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Jerry’s School For Gifted Pitchers: Relief Pitchers, Part II

“There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common” - Samuel Beckett, Molloy

three-legged pitchers are the new market inefficiency

Deep under Safeco is a lab where Jerry Dipoto keeps his pitchers, running tests and diagnostics on them and making them watch continuously looped footage of pitchers controlling the zone, Clockwork Orange-style. How did the weirdest examples of his human menagerie fare in 2016?

RHP Dan Altavilla - Beast

Dan Altavilla doesn’t pitch so much as he gives you a front-row ticket to the Shove Show. After being called up in late August, Altavilla showed why his nicknames include “Diesel” and “Animal,” exhibiting a combination of strength and ability to locate that induced a mere 16.7% hard contact rate in his brief (12.1 innings, so SSS) debut. Former Jackson teammate Edwin Díaz gets all the strikeout attention, but Altavilla showed he was able to translate his 10.32 K/9 from AA to the majors, recording ten strikeouts while issuing just one walk. Transitioning to the bullpen has allowed Altavilla, an extreme groundball pitcher, to focus on his two best pitches: the fastball and slider. His fastball has picked up considerably, clocking anywhere from 94-100 mph, and his slider regularly touches 89 or 90, the 17th fastest in the league (min. 50 pitches). The 56% swing rate on his fastball ranks 14th among relief pitchers (min. 100 pitches), and his fastball puts away batters 25% of the time, which puts him inside the top thirty. Alt is young, talented, and inexpensive, and as such, might represent the Mariners’ only attractive trade chip, so don’t get too attached. It’s too late for me, but save yourselves.

RHP Anthony “Tony” Zych - Bishop

I wish there was an X-Man who was acquired for a dollar, but Bishop and his bionic arm will have to do as a comp. After spending the better part of 2016 on the DL, Zych had shoulder surgery on October 11th and will presumably return with a bionic arm next year. Bishop can also absorb energy and release it in multiple ways, which seems appropriate for Tony Zych, whether it’s the triple-digits-adjacent fastball he throws with a ton of glove-side movement (tenth among all relievers!) or his slider, which Nathan dubbed “Satan’s Frisbee.” Zych has put up eye-popping K/9 rates of 11.78 and 13.83 since he became a Seattle Mariner, and a full, healthy season from him definitely has the potential to issue a concussive blast to the AL West.

RHP Nick Vincent - Legion

Legion has a split personality, and so does Nick Vincent, pitcher. Back in August, Ethan tracked the two faces of Nick Vincent and noted he had lost a few ticks on his slider. Vincent also struggled more with the long ball this year, giving up a career-high 11 home runs. He recorded 17 holds but had 6 blown saves—more than in every other pro year, combined. But Vincent’s peripherals suggest he is still an effective pitcher. In 2016, Vincent had the highest whiff rate on his fastball among all relief pitchers (min. 100 pitches), at 37.17%, and he got a tenth-best 57 called strikes on his slider, suggesting an ability to command that pitch around the edges of the zone. After an off-year last year, his walk rate rebounded to career levels (6.1%), and he recorded a career-best 65 strikeouts. If Vincent, who has struggled to stay healthy for most of his career, can control the parts of his personality that want to serve up dingers, driving his FIP up to 4.16, and increase his ground ball percentage (his 31.9% this year was a career low), he will be an effective member of the bullpen in 2017.

RHP Steve Cishek - Elastigirl

The X-Men movies are rated PG-13, which is a little too salty for one Steve Cishek. That’s fine, because his character comp is located safely within the confines of Disney/Pixar. Like Elastigirl, Cishek is able to use the suspension-bridge-in-a-typhoon of his right arm to hurl objects with surprising force and trickeration. Also like Elastigirl, sometimes those things have unintended consequences. Dipoto was betting on Cishek to rebound in 2016, and he did: the walks went down, the strikeouts went up. Unfortunately, so did the home runs. Cishek posted an FIP near four in every month except the first and the last of the season, with an ERA that spiked to over six in July. Looking at his numbers in isolation, none of them stick out horribly—he posted double-digit K/9s in every month except the first and the last, and his K rate hovered around 30%, spiking to almost 40% in July, the same month he posted such a high ERA. His walk rate only hit double digits once. The problem was ill-timed home runs, especially from left-handed batters, who got to him five times for a HR/9 rate of 1.65. The eight HRs Cishek gave up this year were double what he gave up last year and only two less than he’d given up in his last three seasons combined. Cishek yielded the closer job at the beginning of August to Edwin Díaz, and settled in nicely as a high-leverage setup guy, especially considering he was pitching through a torn labrum that required him to miss two weeks in August. Cishek had surgery on his hip in October and will miss the first part of the 2017 season; Altavilla, Scribner, or Zych would be good candidates to slide into the set-up man position while Cishek and his funky Gumby arm are sidelined.

SHP Pat Venditte - Forge

Forge had both his right arms and leg replaced by mechanical ones, and I don’t know what Daddy Venditte did to make young Pat be able to pitch with both hands, but I can only assume it was some deeply Lovecraftian stuff. I can’t even put cream cheese on a bagel with my right hand. So, Pat Venditte throws the second-slowest fastball among qualified pitchers. The Pitch f/x leaderboard doesn’t distinguish between handedness, so maybe it’s just his left side dragging him down there, but when you’re looking at Stevie “Curphus” Johnson a whole ten positions higher than you, that’s pretty slow. Venditte is very slight (the Internet lists him at 6’1”; the Internet is a house of lies) and doesn’t throw very hard, but he also doesn’t get a lot of swings outside the zone (27%), suggesting his pitches don’t have much deception. His biggest contribution in 2016 was the ability to throw multiple innings of relief and of course, the cool double-handedness trick. He profiles best as a depth piece in Tacoma, where the Rainiers would be smart to come up with some awesome Pat Venditte giveaways, like ambidextrous oven mitts. [Side note: the Mariners sent Tim Lopes, genuine infield prospect, member of the championship Jackson Generals, and doppelgänger of Lookout Landing’s own Tim (@eutimioc2) to Toronto in order to complete the Pat Venditte deal, and I’m still mad about it.]

LHP David Rollins - Batman

I know, I know. Batman isn’t an X-Man. He doesn’t even have any special powers. Batman is essentially a dude who is rich and well-connected and hella pissed. He’s the 1%-er of superheroes. Here’s what’s good for David Rollins: at some point, either because that’s how nature made him or some Little League coach with big-league dreams lashed little Davey’s right arm behind his back, David Rollins learned to throw baseballs with his left hand. Although only 10% of the general population is left-handed, in the MLB, that number jumps to 25%, for “More Lefty Baseball.” Lefty relievers are the cockroaches who skitter over the nuclear winter of front office changes and trade deadlines. But if he wants to stick at the MLB level, he needs to learn to do one thing well. Right now, Rollins doesn’t have an identity as a pitcher. He doesn’t control his walks or strike a ton of guys out or suppress home runs or generate a lot of ground balls (in a very limited sample of 12 BF, he does appear to dominate lefty hitters, allowing just a .200/.333/.200 slash line). He possesses an average, low-90s fastball that has some decent sink but only generates about 13% whiffs. He throws the fastball 60% of the time, and splits the rest of the time between a slider and change-up, both of which sit in the mid-80s. The slider was his best pitch this year, with batters chasing it outside of the zone almost 50% of the time, and eliciting 17% swinging strikes. With Mike Montgomery off starring on network TV with the Cubs and Charlie Furbush rehabbing from major surgery, Rollins only has to outrun Vidal Nuño for right now, although I expect that to change over the off-season. Really, what Rollins needs to do is find his equivalent of Alfred, who will do—I don’t actually know what Alfred does for Batman. Get blood out of the Batsuits? Anyway, whatever it is Alfred does so Batman can be Batman, I don’t know, this metaphor broke down like three paragraphs ago, please don’t trade Altavilla.