After getting swept by the Giants, Indians, and the Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays found themselves in an 11-game losing streak. Things wouldn’t get any easier as they then had the top offense in all of baseball, the Boston Red Sox, coming to town for a 3-game series at home. Rookie and top pitching prospect Blake Snell was handed the rock for the opener in what would be just his fourth major league start. The young lefty held his own against a Sox team that’s batting .276 against lefties in 2016 to help his struggling Rays snap the losing streak on Monday. Let’s breakdown Blake Snell’s first victorious effort at the highest level with 10 HD GIFs.
To get an overview of how Snell’s arsenal came into play on Monday, let’s take a peek at his strikezone plot from the outing:
One of the major concerns I took away from watching his start was his inability to place Fastballs in the lower half of the strikezone. Almost all his Fastballs, as well as a good share of his Changeups, were left up in the zone. This is where the Sox took advantage and earned most of their hits. Another takeaway is how often Snell’s breaking pitches are thrown outside of the strikezone. Almost all of his Sliders were thrown below the zone on the glove-side of the plate in an attempt to get hitters to chase. Blake’s Curveball is by far the superior breaking ball in his arsenal as he has a much better time locating it for strikes.
Let’s get the visual aids in GIF form to help you guys see what I’m talking about.
Snell’s Fastball ranged anywhere from 90-96mph in his Monday start against the Sox. It’s typically pretty flat in movement but he will get a sort of cutting action on it occasionally. I didn’t see any hint of a Two-seam movement, however. Snell threw 34 of his 56 Fastballs for strikes while totaling three whiffs on 22 swings with the pitch.
You can see the straightness of Snell’s Fastball, as well as the general location he was hitting with this 94mph 0-0 offering to Marco Hernandez:
Here’s another 94mph Fastball, this time to Xander Bogaerts, that also doesn’t show much movement and is left up in the zone away from the original target his catcher has set up for him at the knees:
One of Blake’s best Fastballs in the outing was this 95mph 0-2 offering to Jackie Bradley Jr. that shows us the hint of cut Snell can sometimes get with the heater. It looks like a generous call until you get a view from straight above the plate where you see how it did just graze the outer edge:
The Changeup is a pitch Snell feels pretty comfortable with. He mixed it in early during the first inning and wasn’t afraid to throw it as a first pitch throughout the outing. He threw it for strikes often but left it up in the zone rather than down around the knees. Snell’s Change sits anywhere from 85-88mph and he was able to throw 12 of the 19 for strikes. No whiffs were earned on the eight swings hitters took at the Changeup.
One of Snell’s best located Changeups was this 85mph 0-0 offering to Dustin Pedroia in the fifth inning to get ahead in the count:
My favorite Changeup Blake threw was this 3-2 85mph pitch that earned the looking strikeout against Sandy Leon. It was sequenced perfectly, as he set it up with back-to-back Fastballs up and in, making Leon think this was just another heater headed out of the zone for ball four before it broke back into the zone:
The Curveball is without a doubt the pitch that gets people talking about Blake Snell. It’s a true 12-6 breaking ball that has tons of depth and arc. It usually sits around 74-77mph. Blake earned strikes on 8 of his 14 Curveballs but was unable to generate a single whiff in the 3 swings he induced.
A good introduction to the beauty that is Snell’s Curve is this well-located 75mph first pitch strike at the knees to Mookie Betts:
David Ortiz also had the privilege of witnessing one of Snell’s better Curveballs with this 75mph 2-1 offering that nailed the bottom of the zone:
It’s hard not to fall in love with the pitch after witnessing these two offerings. There is a bunch of upside in the tank for Snell to tap into, and he could become a huge part of the Rays staff riding this breaking ball for all that it’s worth.
Blake also throws a Slider, which acts like a firm version of his Curveball and generally sits in the range of 81-85mph. He either struggles throwing it for strikes or simply chooses not to, as he consistently throws it down and out of the zone on the glove-side of the plate. Snell threw 6 of his 14 Sliders for strikes and got 2 whiffs on 6 swings.
One of the few Sliders that was thrown within the strikezone was this elevated 81mph offering to Jackie Bradley Jr. that earned the punchout in a 1-2 count:
Snell showcases the sharp drop he gets with the Slider on this 81mph pitch in the dirt to Mookie Betts that was never close to being a strike but fooled Betts into committing to it regardless:
Final line: 5.1 IP, 8 Hs, 4 ER, 4 BBs, 4 Ks, 103 pitches (60 strikes), 15/27 first pitch strikes
In his Monday start against the very tough lineup of the Red Sox, Blake Snell earned his first career MLB win. The win also snapped his Tampa Bay Rays’ eleven-game losing streak. It wasn’t a smooth ride to victory though, and he was incredibly frustrating to watch at times. His offense spotted him a 5-run lead in the bottom half of the first inning and yet he still appeared timid to attack portions of the Boston lineup. There were numerous occasions when Snell would find himself in a 3-0 count despite being up 9-0 by the fourth inning.
Snell really needs to work on commanding his arsenal further down in the zone. He was simply playing with wildfire by leaving the majority of his Fastballs and Changeups in the upper half around belt-high. The tower of joy that is nine runs of support from his offense is to thank for Blake earning his first win.
If you took the early version of Matt Moore and blended him with Gio Gonzalez, you’d get something close to Blake Snell. A lefty with a good mix of pitches who struggles with command and can get emotional at times on the mound. He’ll leave you in awe with his breaking ball, while making you wonder why he doesn’t attack hitters more aggressively instead of dancing around them. Through his first four big league starts, Snell now owns a 1.77 WHIP and has a 16/11 K/BB ratio in 20.1 innings. It doesn’t get much easier for the rookie as the Detroit Tigers‘ righty-heavy lineup is coming up next.
Let’s end this breakdown on a positive note and watch Snell’s biggest pitch of the night, when he struck out Hanley Ramirez looking with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning on a nasty 0-2 76mph vintage Snell Curveball:
Ian Post contributes for Pitcher List and grew up on the game of baseball by playing year-round through adolescence and pitching in college before finding his love for writing about the sport. When he isn’t providing pitching analysis, he can be found faithfully rooting for the Mariners, watching Game of Thrones, and searching for a new favorite IPA in the Pacific Northwest.