Early Returns: The Unlikely Pair That Has Risen to the Top of the 2022 Rookie Pitching Class
Most of this year’s young, flamethrowing darlings of the rookie pitching class have taken their knocks through the first month of the season.
Hunter Greene of the Cincinnati Reds was the biggest and brightest star early on. The right-hander’s starts became must-see events after his fastball had topped at 102.0 mph and averaged 100.0 – the highest of any starter – through April 16.
And MLB.com called Seattle Mariners rookie Matt Brash “the nastiest pitcher you don’t know yet.” Since then, folks have gotten to know the right-hander and his electric repertoire, which includes a fastball (42.7% usage) that has topped out at 99.2 mph and a devastating slider (35.0%) and curveball (20.1%) mix.
However, Brash has allowed nine earned runs over 6.1 innings in his last two starts and has walked 12 batters in 11.2 innings over his last three. In Greene’s last two outings, his fastball has dipped to an average velocity of 96.2 mph while he’s given up eight walks and seven earned runs over 7.2 innings.
Fellow rookies Nick Lodolo of the Reds (5.52 ERA), Reid Detmers of the Los Angeles Angels (5.19), Daulton Jefferies of the Oakland A’s (4.81), Bryce Elder of the Atlanta Braves (4.74) – who has been sent down – and Joan Adon of the Washington Nationals (7.33) have experienced similar ups and downs.
But two hurlers have continued to shine through the first month of this season with more of an old-school approach than mind-blowing stuff:
Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins
Let’s start with Ryan, who owns a historically good 0.74 WHIP through nine career starts.
He’s also second in the American League with a 1.17 ERA, and has a 73 raw value- and 140 whiff+ (league average is 100 for both) over four starts this season.
Ryan isn’t going to set the world on fire with his arsenal. He has below-average velocity on his fastball (92.0 mph average) and there isn’t anything special in terms of movement on his slider, curveball or changeup.
Though he doesn’t possess an overpowering four-seam fastball, he likes to work it up in the zone. According to TVL data, he relies on it 45.9% of the time to open at-bats against left-handed batters, often intending to soar it up and away.
By adding up all the raw value (RV) accumulated on each pitch, we can figure out which pitch type is a hurler’s most valuable. Ryan’s four-seamer has generated an RV- of 2.3, which makes it tied for the 22nd most valuable among all four-seamers in MLB heading into this week.
Ryan stays fastball-heavy versus lefties with two strikes, throwing it 54.1% of the time. He aims to keep it either up in the zone (on 2-2 or 3-2 counts) or up and out of the zone (on 0-2 and 1-2 counts) to try and get a chase.
Here’s an example of his elevated fastball (but in the zone) on a full count to Robbie Grossman of the Detroit Tigers:
With his four-seamer alone, he has an impressive 176 whiff+ against left-handers and a 164 whiff+ vs. righties, who also only have a 16 BIP+ (again, league average is 100) against the pitch.
When facing righties, Ryan’s slider becomes more of a factor. He’s actually thrown it half the time (mostly targeted down and away) on the first pitch, while the four-seamer is delivered at 45.7% and either down or up and away.
Ryan has stuck with two pitches vs. right-handed batters. He hasn’t utilized the changeup at all and has only thrown two curveballs – both first-pitch offerings. And there’s a good reason why he brings those to the table vs. lefties as they’ve managed a ridiculously poor minus-69 and minus-39 BIP+ against the curveball and changeup, respectively.
But the slider remains his pitch of choice with two strikes against right-handed batters. He’s gone to it at a 56.9% clip, looking to bury it down, away and out of the zone. The other 43.1% has been that high fastball – again either in the zone or above, depending on the count.
Let’s take a look at an example of that two-strike slider down and away. It’s the perfect go-to pitch against notorious free-swinger Javier Baez of the Tigers:
MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres
It’s been quite a journey for Gore, who seemed to be on the fast track to San Diego before experiencing a seismic dip in his career path.
The 2017 first-round pick of the Padres had worked his way up to No. 5 on MLB.com’s prospect rankings heading into 2020, which was a step back for many minor leaguers after the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Entering 2022, the left-hander had been dropped all the way down to 86th in the MLB.com rankings after he posted a 5.85 ERA over six starts at Triple-A El Paso and a 3.93 ERA in 12 starts overall across four levels.
But after an impressive first outing at El Paso, Gore has taken advantage of an opportunity to show what he can do with the Padres this spring. He’s gone 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA and a 69 RV- in his three starts so far, including 17 strikeouts over his last two.
“I think he’s starting to be aware of what’s working for him during the course of the game,” Padres manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com. “I think at this point in time, he’s been a little bit unpredictable, which has worked in his favor.”
While he may have been a little unpredictable to this point, Gore’s arsenal is pretty basic with 64.6% usage of a straight fastball that comes in at an average of 95.3 mph, a shorter slider (18.3%), a big 12-6 curve (12.9%) and an occasional changeup (4.2%).
MacKenzie Gore 2022 Pitch Type Usage
|Pitch Type||Ahead in Count||Usage||Behind in Count||Usage||Even in Count||Usage||Total||Usage|
Gore relies heavily on the four-seamer against right-handed batters, throwing it 67.3% of the time on the first pitch of an at-bat. On most occasions, he’s targeting the bottom of the zone on the outer half. He’s totaled a 2.9 RV- with the pitch, making it the 14th most valuable four-seamer in the majors entering the week.
On 0-2 and 1-2 counts, Gore looks to put righties away with the heater at a 65.1% clip – either high or low and away. And that makes a whole lot of sense since his four-seamer has a 161 whiff+ vs. right-handers, who only have a 64 BIP+ facing the pitch. He’ll also mix in a back-foot slider 23.3% of the time, with designs on diving it low and inside.
Against lefties, Gore appears to be a little bit more diverse. Of the 10 first pitches he’s thrown vs. left-handers, three of them have been four-seamers, three have been curveballs and four have been sliders. But what’s most interesting is that they’re all intended to be low and away.
His put-away approach against lefties is pretty simple: He’s either gone higher than high with the four-seamer or low and away (out of the zone) with the slider.
Here, Gore goes the low and away route with the slider to coax soft contact out of Colin Moran of the Cincinnati Reds:
It all adds up to a great start for two rookies who don’t possess the jaw-dropping stuff or elaborate repertoires as some of the more celebrated members of the class.
Greg Gifford contributed. Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.
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