Baseball

Methods Of Control

The first few days of Chicago baseball haven’t lacked for intrigue, that’s for sure. And while I’m tempted to wade into the Cubs start and project not only how their first four games already mean the organization is a failure, but the entire city one as well, I’ll try and stay out of that for now. Let’s give it two more at least. Still, there was a curious cross-section of pitchers trying to improve their control over the weekend.

Let’s start on the Southside. There’s still a lot of hope for Lucas Giolito. After all, he was the prize of the Adam Eaton deal, and with Michael Kopech REHABBING SO HARD, BRO, there’s more focus on the starters who are here. Giolito flashed some decent control in his cameo with the Sox in 2017, but as is one of our favorite turn of phrase around here, couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo last year.

For Giolito to become anything like he’s promised, he had to make some changes. So his changes were to try and simplify his delivery. What the Sox and Giolito are calling it is “shortening his arm swing.” When you watch Giolito, his arm now stays behind his head before coming forward to release. And while one start is hardly anything to base a statement of “he’s been saved!” he also did just toss his best start in the majors on Sunday. While there’s still a long way to go, both Giolito and the Sox have been encouraged by what his new motion has done for his pitches, even if he didn’t always get the results in Arizona.

There’s another pitcher, on the other side of town, who had serious control problems last year. His name is Tyler Chatwood. He won’t get the opportunity to start much this season, but he still could have a role to play. But in order to play that role, he needs changes, too. And for him as well, it seems to be a simplifying of his delivery. Here’s a pretty complete summation by Sahadev Sharma from February about what Chatwood was doing and what he’s trying to do. And if you watch Chatwood this season, everything is a bit smoother. It’s not as herky-jerky, this guy is hearing voices style. Everything at least appears to want to work in the same direction for the same cause instead of the four limbs each trying to play a drum solo method of last year.

Are the results there yet? No, no they are not. There were some encouraging outings in the spring but Saturday in Texas was…well, less than optimal. Still, Chatwood’s search for control has led to simpler and smoother.

There’s yet another pitcher that needs help with his command/control. His name is Carl Edwards Jr. And he’s the infuriating one, because it’s so easy to see what he could be. And his answer to trying to find greater control was…this?

Instead of simpler and smoother, we got far more complicated, based on goofiness and timing. And what do you know, it didn’t work, and he’s already abandoned it. How could both Chatwood’s and Edwards’s answer to their control problems be right? Sure, every pitcher is different, every pitcher’s problem is different, but this seems wildly inconsistent. I’m just a drunk with some thoughts, but it seems to me if control is the problem, you’d want simple as possible so that a pitcher could fall into it as quickly as possible and thus be able to repeat it as quickly as possible, which is the base for command. Instead, Edwards gave us Kabuki theater for the deaf.

While Edwards’s command has always been a problem, I would suggest the larger one is in his head. Here are Edwards’s splits from last year by leverage, according to FanGraphs:

Season Leverage K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
2018 Low Leverage 14.14 3.86 3.67 0.64 35.5 % 9.7 % 25.8 % – – – 1.43 .394 80.7 % 2.23 2.72
2018 Medium Leverage 12.18 6.26 1.95 0.33 32.2 % 16.5 % 15.7 % – – – 1.21 .224 91.8 % 3.01 4.11
2018 High Leverage 6.75 5.91 1.14 0.00 17.8 % 15.6 % 2.2 % – – – 1.41 .267 46.7 % 3.63 5.95

Not that a 3.86 BB/9 mark is all that good in low leverage, but you can at least work with it when you’re striking out almost four times as many hitters. But the bigger the situation, the worse those marks get. I’m not sure that’s something you fix via motion. Feels like something you fix by smoking weed, honestly.

Same thing for 2017:

Season Leverage K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
2017 Low Leverage 11.10 4.44 2.50 0.37 30.9 % 12.4 % 18.6 % – – – 0.99 .208 100.0 % 2.83 3.76
2017 Medium Leverage 13.21 4.11 3.21 0.59 40.2 % 12.5 % 27.7 % – – – 0.72 .122 80.2 % 2.64 2.77
2017 High Leverage 15.09 9.53 1.58 2.38 35.9 % 22.6 % 13.2 % – – – 1.85 .333 44.9 % 6.69 4.50

While the Cubs front office has been really good at telling you why it’s not their fault lately, more and more eyes have been focused on their inability to produce any pitcher, starter or reliever, from their own system. Edwards was acquired by trade, but would count. Basically, it’s only Kyle Hendricks. Hector Rondon was a Rule 5 pick of theirs, but isn’t here anymore. Anyone else?

Those questions will only get louder if Edwards doesn’t find it one day, and their handling of other pitchers continues to be all over the map.

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