Two of the most exciting articles in the Best Shape of Their Life milieu this spring training came from Corey Brock of The Athletic and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, talking about Seattle Mariners hopeful rotation stalwart Logan Gilbert. In Gilbert’s season preview article our Michael Ajeto summarized the intended changes:
Here’s Gilbert, via Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times:
“From what I’ve seen lately, I like the slider to be around 89 mph, the curve around 83 mph, and the change-up in the mid-80s,” he said.
To reshape one pitch can be a tall task. To overhaul every single secondary offering is, well...good luck. By the end of the year, Gilbert was around 95-96 miles per hour with his fastball, and 85, 82, and 76 miles per hour with his slider, changeup, and curveball. Compared to his stated targets, that would be a bump of four, three, and seven miles per hour, which, again, feels lofty — and yet Gilbert seems to have pulled it off.
As Michael addresses in the rest of his article, spring training Gilbert looked a lot more interesting, particularly given that all his pitches were harder and, at least to hear Gilbert tell it, were more easily located. Each of his reshaped pitches has intrigue, but I am going to focus on the star of last night’s outing: the changeup.
Last year, per Statcast, Logan Gilbert threw his changeup just 7.8% of the time compared to 9.0% this year. No dramatic shift, even in the early going here. It was deployed similarly last year as it has been this season as well, with just two of the 165 cambios coming in to righty hitters, and all 33 thus far in 2022 being bait for lefties. The logic is sound: Gilbert’s four-seam flies straight, his slider mostly cuts, his curve drops significantly, his changeup almost exclusively runs.
This compass rose of movement profiles is not only apt for the early-season ace of a nautically-themed team, it’s a valuable distinction that makes guessing wrong a devastating error for hitters. Last year, Gilbert’s slider and curveball had a velocity gap, as did the changeup, but they resembled, ironically, a downward facing trident in terms of their movements. The slider dove down and left, the curveball straight down, and the changeup slowly faded to the right as it plummeted to the earth. A hitter guessing wrong or misreading the pitch out of the hand is still likelier to be in range for at least a foul ball, which Gilbert was near tops in the league of allowing. They also give the hitter a better chance of choosing not to swing, knowing any pitch starting at the belt or below that doesn’t read “FASTBALL” out of the hand is a ball.
Instead, we’ve seen a better medley of offerings, including most of his pitches working far more often in the zone, but better condensed in their rightful locations. Fastballs have been up. Sliders have been outside to righties/inside to lefties. Changeups have been at the bottom of the zone or on the outer half to lefties. Curveballs have been, well, there’s always room for improvement.
But last night in particular, Gilbert wielded his changeup as a weapon. The lefty-heavy Rays lineup offered a worthy challenge for his remixed repertoire, and Gilbert managed to locate his changeup arguably better than any other start he’s made in the bigs thus far.
It was not a flawless outing by any stretch, with Gilbert battling his command at times on the changeup and his other offerings, but having a pitch that is competitive over half the time as opposed to a hopeful lob is an immense improvement.
For a pitcher who relies on his fastball as often as Gilbert does, the dream is obviously that these improvements continue to be compounding. That even by simply having the changeup appear often enough to make hitters consider it, they may be that split second later on the fastball instead, or waving their sword impotently over another off-speed. I’ll be monitoring Gilbert’s usage of the pitch all year, as it has been an excellent bat misser in both its forms, but needs to be a competitive pitch to keep his pitch count low and threaten hitters. Last night, it was. Hopefully that can become a trend.