Shine On You Crazy Diamond In The Rough: On Gavin Floyd (and also Aaron Sanchez)

Gavin Floyd
Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

“You’re looking for the pitch, you get it, and there’s not much you’re able to do with it anyway.”

That was Mike Krukow at the end of the Giants’ broadcast of last night’s game, talking about what’s making Aaron Sanchez so successful as a starter right now, and what’s making the Jays’ decision to let him loose in the starting rotation such a good one — questioned as it was by some *COUGH* who worried about his enigmatic secondary stuff and struggles against lefties.

How good has Sanchez been?

And those numbers were taken from before last night’s start. Aaron now sits at 45.1 innings, 36 hits, and 13 earned. Sanchez has now generated (slightly) less hard contact, and (slightly) more soft contact than his counterpart, too. Your move, Thor.

Uh… OK, so those numbers may be a bit misleading. Sanchez still trails Syndergaard in strikeouts, despite the extra start, but there are things to be encouraged about in that department, too (y’know, once we stop with the unnecessary comparison between former Lansing teammates). Sanchez has 39 strikeouts, and a 20.9% strikeout rate — higher than last year, as well as his stints at Dunedin and New Hampshire in 2013 and 2014. His swinging strike rate continues to rise, too. From 6.5% in his 2014 cameo, to 7.0% last year, to 8.3% right now. That’ll play.

So, too, will the fact that we basically don’t talk about his trouble with the walk anymore. The theory this off-season was that Sanchez’s new “man weight” would make him more sturdy and in turn make his delivery more repeatable, and if the fact that his current walk rate of 9.1% is lower than any stint at a single level of his career, save his 33 big league bullpen innings in 2014.

So far, soooo good.

***

Crazily enough, Sanchez wasn’t even the biggest pitching story on the night for the Jays, I don’t think (and, let’s be honest, who the hell wants to talk about the offence right now?).

Gavin Floyd took the ball in the eighth inning last night, and it felt pretty damn comfortable. Or, at least, it ended up feeling that way.

Floyd got a bit of a gift from home plate umpire Adam Hamari on a 3-1 called strike to Brandon Belt with one out. A walk there likely would have changed the complexion of the inning, but he escaped, and now we can marvel at just how inexplicably good he’s been so far.

Of course, as with the Jays’ inexplicably bad relievers, everything about Floyd’s performance so far has come in such a small sample that we need to be wary of drawing huge conclusions from it. But for a bullpen that’s in need of even just a hot hand, Floyd seems to be stepping up.

And stepping up is the right word, because even though he had some success as a reliever last reliever, it wasn’t quite like this. Floyd suddenly has a 29.6% strikeout rate, a top 10 swinging strike rate among relievers (16.9% — just a shade ahead of Craig Kimbrel), and a K-BB% of 24.1 that’s exactly the same as Roberto Osuna’s, and places both in the top 30 among 174 relievers. His ERA sits at 1.88, and with a FIP of 2.79 FIP and a 3.41 xFIP.

So… whatever he’s doing, it’s working. But what exactly is it that he’s doing that’s so different from last season, when he struck out just seven batters over 13.1 innings, and posted a swinging strike rate of 7.3%? A couple of things, it turns out.

For starters, we can see in the data at Brooks Baseball that he’s had a subtle shift in both his vertical release point (which is now slightly higher), as well as his horizontal one.

We can also see some changes in his pitch usage. In 2015, though the sample is small, we saw him going predominantly to his slider against right-handed hitters (41% — more than he used his fastball, even), but eschewing it against lefties, going with a 22%/20%/13% mix of sinkers, curves, and changeups instead. This season he’s more than doubled his curveball usage, making it his top secondary pitch against both right-handers (34%) and left-handers. And he’s been throwing a bunch of sliders now to left-handers, too (18% compared to 7% last year), while all but ditching his changeup.

In terms of movement and velocity his pitches chart out about the same between the two seasons, so… are the usage shifts and subtle release point changes what’s driving the sudden change in results — and, in particular, the 9.1% line drive rate, which is currently one of the lowest in the game?

I… uh… I honestly have no idea. But I sure as hell will roll with it for now. And so, I suspect, will the Blue Jays.

Exactly what we figured we’d get out of Gavin Floyd, amiright?

  • Kristen Sprague

    Not to be the grammar Nazi but you might want to correct this.

    And stepping up is the right word, because even though he had some success as a reliever last reliever,

  • ErnieWhitt

    I hadn’t looked at the numbers, but even just with the eye test it has looked (thus far) like Floyd has decent velocity and movement out of the pen and a very good curveball that seems to be eating guys up right now (hello Right-handed Brett Cecil of days gone by!). The fact that he can throw 5 pitches out of the pen and hit spots is VERY useful. Being able to rely on a curve when you need it is awesome because hitters are usually looking FB in those late innings situations.

  • Sammy the Bull

    I haven’t heard much from that annoying Oakville Jays joker who kept posting about how Floyd was only signed because of Ron Shapiro being his agent. As if the fee on the $1m was mandatory to Ron securing his retirement or Mark earning his inheritance.

  • 0noggin

    I never doubted the Jays’ rotation, but I’m surprised about the bullpen and relative lack of hitting. If Storen/Cecil were anything near what they were last year, we’d be in a good spot: winning through pitching and defence, which is unexpected but fine if it works.

    They only really figured out their bullpen in July last year, with the arrival of Lowe/Hawkins, so they should be fine if Floyd can fill in for the shell of Brett Cecil until Storen/Cecil get back to form, someone else steps up or the Jays find suitable replacements.

    Right now, the team’s needs are pretty clear: their offense’s cold start and their bullpen’s ineptitude is the difference between a .500 team and a pretty dominant force in the East.