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Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell takes the mound tonight against the Minnesota Twins, the AL Central’s top team. When he takes the mound tonight, he’ll definitely want to improve on his Yankee Stadium meltdown during his last outing. He failed to make it out of the first inning in the Bronx, registering a whopping 180.00 ERA for that game.
Early in his career, Snell relied heavily on a four-seam fastball and changeup combination. It served him well enough but only just. However, at the tail end of the 2017 season, the Rays pitching staff converted him into a four-seam and curve pitcher. He still threw his changeup and thanks to his more prominent use of his fastball/curve, it became a devastating pitch.
This season, Snell has continued with his fastball/curve combination. However, he’s thrown significantly more curves percentage-wise than last season. In 2018, he threw 1500 fastballs and 588 curves. This season so far, he’s thrown 533 fastballs and 386 curves. That’s a change of nearly 3:1 (2018) to 1:1 (2019).
Snell’s average pitch velocity so far this season bears out the observation that he’s been relying on offspeed stuff more than last season. His velocity has decreased on the top end.
As a result, batters have been seeing him very well and have not only made solid contact — 4.8% (2018) vs. 5.0% (2019) — but have made harder contact. The percentage of weakly hit balls has cratered at 0.6% compared with 4.1% the year before.
The harder hit balls appears to have resulted in Snell giving up home runs at a significantly faster pace than ever in his young career. We’re not even at the All-Star Break and he’s surrendered 10 HRs. In all of 2018, he gave up 16 HRs and the year before that, he gave up even less, 15 HRs to be exact. This change can be explained by the increase in exit velocity of balls hit — 87.2 mph in (2019) vs. 87.0 (2018) — and more significantly an increase in launch angle — 12.1 degrees (2019) vs 10.3 (2018). In other words, batters have hit him harder and higher and that appears to have translated in balls leaving the park.
WORDS: Marc Landas
DATA SOURCE: Fangraphs; MLB.com; BaseballSavant
IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons