Snell Is On the Outs | The Process Report

Snell Is On the Outs

Blake Snell‘s most recent demotion should not have come as a surprise. For all the talk of the changes he was making in Durham, he looked a lot like the same guy that began the season in Tampa Bay.

Baseball matchups favor the pitcher. It takes an elite talent to decipher pitch type and location and decide whether to swing or lay off a pitch with 0.5 seconds of time. We used to revere .350 hitters and now have lower our standards to admiring .300 hitters. Maybe that is why it is frustrating to watch talented pitchers like Snell fail to take full advantage of the advantage.

The philosophy for the Rays is quite simple and it is something Jim Hickey has been preaching for over 10 years. Maddon discussed the difference in batting average when opposing hitters hit .220 in 1-2 counts against 2006 Devil Rays pitchers instead of .340 when facing a 2-1 count. Fast forward 10 years and the numbers are even more drastic as the league-wide average in 1-2 counts is .161 but is .346 in 2-1 counts.

Maddon went on to say that while there was a lot of discussion about first pitch strikes, it put a lot of pressure on one pitch. For Snell, that one pitch was a huge problem this season as only Chris Tillman has thrown a lower percentage of first pitch strikes in 2017. That first strike should not be the focal point of any critique, but there is a drastic difference in the likelihood of a batter reaching base while facing Snell if that first pitch is a strike:

After 0-1 Count 144 0.224 0.271
After 1-0 Count 154 0.287 0.435

If we extend that same chart into some other outcomes around the second and third pitches of the at bat, you see a similar pattern:

After 1-1 Count 143 0.280 0.371
After 1-2 Count 88 0.220 0.273
After 2-1 Count 97 0.221 0.381

This is where the importance of that third pitch in an at bat comes critically important to Snell as there the likelihood that opposing batter reaches bases is impacted by over 100 points on the outcome of that pitch. If the 2-1 count is extended to 3-1, the opposing batter has reached base 57% of the time and even when Snell has brought the count back full, it has only reduced opponents’ on base percentage to 49%.

The problem with Snell is that just 31% of his pitches have been thrown when he has had the advantage in the count; 41% have come when the count is even and 28% have come when he has been behind in the count. The issues Snell has sound a lot like where Jeremy Hellickson was in 2014 when Hickey offered the following criticism’s to David Laurila in October of 2014:

He nitpicks a lot – he tries to stay perfect – and gets into a lot of deep counts. He gets in trouble when guys see five, six pitches, so he needs to become more aggressive in the strike zone. …his curveball is pretty good and he doesn’t utilize it enough on a regular basis. There are some games he uses it beautifully… he gets deep into counts. Next thing you know, it’s five innings and 100 pitches, so we’re looking at the bullpen.

The larger issue is something Scott Kazmir recognized the importance of  as Hickey and Maddon really focused on this philosophy in the spring of 2007:

“Getting ahead with two out of three is big. Two strikes with one ball, that’s huge. You can mess with [the hitter] a little bit; you can throw two sit-down pitches before you have to come to them. You get to work more of the plate.”

The bolded words are mine, because while the inability to get ahead in the count is absolutely a problem for Snell, his inability to work more of the plate is more detrimental to his success.

It is no secret that Snell, like many Rays pitchers, likes to work away from the batters. The staff as a whole has thrown the second-most pitches on the outer half, trailing only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Snell’s heatmaps show where he typically throws his pitches to righties and lefties:


When a pitcher spends so much time working to only one half of the plate, they are giving back some of the inherit advantage they have in the pitcher/hitter matchup. Maddon would talk about this in pre-game scrums before his departure that only the best of the best hitters can cover both halves of a plate in a matchup. We see this when a batter takes what looks like a very hittable fastball on the inner third in a two strike count because that batter was convinced the pitch was going to be on the outer third. Dale Sveum, the current hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals, echoed Maddon’s thoughts in a recent article where he talked about how he and Mike Moustakas worked together to rebuild his swing:

“People think players cover both sides of the plate,” Sveum said. “But not really. Not too many people have been that good in the history of the game to cover both sides of the plate. You just can’t.”

Snell’s propensity to work the outer half takes some of the guessing game out for the hitters. They may be unsure of what he will do in the first bat bat, but the are seeing him very clear the second time through the order. The at bat is very likely going to feature fastballs away and front door breaking balls to righties while both pitches to lefties will be on the outer half.

1st time 126 0.228 0.294
2nd time 125 0.294 0.419
3rd time 71 0.274 0.357

Snell has made 14 starts this season and just two of them – the outing against Chicago on July 5th and Baltimore on July 24th – were ones that garnered optimism. The latest outing against a depleted Houston lineup that was without Carlos Correa and George Springer saw more of the same issues that have plagued him for most of the season and were ultimately enough to have sent back to Durham for the time being. Jake Odorizzi is back this week and Matt Andriese is soon to follow making for a crowded rotation even if Austin Pruitt is removed from it. That does not even address the possibility of Brent Honeywell joining it as the club decides how to best use the remaining 40-45 innings of his prescribed workload for the season.

Blake Snell is in desperate need for some form of success and perhaps he can temporarily find that in the majors upon his return working in relief against lefties. For all of his issues this season, he has been quite effective against lefties limiting them to just two extra base hits in 48 plate appearances. The long-term plan for Snell needs to include better command of his pitches so he can get to the higher ground in the matchup sooner and pitch to both sides of the plate with his his fastball. Announce his presence with authority or hit the bull, something like that because the current book on Snell is out and it is a very easy read for opposing hitters.

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