Tyson Ross has his third start of the season tonight against the San Francisco Giants and given his 3.1% ownership rate in ESPN leagues, it doesn’t look like many of you care.
I think you should care.
This article won’t be a declaration of the golden days returning. That would be a foolish hyperbole after Ross has only taken the ball twice in 2018 and is still gathering his bearings from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that took him out of the game for 16 months. Not to mention that his 5.25 ERA and 18.8% strikeout rate thus far don’t scream “fixed.”
You can smell a catch. Why would I waste my time on this if there wasn’t something interesting? Something that makes me say “wait a second” or “there might be something here.” It’s not as transparent as other starters have been in the past, but let me show you what I’ve seen and I think you’ll understand what we’re all doing here.
To start, let’s define what made Tyson Ross a Top 30 starter – if not higher – in his 2015 season. Here’s a lovely table of three numbers from that season that everyone remembers:
This is the goal, the Tyson Ross we would feel lucky to have in 2018.
As mentioned before, this article isn’t about telling you that Ross is going to get here. All I want to do is show you how Ross is already showing us tastes of his former self.
Let’s start with his fastball and remember, I’m dealing with 12 innings of data. There’s contention about the pitch being a four-seamer or a sinker, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to call it a fastball through and through. Here’s what it looked like in 2015:
And here it was it looks like now:
It never was a swing and miss heavy pitch, and it carried one purpose: generate groundballs through its heavy sink and downward plane. It has always had movement, and Ross is getting that movement once again.
His fastball is already working as intended as a groundball machine, even if it is slightly slower than his 2015 self. (I could even argue that in some cases its better since it’s the root of his lower walk rate thus far.) But I don’t want to spend much more time on Ross’ fastball. We weren’t fans of Ross because of his propensity to displace dirt, we were fans because of that beautiful 25% strikeout rate.
But I feel terrible right now. I lied to you. There is one more purpose for Ross’ fastball: setting up his slider.
It was the elite of elite slide pieces back in the day, earning whiffs rates well above 20% for three straight years and fueled his aforementioned 25.8% strikeout rate. Just look at it:
It’s not a what-on-earth-was-that offering that we’re spoiled with these days from strikeout fiends Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Noah Syndergaard, but it looks plenty like his fastball out of the hand, and with his downward plane, it creates a long tunnel for batters to commit to heat before swerving away from their bat. Here’s another from 2015:
Okay, maybe the new Fox Sports graphic gave it away, but I lied. Again. This was actually from his April 3rd start this season, getting Gerardo Parra to whiff right over the pitch. It was a dirty tactic to prove a point and I took advantage of your trust. I’m sorry, but I hope it helped you realize Tyson Ross’ slider is really close to being the Tyson Ross slider we know and love.
It’s not just this one pitch to Parra. Here are some other wonderful examples from his first two starts that make me nostalgic.
Take this bender that makes George Springer twirl in the box:
Or a diving slider to Carlos Gonzalez:
How about sending Carlos Correa back to the dugout with terrible swings. Twice.
And lastly, getting plenty of vertical drop that induces a whiff from Alex Bregman despite landing on the plate:
It’s there. Right in front of us. The problem, though, is consistency. Ross is executing some of these pitches exactly like he used to, but overall his whiff rate thus far has been half of what it was in the past, coming in at 11.3% for sliders compared to the 23.0% rate in 2015. Just six of his 50 sliders thrown against the Astros came with a breeze from hitters.
But that’s okay. I didn’t expect Ross to have any sort of fantasy relevance this season, and while he hasn’t returned value thus far, I’m excited to see something that is suggesting improvement. An indication that his 2015 self is still in there, but we just need to give him time to find the walls of his room, break through his eggshells, and add rungs to his ladder. I have more, but you get the idea.
Let’s bring back the table from before with Ross’ 2015 metrics, but let’s add in a few more numbers and his current minuscule 2018 sample:
Yes it’s silly to compare these two with this horrible sample, but this is fun and I want to do it anyway. The strikeout rate can improve as he becomes consistent with his slider. His SIERA shows he’s been unlucky with the longball. The grounders are back and the walks have fortunately dwindled (for now). There’s a path here for Ross to be an asset in a 12-teamer and he’s already exhibited that the tools are in his belt. They may show up as soon as tonight against San Francisco, they may not fully develop for another month or maybe not at all. But don’t forget the skillset. Don’t forget that Tyson Ross exists.