I was holding out hope this blog would be acquired by the San Diego Padres for cash before the trade deadline ended, but no luck. Makeup reports can be costly. In the meantime, I've consumed my first coffee of the day and it's time to turn late-night Statcast and Baseball Savant exploration into words:
Buckle up. Rafael Devers is about to take fantasy owners for an enjoyable ride. Sure, the departure time is delayed considering many owners, including this one, paid a hefty price for a ticket. It feels like paying for the first-class upgrade only for Delta to delay to flight for three hours. But the 23-year-old is ready to carry a team's offense.
Sunday, Devers put four balls in play. He hit all four harder than 102.8 MPH, which resulted in two homers, a double and a single. Since August 21st, the lefty masher put 28 balls in play and 14 registered 100 MPH or harder exit velocity, including a recent streak of five-straight plate appearances. Before August 21st, he hit just 16 balls harder than 100 MPH all season. Devers loves ice cream. Staring him down is an endless string of huge scoops on tasty cones because Boston is set to play five-straight against Toronto, a couple at Philadelphia, and following a tough four-game slate against Tampa Bay it ends with series against Miami, New York, Baltimore and Atlanta.
He's still swinging and missing too much, a result of pressing some and being overly anxious in the batter's box. Lately, Devers has done a much better job of sitting back, attacking better pitches to hit, and unleashing controlled aggression. Once the swings and misses decline, the big-time numbers will follow because Devers actually has a better barrel%, line drive rate and sweet spot% this season; the hard hit% is lagging, but has rapidly increased over the last weeks.
A couple weeks ago, this column detailed Chris Paddack's fastball problem. It remains an issue as batters are slugging .726 against the righty's four-seamer, and it isn't a fluke (.688 xSLG). He's coming off a very successful start at Coors Field, which featured better fastball command. The start also featured something else: a cutter.
According to Baseball Savant, Paddack has actually thrown 11 cutters this year after throwing six in his last start at Colorado. However, I found two of his pitches at 82.2 MPH were classified as cutters in his August 13th start at the Dodgers, and my educated guess is those were incorrectly classified changeups. On Sunday, Paddack threw five cutters with an average velocity of 87.8 MPH. Strangely, Baseball Savant didn't upload any of his cutters from the start at Colorado. Visually, the pitch looked like a cutter/slider, which is what Paddack called it after the game, with the shape probably a bit more on the slider side, which would make sense given the velocity.
If Paddack can effectively mix in an average or better cutter/slider, it could be a game-changer. He needs something to keep hitters off his fastball, especially as he gets deeper into outings. The changeup is elite when it's right, but his command and control would both need to be plus consistently in order to generate elite results consistently. And his fastball command and control haven't been good enough this season to do that.
Another masher likely to see his production take off: Blue Jays lefty Rowdy Tellez. His current slash line - .247/.313/.494 - doesn't look impressive, but the underlying numbers suggest a lot of bad luck. And at the start of the week, his slash line looked worse - .235/.300/.494. Tellez has a xBA of .295 and xSLG of .537. So far, Tellez cut his K% 11.2%, raised his hard hit%, and is swinging and making contact on pitches inside the strike zone significantly more than 2019. We've learned Buffalo is very, very hitter friendly, and the Blue Jays are set to play a bunch of road games at Boston. The Yankees and their shaky pitching staff await the following week, and so does an appealing matchup against the Mets if Jacob deGrom is avoided. Toronto then ends with at Yankees, at Phillies, Yankees, and Orioles. Grabbing Blue Jays to plug in down the stretch is a good idea.
After watching both pitchers this week, I expected to find some velocity and/or stuff red flags for Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole. I didn't. Scherzer's barrel%, average exit velocity, and hard hit% are nearly identical to last season and so are his pitch velocity numbers. Cole's profile is a bit different because he's finding barrels at nearly double the rate of last season with a massive spike in hard hit% up from 35.5% to 48.2%. Both pitchers are sporting unusually high xERAs with Cole checking in at 3.65 and Scherzer at 3.68. So, what's the issue? Both guys recently looked like they were physically tired in their most recent starts, and command and control have been an issue for both. The whiffs aren't the issue and neither is the velocity. But remember: these guys both pitched as deep into October as a pitcher can and are coming off huge workloads.
While that doesn't always show in the velocity, it can show in the command if mechanics start to fade. These two are also emotional pitchers on the mound who thrive off the adrenaline and energy gained from environments and crowds in huge moments. There isn't any off that to feast on this season.