When the Mariners drafted Anthony Misiewicz out of Michigan State in the 18th round in 2015, he had all the hallmarks of “organizational filler.” Shorter stature - check. An arsenal that’s more about location and command than raw stuff - check. Strong, but not overpowering, college numbers from a non-powerhouse school - check, check, check. Left-handed - check.
Misiewicz has been with the organization for so long he pitched for the Bakersfield Blaze, a former Cal League team that no longer exists. He’s been with the team long enough to have been traded away in 2017 to the Rays, only to be re-acquired at the end of the season. Improbably, he’s ground his way up from organizational filler to big-league lefty specialist, impressing the team with an ability to pound the strike zone and strike out batters in the hitter-friendly PCL and earning a promotion to the bigs in 2020.
Misiewicz rewarded the team for taking a chance on him in the pandemic-shortened season, becoming one of the team’s most reliable bullpen options, regardless of handedness. Not only did he manage contact, keeping hitters from barrelling him up at an elite (top 2% in the league) rate. but he struck out a well-above-average number of batters, too (81st percentile in the league), all while showcasing the trademark command that kept him moving up through the Mariners system all those years.
But in 2021, it seemed that we saw a lot more of this, less fun, angle:
So what changed? Looking through the pitch data, the biggest culprit is barrels allowed; Misiewicz went from being one of the league’s best contact managers to being merely average. With that comes everything else you’d expect: fewer strikeouts, more hard-hit balls which means more flyballs that turn into home runs. It wasn’t a drastic change, but it was enough to render a workable ERA of about 4 into a less-workable 4.6, and to cut his value via WAR in half.
So is it downhill from here for the one we call “Tony Sandwiches” (after a story he told last spring training, being granted broadcast air an 18th-round pick rarely sees even in spring, about how a minor-league announcer looked at his last name, shrugged, and announced him as Anthony Mah-Sandwich)? The expected metrics from 2021 don’t suggest that Misiewicz was getting extremely unlucky, but the pitch data doesn’t show much difference in the quality of his pitches: he didn’t lose much velocity off his fastball (he did lose about a tick on his cutter), and he actually spun his curveball more efficiently. That curveball, however, Misiewicz’s second pitch and one he relies on for putaways, lost a bunch of its movement in 2021—both its elite drop and its horizontal sweep.
Here’s a selection of curveballs thrown by Misiewicz in 2020:
And while he still had some of the good sweep in 2021, Misiewicz also struggled with the zone a little more in 2021. Too often, his curveballs wound up elevated in the zone, like this:
That location issue wasn’t limited to his curveball, either. Here’s his location map in 2020:
And here’s 2021:
Misiewicz has had a problem with his fastball leaking into the middle of the plate, but in 2021 it seems to have followed his cutter in drifting upwards, as well, while he’s gotten away from throwing that pitch on the outer edge of the zone. Meanwhile, the curveball has gone from a pretty consistent down-and-out shape to a Whovian Lady Cassandra-like blob. It’s a mess! Here’s hoping Tony Sandwiches can be more crisp panini with his command in 2022 and less of a screen-door submarine of sog. With few lefty options in the bullpen, he should have a fair chance to show that 2021 is the outlier, not 2020.