The Hope for Aaron Blair and the Atlanta Braves

Feb 21, 2017; Disney, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Blair (36) throws a pitch in a practice following media day for the Atlanta Braves during MLB spring training at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Disney, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Blair (36) throws a pitch in a practice following media day for the Atlanta Braves during MLB spring training at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves spent most of last year depending on their young starting pitching to get them through games. It didn’t go great. One of those young pitchers was Aaron Blair and again, it didn’t go great.

Aaron Blair had a rough debut season for the Atlanta Braves  in just about every way possible. Traditional numbers – bad. Advanced numbers – nope. Peripherals – ouch. He was terrible.

So why am I writing about him? Well hidden in all that badness was a small but possibly significant glimmer of hope. His slider.

Or curveball.

Statcast and Pitch f/x call it a curveball. Blair calls it a slider. We’ll go with that. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a big deal for two main reason:

  1. He started throwing more
  2. It’s a good pitch

Now you may have already heard about Aaron Blair’s slider, specifically as it relates to his last start. He threw it early and often against Detroit but it actually goes much deeper than just one start and provides at least ray of hope in an otherwise lost season.

To the numbers!

Blair had two stints in MLB last year:  April-June and August-October and how much he used his slider was one one of the biggest differences about him when he returned. Take a look at the table below:

Now that might not seem like much but when you consider he threw his slider 8% of the time in his first start and almost 40% of the time in his last start, you start to realize the direction these numbers were trending. He was throwing it more. A lot more.

Effectiveness?

Of course, throwing one of your pitches more only really only means anything if it’s one of your more effective pitch. So how good was Aaron Blair’s slider?

For that we jump into pitch f/x data. Blair threw 4 pitches last year – Four-Seam Fastball, Two-Seam Fastball, Slider, Changeup. The chart below is how the league handled each of them:

Some ugly numbers there but you see that one little ray of hope at the bottom. That’s our boy.

Blair’s slider limited the league to a .609 OPS last year.  It also produced a 54% groundball rate and only a 59% contact rate. To say it was his best pitch is an understatement.

Now I know what you’re thinking. If it’s a such a good pitch and he threw so much more, shouldn’t his second stint overall numbers look better? Let’s see.

HOPE!

There’s a reason teams don’t give up on pitchers after 70 innings. Sometimes it takes them a while to find themselves. Now, I’m not saying Blair found himself. These are still relatively small samples.

But it looks like he did find something in his slider.

UPDATE:

Today in Grapefruit league action, Blair followed Julio Teheran and pitched the 3rd and 4th innings against the Houston Astros.

His line:  3 hits, 1 run (earned), 2 walks and 3 strikeouts.  The slider was definitely involved.

Next: Let's check on Another Pitcher

And chances are the more you see of it, the more you’ll see of him.