Pondering a middle reliever's repertoire. Is Crain tipping his pitches?
Friday night I decided to splurge and picked up a couple premium lower level seats for me and the wifey. Box 128 row 6. Great seats, we were between the plate and the Mariner's dugout. Basically row 6 is the first row if we were one section over and behind the dugout. A far cry from my usual spot 330 ft. away out at a bullpen bar picnic table. I was about 10 ft. away from where the Mariners on deck hitters would take their practice hacks.
I wanted a closer look at Felix Hernandez since I've been man crushing on the guy after I drafted him in a fantasy league in 2004. He is the only player still with that franchise. The seats were pretty close to where we ended up sitting at one of the SSS mini meet ups when we all had fun harassing Luke Scott. As such, I was able to thank Michael Saunders and Brendan Ryan for the game as they came out to hit in the bottom of the 9th inning after taking a pop up to the face and making a bad play on a slow roller to give the Sox the victory. With Ryan it was nice because just as my words sunk in he was called back to the dugout so John Jaso could strike out in his place. Delicious, but I digress...
In the 8th inning when Matt Thornton ran into a bit of trouble, Robin Ventura called on Jesse Crain with runners on the corners and one down. When he took his warm up pitches, he threw a couple heaters, then a couple breaking balls. I couldn't believe how obvious the breaking stuff was.
After two warm up breaking balls, I was convinced he was tipping his pitches.
Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak were the next two hitters. As soon as I decided his curveball was painfully obvious, I looked to the professional hitters in front of me and saw them exchange a small smile after making some eye contact. They had to see the same thing to have that reaction, right?
Montero got two sliders, and popped out to AJ Pierzynski.
I let out a sigh.
"What's wrong?" Mrs. e-gus asked.
"I don't trust Crainwreck."
The first pitch was a fastball but it was high, ball one. He took a called strike on a slider, then took another high (and outside) fastball for ball two. The next pitch, a 94 mph heater was in the strike zone and laced for a base hit, scoring Dustin Ackley and tying the game at 4.
Was I right? His arm action just seems so exaggerated when he is throwing the slider. Did the two highly touted young hitters pick up on that and lay off it?
Much to my dismay, Ventura called on Jesse Crain Saturday to face the same two guys in the 7th inning. Naturally he struck them both out, making me feel like an idiot. Did I imagine the whole thing? I had to take a closer look using the Pitch f/x tool from Brooks baseball.
Crain threw a first pitch slider for a called strike to Montero. The Sox pitcher would stay away for the whole sequence, and why not when the outside corner was pretty huge all afternoon. Was he sitting on the fastball this time, like Smoak did the night before? The second pitch was the heat, it was fouled off. He laid off another slider for a Ball. An outside fastball was tipped into the glove for the strikeout.
I'm not trying to say Jesus can't hit a curve ball, but I think he knew when one was coming and wanted to swing at the heat. That's the theory anyway. Also according to Brooks baseball, Crain's release point didn't really change for either offering, and it was in the same spot when he throws his change up, but to me, it seems like that extra flick of the wrist for his slider is just a big tell.
So next it's Justin Smoak, and my theory is that he will be looking fastball all the way. He falls behind 0-2 after taking 2 sliders for strikes. Ah ha! Maybe I'm on to something here. Smoak takes a third straight slider for a ball. Crain and A.J. switch things up, getting him with an 81 mph change up he hasn't seen yet for the strike out.
So it might be a tell when Crain throws that slider, but maybe it moves so much no one wants a piece of it. If he can locate it over the plate, its a big time weapon. I probably couldn't hit it and would be looking heat as well. It's little nuances like this we get to ponder when sitting up close.
Entirely different than the thoughts I would have out with seats in the outfield where I would have myself thoroughly convinced that Carlos Quentin played too deep and that made him seem like a worse fielder than he could have been. I attributed his improved metric last season to setting up a few paces closer to the plate, but unfortunately the data isn't out there to see if that theory is right.
Anyway, that's enough baseball theory from the mind of e-gus for today. I still think it's pretty easy to tell when Jesse is throwing his slider from the batters box. The two guys that were seemingly smiling about that knowledge didn't try to hit it, and it does seem to move down and across the plate quite a bit. The key here is that he has to throw it for strikes. If he can't locate that slider, then he is pretty much a one pitch pitcher, since he only throws the change about 4% of the time. That's when we see the Crain-wreck that can drive us nuts from time to time. For continued success, I believe the Sox are going to need that slider working for strikes the rest of this season.