Atlanta Braves: Sticky stuff pitchers and pitching coaches
Spinning more with mixed success
Two perennial Braves’ relievers had noticeable increases in spin rate on key pitches; Luke Jackson and Sean Newcomb.
Jackson’s fastball saw a 161 RPM spike to 2304 RPM during the 2019 season but has since slipped back to around 2260. His curve jumped 108 RPM in 2018 and another 244 RPM in 2019; it fell back sharply in 2020 and currently sits at 2604 RPM in a 39 pitch sample size this year—a big jump from 2401 of 2018.
Jackson’s slider mimicked his curve jumping from 2125 in 2017 to 2576 in 2019. So far this year, Luke’s slider sits at 2502 RPM.
Newcomb’s fastball crept up slightly over the last three years, but his breaking pitches –curve and slider – peaked in 2019, coinciding with his best year to date. He hasn’t thrown enough sliders to measure this year, but his curve is registering 2940 RPM this year, the highest of his career.
According to Baseball Savant, the spin on Drew Smyly’s fastball jumped in 2020 but lost about half of the increase this year. However, his curve showed a 187 RPM increase in 2019 and another 203 RPM jump in 2020 that’s he’s sustained this year.
The years Smyly lost due to injury gave him time to get stronger and learn new techniques that helped him increase spin on his best pitches. Those two things – the curve in particular – influenced the Braves to sign him early last-offseason.
Speaking of pitching
Whenever I hear calls for firing the pitching or hitting coach, I wonder what some think a coach can do in-season to change things.
In 2013, the Atlanta Braves fought to retain Roger McDowell, giving him a two-year deal instead of the usual one-year contract with an option. Our editor at the time was happy that the deal was done.
"McDowell has become one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, and was instrumental in honing to a fine edge the pitching prowess of such hurlers as John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, and many others. I’m pleased as punch to see McDowell stay. He’s so good at what he does, that beyond the next two years we’re not likely to see him in Atlanta."
McDowell lasted through the 2016 season. When he moved on, one of our writers was very glad he did.
"What probably spurred the Atlanta Braves‘ decision to let him go was the lack of performance of the young pitching staff this season. We saw throughout the year guys getting called up and sent back down and getting called back up again."
Does that sound familiar?