The Blue Jays are one of 11 teams to have trackman camera’s set up in their home ball park during Spring Training. Those cameras can provide meaningful data, even halfway through Spring Training. You have to look at the process over the results, things players can control. If a hitter has increased their launch angle that is likely something they have done on purpose. At this stage hitters don’t have that many at bats/batted balls so there isn’t much to take away from those numbers.
Pitchers however in some cases have thrown upwards of 40 pitches. If a pitcher comes out throwing 99 after never topping 95 before that is a significant change and something that could lead to a successful season. If a pitcher has increased their spin rate, this is likely a meaningful change and something they have worked on, either with a new grip/finger placement or are using a sticky substance.
Spin rate and velocity are both correlated to strikeout rate. Jeff Zimmerman’s recent article on RotoGraphs, came up with a formula to help determine a change in swinging strike rate based off of spin rate and velocity change. There is more to swinging strike rate than just spin and velocity but it’s a good place to start.
If a pitcher has increased their velocity or spin rate, that is worth monitoring even at this stage of Spring Training. Below I looked at four Blue Jays pitchers who have seen the largest changes in their spin rate and velocity.
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Data is from Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.
Ryan Borucki
Sinker 2020
Sinker 2021
Difference
Slider 2020
Slider 2021
Difference
Velocity
94.8
96.2
1.4
86.6
88.7
2.1
Spin Rate
2168
2452
284
2315
2501
186
Borucki’s sinker last season was not a swing and miss pitch at all. Per FanGraphs, the pitch had just a 1.9% swinging strike rate as hitters made contact 94.5% of the time. It was a groundball pitch, with a 52.2% groundball rate, but for a sinker to get hit that often it needs to be a Zack Britton 70%+ groundball rate to be effective. Typically with sinkers you want less spin as you want the ball to drop. Borucki appears to be using his sinker more like a two-seam. A pitch he can use to get groundballs and with more velocity and spin miss more bats.
Borucki has also added two miles per hour to his slider. As I’ve mentioned before, Borucki’s slider is filthy. It was his best pitch last season, and if he can improve it further, it becomes that much more of a weapon for him. It’s a pitch that could be really good for him against lefties. He’s been tinkering with his change-up but he hasn’t thrown many of them thus far in the Spring. With an improved sinker and slider he may end up as a two pitch reliever.
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Anthony Kay
4-Seam 2020
4-Seam 2021
Diff
Cutter 2020
Cutter 2021
Diff
Curve 2020
Curve 2021
Diff
Velocity
93.6
94.4
0.8
86.9
88.1
1.2
77.9
79.3
1.4
Spin Rate
2367
2493
126
2530
2562
32
2540
2485
-55
Kay created plenty of buzz in the first game of Spring Training when he came out popping 96’s and 97’s. However that’s what he was throwing last season so it wasn’t as big a deal as some were making it out to be. What is noteworthy is the velocity increase on his cutter. Kay has been working on his cutter and if it becomes a pitch he can trust more in games (he threw all of nine cutters last season), that could cut into his fastball usage. Kay was too predictable last season, throwing his 4-seam 56.5% of the time. His spin deviation on his pitches was minimal, which allowed hitter to lay off his off-speed and wait for the fastball. Adding a cutter will keep hitters guessing and ideally get them thinking about something other than a fastball.
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Robbie Ray
4-Seam 2020
Four-Seam 2021
Difference
Slider 2020
Slider 2021
Difference
Velocity
93.9
95.6
1.7
86.5
88.2
1.7
Spin Rate
2420
2356
-64
2378
2043
-335
The Blue Jays need a strong season from Ray if they are going to be successful. With Nate Pearson hurt, Ray looks to be the number two starter. He’s throwing hard in shorter stints, but if he can maintain that velocity over five, six innings, he is going to be very good this season. Ray tweaked his mechanics last season and struggled. The Blue Jays committed to Ray early this off-season, likely so they could work with him to fix any mechanical issues he was having. This includes making a mechanical adjustment mid-game. If his delivery is tweaked and he’s now throwing 95, that’s a win for the pitching development.
Ray’s slider has lost a lot of spin. More video is needed to see how that’s affected the shape and movement of the pitch.
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Jordan Romano
4-Seam 2020
Four-Seam 2021
Difference
Slider 2020
Slider 2021
Difference
Velocity
96.5
96.6
0.1
89.1
89.0
-0.1
Spin Rate
2331
2537
206
2225
2406
181
Romano’s velocity remains the same; however he has already thrown five pitches this Spring above 98, matching what he did last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some time this season, we see Romano hit triple digits. He has that kind of fastball, and in the right situation with a little extra adrenaline he could do it. Adding spin to his pitches could make Romano an even deadlier strikeout artist. Last season he struck out 12.89 batters per nine innings and had a 36.8% strikeout rate, per FanGraphs. Romano’s swinging strike rate last year was 19.4% which ranked ninth among relievers who threw at least 10 innings. Romano has to show he can do it over a full season but he has the potential to be one of the best relievers in the game.
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Quick Notes
Here are a couple other pitchers worth noting and following up on at the end of Spring.
Anthony Castro – Increased the velocity on his fastball up to 93.3 mph. As a prospect Castro was someone who could get his fastball to the mid 90’s. In his one inning with Detroit last season he was at 92. Positive to see his velocity climbing up.
A.J Cole – Averaged 93.4 mph last season, and topped out at 95. So far in Spring he’s averaging 92 and has only topped 93. This could be him just ramping up for the season, but if his velocity isn’t up to where it was last season, he could struggle.
Tim Mayza – His two-seam velocity was down 0.5 mph from 2019, which is not bad at all for his first real game action in a year.
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Hyun-Jin Ryu/Tanner Roark – Fastball velocity is down for both. No cause for concern right now. These are veterans who are ramping up for the season.
T.J Zeuch – Sinker is down 1.7 mph. For someone who already doesn’t throw very hard this is alarming. This is his primary pitch, if he’s only throwing 90, that’s some cause for concern. This is something to watch for as Spring Training rolls along.
We are not trying to draw any major conclusions from this. This is something to watch for and see if these trends continue over the rest of Spring Training and into the season.