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Something is up with Nick Vincent

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This is not the Vincent we once knew

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

On May 28th, the Seattle Mariners lost a baseball game to the Minnesota Twins.

It was odd in that it came at a time where the Mariners looked like one of the best teams in baseball and had now lost two straight to the Twins, who looked like one of the worst teams in baseball. It wasn't odd in that every single team in Major League Baseball is comprised of 25 of the best baseball players in the world, meaning things won't always unfold as they should. It all just...happened. Wade Miley pitched and pitched poorly, surrendering four walks, three home runs, and five earned runs in just four innings. Nori Aoki and Luis Sardinas homered. Stefen Romero doubled. The Mariners' LOB total stood at 25 when the game ended. It was one of those games where a bunch of silly things happen that you laugh about and then a week later you forget the game was ever even played.

And yet, here we are. A lot of things went wrong in that Twins series, but the part that stood out the most was arguably the most preventable. Following Miley's short outing, Servais turned to Mike Montgomery, who proceeded to breeze through two innings on a cool 21 pitches because Mike Montgomery is a freaking saint. Servais then went to Nick Vincent, who up to that point had been enjoying his best season since 2013, when he finished the year with a 2.89 xFIP and 1.2 WAR. The outing was okay, he managed to hold the Twins to just one run in two innings (although that one run ultimately proved to be decisive). What made the appearance so significant in the most negative of ways was the fact that Vincent was forced to throw 49 pitches during the outing, far more than he's had to throw at any other point this season (second-most is 31 on 6/15). Some relievers are long relievers or swingmen or recently converted starters or starters who just need a break from sucking for 5+ innings for a few weeks who are more than capable of giving you fifty-pitch outings from time to time. Nick Vincent is not one of those guys. In fact, the appearance beat his career-high for pitches thrown in an outing by nearly double-digits (40 pitches in an extra inning game on 4/9/15).

The performance stuck with me. I was mad at Servais for allowing a valuable arm to pitch that long, at Dipoto for not softly tossing a paper airplane that soared through the Seattle sky and landed pleasantly on Servais' shoulder with an attached note that read "No, but seriously, take Vincent out", and at the Rangers because I am perpetually mad at the Rangers. A little while later Vincent landed on the disabled list and I was mad all over again.

At this point in the season, I think we can all agree on where Vincent stands: an average reliever who gives up too many dingers; a vast plunge from the success he had early on. Relievers are volatile, however, and you see the "tale of two halves" storyline pop up numerous times a year (you're the man, David Pauley), but it was odd to see his peripherals go from 2013 Andrew Miller to 2010 Kanekoa Texeira in an instant. And then Tuesday night, following a game in which Vincent surrendered two home runs in an inning, this thought from Connor Donovan popped up on Twitter:

For some reason, as much as that outing had bothered me, I had never connected the dots before. So out of sheer curiosity, I went back and checked the numbers and my goodness are they something.

Pre-5/28

Post-5/28

IP

20.0

21.0

Line Drive %

12.7%

23.1%

FIP

3.04

5.66

xFIP

2.67

4.49

K/9

11.25

9.86

BB/9

1.35

2.57

HR/9

1.35

2.57

That's not even a matter of "well, his luck changed a little here and there". That is a total and complete dismantling of what once appeared to be a successful season. Line drive-rates are up, hard-hit ball percentages are up, and just about every single stat that had the opportunity to decline did, in fact, decline.

In an effort to figure out what changed for Vincent, I turned to Pitchf/x and Brooks Baseball. There was some minor arguing over whether Vincent's signature pitch is a slider or cutter, but at the end of the day it's all semantics and we're discussing the same pitch anyway, so I did my best to lump it all together. Here's a look at Vincent's slider/cutter, pre and post Twins outing. I've grabbed the pitch usage and value from Fangraphs and the velo/movement readings from Brooks.

Cutter/Slider

Pre-5/28

Post-5/28

Usage

48.9%

54.7%

Velocity

88.53 mph

86.44 mph

Horizontal Mov.

1.1

1.83

Vertical Mov.

5.92

3.78

wCT/C

2.68

-0.93

Even if you completely disregard the notion that overuse severely affected Vincent, it's clear his cutter is nowhere near what it was in the early stages of the season. The velocity is down, the horizontal and vertical movements have made pretty significant shifts, and the value of the pitch has diminished into nothingness. In worse news, he is throwing the pitch more than ever. This is all made even more problematic by the fact that his other pitches are fading, as well:

Looking at the cutter velocity alone, it appears as if something might've been happening before the Twins game even took place. I'd imagine the hope was that his trip to the disabled list would fix some of these problems–and given that we only have a tiny sample size so far, it very well could've–but the data we do have suggests that Nick Vincent may not have much left to offer until he's able to get a full offseason of recovery. Brooks' charts on horizontal and vertical release points is particularly interesting:

The sudden, large gaps between the release points could mean a few things:

  1. There is something very wrong/different with Vincent, be it a health issue, a mechanical issue, or a mechanical issue that is a result of a health issue. Notice that the distance between his fastball and cutter release points slowly grows as the season goes on (and his numbers get worse) in both charts.
  2. Vincent is ever so slightly tipping his pitches, potentially as a result of something from point one. It's all a very ugly snowball effect that has Vincent in a position that isn't exactly ideal for himself or the Mariners.

If you really feel like playing detective, this wonderful gif was prepared by Jose Rivera:


Same pitch. Same desired location. Vincent's upper half on the right (Post-DL) is a little louder, with a slight tilt forward causing significantly more movement in his delivery. The leg kick is also less prominent in the post-DL gif.

Unfortunately, all of this information doesn't leave us with a ton of answers. Second-half Nick Vincent looks nothing like first-half Nick Vincent and it's up to the coaching staff to figure out what exactly it will take to get him back to that level again in 2016. As of this moment, Vincent is not the kind of pitcher you want trotting out there in any sort of meaningful game.