The Curve and the Change | The Process Report

The Curve and the Change

It’s safe to say that Austin Pruitt‘s start in the big leagues hasn’t been a cakewalk.

Six appearances into his major league career, Pruitt had allowed 18 hits through 5.2 IP and that went with a 15.88 ERA. His BABIP is bloated, sitting pretty at .526. LOB% is also incredibly low at 55.1%, which is another sign along with his BABIP that there’s been an enormous amount of pretty terrible luck on Pruitt’s side. Fans have been calling for his demotion, and for his head. It’s not hard to see why they felt that way, however, it’s early and the front office is obviously a huge fan of Pruitt. The simple explanation here is that confidence goes a long way in any sport. Wednesday’s outing must’ve been the occasion in which Pruitt finally acquired just that.

Pruitt flashes a 4 and 2-seam fastball along with a curveball, slider and changeup. A starter’s repertoire. We all know that stuff plays up in the pen, and for someone like Pruitt who isn’t exactly overpowering anyone with a fastball that cracks 92, odds are he’ll have better chances in the pen.

Pruitt came into the game 2 outs into the 6th inning with the Rays trailing 7-5. At that point, length was necessary from Pruitt. Chris Archer only got through 5 innings, Farquhar was gone, and so was Jumbo. The latter pitched the night before as well, so again, length was necessary here. It was Pruitt’s game to finish.

What exactly does Austin Pruitt have to offer the Rays besides length out of the bullpen? Is there something more to him that maybe gives you the idea of a possible multi-inning high leverage man down the line?

For someone that won’t blow anyone away, you might want to take consider pitching backwards. Pruitt has a plus curveball, as you can see in the tidbit below. With runners at the corner and the Rays already down by 2, Pruitt showed confidence in his hook by dropping it in there right away.

The curveball averages 3033 RPM which is the 3rd best spin rate on that pitch in Major League Baseball right now. It’s an incredible weapon. There’s 12-6 movement on it, so it obviously gives you more of a vertical drop than horizontal. It’s very easy to see why Pruitt might lean on his curveball to start an at bat rather than his fastball. Considering his early season struggles/bad luck, it’s still a tad bit early to get a great read on what he plans to do with it.

What makes the curveball incredibly dangerous is that fact that Pruitt likes putting guys away with it. He’ll throw it with just as much confidence at 2-2. His ability to make that curveball look like a strike so late into the trajectory to the plate is a lethal weapon to have. Jones saw a floater, and what he swung over was a pitch that nearly hit the dirt. The more spin you have, the more violent movement you’ll end up getting. This pitch should make his fastball play up later in the count.

Another sneaky piece that Pruitt provides is his change-up. Let’s look at the first at-bat against Martinez again. Pruitt started him off with the curveball, and got him swinging with his change.

The pitch looks nice and meaty for Martinez from there. He’s decided he wants to swing at it, and rightly so. I don’t blame him.

That’s where it ended up. How often do you see that type of movement on a change-up? I feel like everyone is accustomed to something that falls straight down out of the zone. Not only does Pruitt’s change-up fall out of the zone, it also moves away from Martinez. That is just brutal. Lefties won’t be able to do much against a pitch like that.

The arm action doesn’t differ from the curveball. It’s not like the hitter can clearly pick up what Pruitt is firing at them. Once the hitter decides that he wants to swing at that change-up, it’s gonna dip down and away. You don’t see that quite often, and while the curveball could serve as a the first pitch of an at-bat, this pitch serves as Pruitt’s bread and butter. Xavier Cedeño is the lone lefty in the Rays bullpen. However, with the neutralizing change-ups the pen features out of Farquhar and now Pruitt, you can toss the out the totally valid worry of one lefty in the pen. The average exit velocity against Pruitt in his Tigers outing was only 70 MPH. Weak contact, and plenty of movement should signal the possibility or something very interesting brewing for the Rays.

Romine received the same dose of medicine in his AB later in the game against Pruitt. It began and ended relatively the same way. The first pitch curveball missed for a ball, but he swung over a changeup that dipped away. Trajectory to the plate, again, is incredibly important here.

I did mention that it’s still early to truly see what Pruitt’s plans on the mound will be, but we’re getting a very good idea. However, the idea of working backwards and maintaining that mindset through games will provide with him plenty of success. He’s not going out there and dropping down to a 3/4 delivery halfway across his body, but he has the gift of spinning baseball’s in a way that is incredibly beneficial to him. Command of those secondaries also gives him a considerable bump in terms of playing up his pitches.

I think it’s safe to say that he won’t give up 20 hits in 5 innings ever again. It was a matter of Pruitt adjusting to his new surroundings in the bigs, luck, and patience. I am a firm believer that Pruitt can give the pen multiple innings. I also believe with the movement he can get, and his impeccable command, it could lead to higher leverage roles deeper in the season after he fully shakes off the struggles he showed before Wednesday’s game. Consistency will be play a major role here as we head into May.

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  1. […] The Process Report lays out reasons for hope regarding struggling Rays reliever Austin Pruitt. […]

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