From Spencer Strider’s curveball to Jung Hoo Lee’s exit velocity, let’s find some meaning in the spring training data

By | March 5, 2024

Spring training is almost entirely a bag of lies. A small mirage shrouded in empty hope.

Aside from the occasional heartbreaking, catastrophic injuries, spring practice games offer little that is definitive, conclusive or predictive. That’s because no one plays to win in March. Hitters and pitchers are focused on preparing themselves and their bodies for the upcoming six-month marathon. The results during the six-week trudge between Arizona and Florida are irrelevant. The Los Angeles Angels, for example, have won the past two Cactus League “championships.”

But there is gold in the riverbed, wealth hidden in the mud.

The advent of pitch and batted ball tracking technology means the public has access to reliable, objective data. Instead of judging a pitcher by the number of strikeouts he racks up in camp, we can look at changes in fastball velocity or pitch mix. Hitters can be judged by the quality of their contact rather than something as comical as spring training batting average.

With that in mind, let’s sift through some data from the spring so far to find the potentially meaningful and lasting developments.

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Strider devastated opposing hitters last year, posting an outrageous, league-leading 36.8 K% despite leaning on his fastball/slider combination a whopping 95% of the time. But while he has shown the occasional plus changeup, Strider has thus far lacked a meaningful third pitch against left-handed bats.

He threw a curveball in college at Clemson University, but shelved it when he reached pro ball. But in each of his two spring training appearances so far, the mustachioed flamethrower has shown some Uncle Charlies. The pitch isn’t a true 12-6, end-over-end breaker, and it features more side-to-side sweep than most curveballs, but it should give left-handed hitters something else to think about. This pitch will likely survive the spring testing ground, giving Strider a new weapon against opposite-handed hitters.

Miller’s rookie year with the Mariners was solid, but not spectacular: a 4.32 ERA across 25 starts with less than one strikeout per inning. And the splits in the 25-year-old’s handedness were outrageous: right-handed hitters hit just .315 against him (top 15 or so in the MLB), while lefties crushed his soul with a .558 slugging percentage (second-worst in the MLB). MLB).

To alleviate that imbalance, Miller added a splitter to his repertoire this winter. The pitch is visually beautiful, but more importantly, it scores extremely well from a data perspective. Don’t expect Miller to throw the splitter a whole lot right away, but the downfield motion should give lefties strikes and help him even out his performance.

Greene took a step forward across the board in 2023, but was still overly reliant on his fastball/slider combo, giving that duo a Strider-like look 95% of the time. Even though Greene throws 100 miles per hour, his fast ball shape and lack of precision control made him too dependent on swing-and-misses to get out.

Enter two new pitches: a splitter and a curveball.

Unfortunately, the former No. 2 overall pick hasn’t built a statcast-capable stadium yet this spring, but eyewitness reports on both fields are positive. Greene’s athleticism and arm speed give confidence that he will be able to consistently incorporate at least one of the two offers into his mix.

“I want some complete games this year,” Greene told Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “All those fields have to be ready for use.”

The pair of Tigers entered spring training on very different paths. Mize, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, has endured a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery that has kept him off the diamond since April 2022. Skubal, on the other hand, has been one of the game’s best pitchers over the past two months. 2023.

Fortunately for the Tigers, both have come out with heat this spring.

In a two-inning stint against the Yankees on Sunday, Mize’s fastball was at 93 mph, a tick and a half higher than the last time he was healthy. And according to Marquee’s Lance Brozdowski, the shape of Mize’s heater was much more comfortable to wear than before his injury. A very good sign.

Skubal was borderline untouchable against the Red Sox on Tuesday. The 27-year-old southpaw averaged 97.4 on his four-seamer over three innings, hitting 99. He threw seven changeups and got swing-and-misses on four of them! Sure, he faced the underbelly of Boston’s spring training roster, but fourteen whiffs in just three frames is outrageous.

Lee is one of MLB’s most fascinating mystery boxes entering the season. After a half-decade of pomp and circumstance in Korea, the 25-year-old signed with the Giants last winter on a six-year contract worth $113 million. He is billed as a complete, well-rounded, high-touch bat who could be a potential gold glove in center field. However, some doubted that Lee could gain enough power against MLB competition.

While nothing in February or March will definitively answer that question, Lee’s exit velocity of 107.7 mph last week means he has at least an MLB-average raw juice. José Altuve, Dansby Swanson and Bryson Stott are all productive big league hitters who didn’t hit balls that hard last season. Lee still has to prove he can (1) consistently hit balls that hard and (2) hit balls that hard in the air, but a blast of 109.7 is a fantastic start for a player with the chance to become a to become one of the most exciting players in the league. midfielders.

JT Realmuto has increased his exit velocity

The Phillies catcher had a disappointing offensive performance in 2023, at least by his high standards. So this offseason, Realmuto spent a significant amount of time in the team’s biomechanics lab in Florida hitting coach Kevin Long. According to The Athletic’s Matt Gelb, the goal was to remove a gaping hole in Realmuto’s swing — he was getting sliced ​​up under his hands on the inner half — to get the three-time All-Star back to his reckless levels.

Last season, Realmuto put 357 balls into play. His highest exit velocity was 110.6. The fourth ball he put into play this spring – a rocket groundout to the shortstop – was lasered at 110.8. Now that the season is underway and the rough reality of catching is starting to wear on Realmuto, there is reason to expect his numbers to dwindle somewhat. But it’s certainly encouraging that the data shows a rejuvenated version of Realmuto at this point in the year.

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