When we speak of the bullpen outlook in the upcoming season, numerous names are thrown out.
Edwin Diaz–the young fireballer who put together a 1.9 fWAR rookie season–is penciled in as the closer. Dan Altavilla seems to be locked in despite the relatively small sample. Marc Rzepczysnki and Evan Scribner are there. When health issues are resolved, Tony Zych and Steve Cishek will almost assuredly find their way back.
“And what of the last spot?” most seem to ponder. “Caminero? Pazos?’
“Vincent,” replies the one with the memory made of tungsten.
“Oh, yeah. That guy.”
The sudden inability for some to recall Vincent’s presence on the roster is understandable. After a red-hot start to the season, he faded into oblivion, posting a 4.76 FIP and 4.44 xFIP from June on, with a lengthy disabled list trip chucked in the middle. I pondered some of the reasons for his struggles back in mid-August, but to quickly summarize:
- Overuse in the early portion of the season, specifically a 49-pitch outing in late May, either wore him out or led to injury
- He experienced a drop in velocity across the board
- His mechanics and release points experienced drastic change over the course of the season
Most of this is evident. It’s why he didn’t pitch often down the stretch and why the entire first section of this article exists. The downside is very much out there in the open for all to view and gawk at.
Hidden deep between the cracks of a woefully average season, however, was one pleasant sign of life for Vincent. In a year where his fastball remained subpar and his changeup went to hell, decided it loved the weather and continued further into hell, his cutter actually showed signs of significant value for the first time since his rookie season.
I try not to put too much stock into these numbers unless there’s a massive change in value (see: Paxton’s cutter, Montgomery’s cutter. Someone in the Mariners’ organization knows how to teach a cutter), but for bullpen projection’s sake, I wanted to see if there was any specific driving force behind the change in value.
For the most part, there weren’t many differences to be found. The velocity was steady and the movements and release points of the pitch were similar enough that nothing seemed to add up to a major reason for the pitch’s success. It wasn’t until I started looking at where he was placing these pitches that I found something:
Above we have graphs showing where Vincent placed his cutter. On the left, we have 2014 and 2015; I included two years because he had a very limited sample in 2015. On the right, we have this year. The differences aren’t striking, he moved ever so slightly away from the left side of the zone and focused more on pounding the right side.
Now, let’s look at how he approached left-handed hitters, using the same parameters:
That’s not insignificant. Vincent made a total change on how he approached lefties with his cutter, deciding it best to run it in on their hands rather than attempt to backdoor them. Did it help?
In many ways, Nick Vincent had his best season against left-handed hitters since 2012. He’s shown the ability to dominate right-handed hitters as recently as 2015. If he can find a way back to that version of himself, his newfound ability to get lefties out could have him looking at a pleasant 2017, which I feel we can all agree is a big need for a Mariners team with endless pitching concerns.