Spring Training Observations: Velo, Spin, and Batted Ball Data
Chris Clegg looks at some players with interesting numbers from this weekend's Spring Training action.
Spring Training is important, but often times we overreact to basic numbers. Remember Kyle Higashioka leading all players with seven home runs last year? He posted a .423/.464/1.231 slash. Yes, that was a 1.695 OPS.
What about Diego Castillo, who hit six home runs with a .371/.395/.886 slash. German Marquez struck out 18 batters in 11 innings while posting a 2.31 ERA. Nick Pivetta led all arms with 22 strikeouts last year in Spring Training.
All this to say that sometimes, basic numbers don’t matter much in Spring Training. What does matter, then?
Body Changes(especially with prospects)
Increased fastball velo
New Max EVs(useful to an extent, but also consistent hard-hit balls matter)
So, what actionable things happened this weekend? Let’s start with someone who can win the Yankees’ fifth rotation spot.
Clarke Schmidt, RHP, NYY
Clarke Schmidt carved up the Braves in two perfect innings on Sunday while striking out five. Schmidt debuted a new pitch, a cutter, which he threw 35 percent of the time. While a small sample, it had a 45 percent CSW percent and a 67 percent whiff rate. It averaged 2652 RPM of spin and only six pitchers in MLB had a higher spin rate on cutters last season.
Schmidt also saw increased velocity on his sinker, slider, and four-seam fastball. It was an impressive showing for Schmidt, who looks to have the inside track at the Yankees’ fifth spot with Frankie Montas out.
Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR
Nate Pearson has long been forgotten since his days as one of the top pitching prospects in the game in recent years. Injuries and struggles on the mound have made Pearson an after thought. But, Pearson could carve out a role as an important bullpen arm for the Jays.
Pearson did walk two hitters in his one inning stint, but he struckout three hitters. He pumped has fastball in at an average of 97.8 mph and featured a curveball with a 5.5 mph higher average velocity and an increased spin rate of 243 rpm from last season. He did only throw the pitch a couple of times last season, but him using it 23 percent of the time on Sunday is encouraging.
Zac Veen, OF, COL
Zac Veen has had one of the stranger prospect developments I have seen since his draft date. Drafted as a massive power hitter with big upside, Veen transformed his game into more of a contact hitter with elite base stealing ability. Last season, Veen stole 64 bases with just 12 home runs across 541 plate appearances.
Veen has a slender frame and broad shoulders, leading many to believe he would add weight and power. After the Arizona Fall League, Veen was able to add 25 pounds of muscle to his frame. The results have shown. Veen posted a 115.3 mph double on Saturday and added a home run that left the bat at 102.9 mph. When a player sees a substantial jump in exit velocities in Spring Training after adding muscle, it is worth taking note.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, WSH
MacKenzie Gore is another top prospect who has failed to live up to hype. Last season in Spring Training it seemed he was ready to bounce back in a strong way. Through the first eight starts of 2022, Gore had a 1.50 ERA in 48 innings with 57 strikeouts. Injuries derailed him and his season ended on July 25 with Gore posting a 11.05 ERA in his final 22 innings.
Gore came out firing in his first Spring Training start. His fastball velocity was up averaging 95.3 mph, up from 94.7 last season. His slider sat 89.5 mph which was up 2.1 mph from last year and Gore threw one changeup that averaged 2.7 mph higher than last season. Gore also threw his four-seam less ten percent less than last season and he mentioned feeling good with it and throwing less often. Gore will be one to watch this spring.
Josiah Gray, RHP, WSH
Much talk has centered around Josiah Gray’s increased velocity. Someone must have also talked to him about his poor four-seam fastball that allowed 24 home runs last season. Gray only threw nine pitches so its hard to put much stock into this, but he only threw it twice and threw his slider five times.
Maybe it was just the small sample, but Gray’s slider averaged 90.2 mph, up from 85.8 mph last year. His four-seam also averaged 96.1 mph up from 94.4 mph last year. Again, this was a very small sample, but monitor this closely if Gray uses his fastball less and sustains increased velocity.
Eury Perez, RHP, MIA
Eury Perez threw two strong innings following Johnny Cueto’s disastrous five run outing. Perez flashed five pitches that included a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, sinker, and curveball. Perez’s four-seam averaged 97.3 on his fastball and located it well at the top of the zone. It also flashed high spin rates that averaged out to 2616 rpm.
Perez’s changeup had a 60 percent whiff rate and a 38 percent CSW. His slider is quite devastating as well. It averaged 88.5 mph with high spin. Perez is not likely to break camp with the team, but if the back of the rotation falters for Miami, Perez will get a shot and could likely exceed 50 innings with the Marlins this year.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, STL
Adam Wainwright is now 41 years old and coming off two good seasons in a row where he combined to throw 398 innings with a 3.37 ERA. He is going late in drafts, but is this the year it all falls apart?
Wainwright’s sinker velocity was down 3.9 mph, his four-seam fastball was down 4.5 mph, and all his secondaries were down at least 2.8 mph or higher. He said he wanted to use this start to get used to the pitch clock and that he was working through a delivery hitch, but this seems far from ideal. If you were considering drafting Wainwright late, I might avoid. He is probably a back-end player on most dynasty rosters, but if you have him, I would monitor the rest of spring training closely. He could become a drop.
Ronny Mauricio, SS, NYM
Ronny Mauricio has continued building off his Dominican Winter League MVP season. Mauricio hit a tank that came off the bat at 110 mph and carried 450 feet. This really isn’t surprising if you followed Mauricio at all throughout his career. He has massive power. His 90th percentile exit velocity last season was nearly 108 mph with a 90.3 average exit velocity. Mauricio makes good zone contact but we will need to see substantial improvement in his 40 percent chase rate this year in order for Mauricio to move to the elite ranks of prospects.
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