Injuries have spelled doom for the Mariners pitching staff over the last couple years. When Nick Vincent got hurt in 2016 after being overused repeatedly, he appeared cooked.
But 2017 presented a reinvented Nick Vincent, one whose 1.5 WAR is tied for 10th in the bigs among relievers, leading pitchers like Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis. Let’s take a look at the adjustments Vincent has made to return to and surpass his pre-injury success.
First, let’s take a look at his zone profile. Prior to his back injury on June 27, 2016, Vincent liked to challenge hitters with elevated fastballs, often times off the plate to his arm side. He would pair that with sliders low and off the plate to his glove side. Upon returning from injury, however, Vincent either struggled to locate or was afraid to locate his fastball up, and his performance suffered. Additionally, his slider missed the zone more often than it used to, taking some bite from what was his go-to pitch with two strikes.
This year, Vincent shows no favor to the arm side of the zone, while still operating in the upper-third. When he misses the zone on his fastball, it’s high instead of inside. While his whiff rate on fastballs is down still from pre-injury numbers, residing in the top-shelf has yielded softly hit fly balls. In fact, Vincent allows the second lowest hard contact rate on balls in the air.
Where he’s seen the most dramatic increase in production is his slider. It’s been his most valuable pitch this season, earning 2.00 weighted runs above average per 100 pitches. He's getting more grounders, softer contact, and better results from his slider.
Comparing his pre-injury zone profile and his 2017 zone profile, Vincent is throwing more strikes with his slider, while still keeping it low to the glove side. His increased prevalence in the zone traded his whiff rate for soft grounders. His low 19.1% hard contact on ground balls has yielded a .250 wOBA against his slider.
His pitch sequencing has changed as well. Vincent now uses his slider most when down in the count, and uses his fastball more with two strikes. His whiff rate is significantly higher on his fastball, so it makes sense he throws it with two strikes. I would imagine his slider’s increased ground ball rate has led him to throw it more when behind in counts.
The adjustments Vincent has made have helped him bounce back from an injury that dampened his effectiveness down the stretch in 2016; however, the new Nick has benefitted from touches of luck along the way. His 1.7% HR/FB is the eighth lowest in the majors for pitchers with at least 20 innings of work. His line drive rate on his fastball is also up to 34.21%. The spacious confines of Safeco Field and tremendous outfield defense definitely mitigate potential damage from balls in the air.
Pitch-to-contact Nick Vincent has taken his lowest K/9 of his career, and turned it into his most productive season. He struggled to return to form in 2016, but has reinvented himself to throw more strikes and generate weaker contact. Fear the beard.