confidence. He’ll be a free agent after 2023, remember, not 2022. Wouldn’t it be something if the Rockies “fixed” a pitcher for once?

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The Jordan Hicks Dilemma: A Quantitative Analysis of Pitch Tunneling, Arsenal Coherence, and Stuff-Based Evaluation | BaseballCloudBlog

This is very much a data-centric piece on pitch arsenals and the concept of tunneling, but it’s a fantastic one (written by Maxwell Resnick) that provides analysis and examples to answer the question “why doesn’t this supposedly filthy pitch draw poor swings?”. Highly recommend you check it out. And, by the way, a certain Rockie appears in the article, garnering high praise.

On The Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes @ Sugar Land Space Cowboys

The contest was postponed due to “wet grounds” according to the MiLB dot com scoreboard, so there’s that. Zach Neal (5-5, 6.85 ERA) will take the mound today for Albuquerque.

Double-A: Reading Fightin’ Phils 3, Hartford Yard Goats 7

It was a 3-3 ballgame after six frames, but Hartford (69-51) pulled away with four runs across the next two innings to take the win in this one. Starter Mike Ruff had traffic (5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 HR), but he kept the team in the game long enough for the bullpen to come in and allow just one hit (no walks, five strikeouts) across the next four shutout innings. The Fightin’ Phils only had three at-bats all game with runners in scoring position, and went 0-for-3 in that regard. This game saw a significant first in no. 2 PuRP Zac Veen’s very first Double-A homer:

Veen added a pair of walks to the dinger, getting on base a team-leading three times. After struggling a bit in his first couple of weeks at Double-A, the home run is likely a sign of good things to come for Veen. Hartford’s starter for today’s ballgame is TBD at the time of writing this piece.

High-A: Vancouver Canadians 9, Spokane Indians 4

Spokane (60-58) was down 6-0 after just two innings, 8-0 after six, and couldn’t muster up enough late-inning offense to overcome the deficit. Starter Ryley Widell was hit quite hard (5.0 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 3 HR) as the Spokane bats couldn’t figure out Abdiel Mendoza, who shut them out across six innings of three-hit ball. Two of those hits came courtesy of no. 3 PuRP Drew Romo, who went 3-for-4 overall, with his 6th inning double one of only two extra-base hits for Spokane on the day. Catcher and no. 53 PuRP Ronaiker Palma also had a good game, going 1-for-3 with an RBI and throwing out all three Vancouver runners who tried to steal on him. These two clubs will play a doubleheader today. Spokane is sending our no. 8 PuRP, lefty Joe Rock (7-7, 4.11 ERA), to the mound for the first of the two and Anderson Amarista (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will be taking the hill for the second contest.

Low-A: Modesto Nuts 4, Fresno Grizzlies 7

Fresno (75-46) moves to 29 games over .500 with a convincing win over Modesto. No. 15 PuRP Jordy Vargas took the ball in this one and while FIP won’t love the line (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 HR), he allowed just the two solo shots (one of them a leadoff dinger) to hurt him, and got his second win as a Grizzlie. Here’s the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play that ended the top of the 1st, with Vargas blowing a fastball by the hitter:

This game also saw the Fresno debuts of Jordan Beck and Sterlin Thompson (nos. 12 and 17 PuRPs, respectively), and both got a hit in their first game as Grizzlies. As per usual, no. 16 PuRP Yanquiel Fernández did a lot of the run producing, with his 3-for-4 performance delivering RBIs number 102 and 103 on the season, tops in all of minor league baseball. Braxton Fulford homered, no. 31 PuRP Juan Brito had a pair of hits, and no. 6 PuRP Benny Montgomery had a double and a pair of walks. Fresno will look to keep their run going with Cullen Kafka (6-3, 4.27 ERA) taking the mound today.

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