Pitch Mix Changes: Porcello, Gonzales, Lopez, Sheffield, & Freeland

I’m grinding away trying to find any pitchers who have changed their pitch mix and are flying under the radar. The changes could be for the better or worse. Also, I’m focusing on lowly owned guys. There is no reason to worry about pitchers who aren’t an option to cut or add. For example, Walker Beuhler has limited the usage of his four-seamer and curve and is throwing his cutter, sinker, and slider more. Sure he might change but is any owner going drop or bench him on the information.

Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 32% 12% -20%
SI% 25% 46% 21%
FC% 0% 0% 0%
SL% 19% 23% 4%
CU% 13% 4% -9%
CH% 12% 15% 3%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

I swear Pocello changes who he is every year to try to find his Cy Young form. It’s not going to happen. This season, the moves don’t point to a useful final product. He’s going back to his sinker which is like rearranging two ugly couches looking for that ideal setup. Even if the setup is perfect, it’s still with two ugly couch.

The four-seamer has created more swing-and-miss over the years (9% SwStr% vs 5% SwStr%) while the sinker does keep the ball on the ground more (56% GB% vs 32% GB%). Neither useful. He’s dropping his curve (9% SwStr%) to throw his slider (12% SwStr%) and change (11% SwStr%) more. Historically, all three have been below league average, so any possible combination will lead to below-average results. It’s not rocket science

Justus Sheffield

Justus Sheffield Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 48% 0% -48%
SI% 0% 52% 52%
FC% 0% 0% 0%
SL% 36% 34% -1%
CU% 0% 0% 0%
CH% 17% 13% -3%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

His adjustment is from a four-seamer to a two-seamer. Sometimes pitches, especially fastballs, get different labels the same but they show the same movement.  In this case, it’s not a completely new pitch but it does sink more (4″) and cuts a few more inches to the release side. There is a nice example on the third pitch:

I’m not sure if the adjustment will transform his profile since his four-seamer already sank and generated 50% groundballs last season. It’s not enough of a difference for me to care.

Kyle Freeland

Kyle Freeland Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 41% 24% -18%
SI% 11% 6% -5%
FC% 31% 22% -9%
SL% 6% 17% 12%
CU% 0% 0% 0%
CH% 11% 31% 20%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

The 27-year-old lefty has just decided to quit throwing his fastball dropping its overall usage from 52% to 30%. Since his pitches are moving more, his strikeouts (21% K%) and walks (9% BB%) are barely up and don’t support the low 1.50 ERA. His shiny surfaces stats are because he’s not allowing any hard contact.

His three non-fastballs (change, cutter, slider) all get eerily similar results, below-average swinging strike rates (10% to 12%) and above-average groundball rates (57% to 60%). His overall groundball rate (50%) doesn’t show the extreme worm killing nature of the pitches because his fastball (reworked a bit) has only a 25% GB%. Freeland popup/groundball nate will lead to a decent batted ball profile but not .172 BABIP good.

I like the changes, and would at least stream him on the road.

Pablo López

Pablo López Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 41% 26% -15%
SI% 18% 25% 7%
FC% 0% 12% 12%
SL% 0% 0% 0%
CU% 19% 7% -13%
CH% 22% 31% 9%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

After his dominating start against Baltimore earlier in the week (5 IP, 7 K, 0 BB, 0 R), he’s on everyone’s radar and if he keeps the Mets in check on Sunday, his ownership will jump (21% in CBS). Lopez went with the simple approach of throwing his best pitch, the change (career 17% SwStr%, 58% GB%), the most. Also, he went with his sinker (65%) more than usual. He might have been trying to keep the ball on the ground at Baltimore’s high school ballpark.

Also, he could be going with the sinker more because its swinging-strike rate (7% vs 8%) is just a bit worse than his four-seamer. And with the happy fun ball back, the 65% GB% might get better results than his four-seamer’s 38% GB%. Finally, Lopez barely threw (four times) his average curve (13% SwStr%, 37% GB%).

Overall, the mix worked and I’m sure he’ll keep it going until it doesn’t. Roster where possible.

Marco Gonzales

Marco Gonzales Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 18% 42% 24%
SI% 21% 7% -15%
FC% 21% 24% 4%
SL% 0% 0% 0%
CU% 16% 14% -2%
CH% 24% 14% -11%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

The surface fantasy results of 2 Wins, a 0.74 WHIP, and 3.06 ERA will draw some interest. Diving deeper, his 88 mph fastball, 7.6 K/9, and 2.0 HR/9 could give an owner pause.

Part of the confusion in his stats continues to his pitch mix where it seems like he moving away from his four-seamer and going to his sinker. I think there are some classification errors going on since the two pitches blend together.

Even though there isn’t as drastic a pitch mix change, his cutter was elite in the first start (16% SwStr%) while being very average for his career (9%). While the sample size is limited, the pitch is separating itself more from the other fastballs.

The overall change is not a ton, but having a cutter with anything close to a 16% SwStr% would be huge for anyone’s value.

We hoped you liked reading Pitch Mix Changes: Porcello, Gonzales, Lopez, Sheffield, & Freeland by Jeff Zimmerman!

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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excellent and very helpful. there is a dearth of actual skill/ how are players deploying those skills analysis. mooooore.