Hello fellow fans of baseball! My name is Ian Post, but you may know me as The_Don_Giggity over on Reddit’s baseball and fantasybaseball subreddits. I started a series a couple weeks ago where I extensively broke down pitcher outings on guys such as Jose Berrios (here), Sean Manaea (here), Joe Ross (here), and Michael Fulmer (here), and I’m thrilled to continue the series here at Pitcher List. But enough about me, let’s get into why we’re really here.
We’re here to break down Lance McCullers’ second start of the 2016 season since being shut down in mid-March due to right shoulder discomfort. His first outing was foreseeably shaky, as he had the difficult task of going into Boston to face the AL’s most potent lineup (4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BBs, 4 Ks, 89 pitches [55 strikes]) and his second start should give us a better idea of what to expect from the sophomore.
So let’s break down Lance’s May 20th start at home against the Texas Rangers with 9 “HD” GIFs. I’m putting the HD in air-quotes because as you’re going to find out very quickly, my GIF making methods are still primitive to say the least. If you’ll allow me this first week to sharpen my GIF making skills, I promise I won’t disappoint in the near future.
Enough of that, let’s first take a look at Lance’s strikezone plot from the outing:
Keep in mind, the one thing that stands out in his first two 2016 starts is his pitch usage. In 2015: FB (53.8%), CU (36.3%), CH (9.9%). In 2016: FB (41.2%), CU (48.0%), CH (10.7%). He’s been throwing fewer Fastballs in exchange for a lot more Knuckle-Curves. Back to the plot. Right away you can see the amount of orange – of Lance’s 92 pitches, 49 of them (53.3%) were Knuckle-Curveballs. It’s an effective pitch, as he threw 35 of them (74.5%) for strikes as well as generating 12 whiffs with the offering. McCullers also did a good job of locating the nine Changeups he threw low and away to the lefty-heavy Rangers lineup. Always better to miss down with the changeup than leave it hanging over the plate. Like a lot of other pitchers who have a low three-quarters delivery, McCullers also has trouble locating the fastball on the glove-side corner, or inside to lefties in his case, as it can be difficult to prevent it running back over the plate with its natural two-seam action.
Now for the fun part and check out Lance’s arsenal in GIF form.
Lance likes to gradually ramp up his fastball velocity throughout his start. He features his slower Two-Seamer early on which hovers anywhere from 90-92mph. It gets some great tailing action like this one he threw to Prince Fielder on a 1-0 count:
When McCullers does decide to pump his Fastball up to 95-96, he often times leaves it up and out over the plate with not nearly the same action as his Two-Seamer counterpart. Much like I saw when I broke down Ross with his power sinker, the increase in velocity comes at the price of less horizontal movement. This is showcased on this 96mph Fastball that Prince Fielder was able to hammer to the opposite field for a 2-run double:
It doesn’t always stay flat at the increased velocity, however, as his best heater of the night brought the best of both worlds. 96mph with the movement of a Two-Seamer that landed on the glove-side corner at the knees to Ian Desmond in a 1-0 count. Beautiful:
The simple summary of McCullers’ Fastball is the 90-92mph Two-Seamer he runs away to lefties with solid tailing action, paired with the more ‘Four-Seam-ish’ 95-96mph heater he likes to climb the ladder with when ahead in counts. His Fastballs are effectively wild. They usually have good horizontal movement, but he’ll struggle to locate with them often, which led to more than 50% usage of his nasty Knuckle-Curve.
I said it in the intro but I’ll say it again: 49 of McCullers’ 92 pitches were of the knuckle curve variety. He’s fallen in love with the pitch in his first two outings in 2016 – and for good reason. Houston’s broadcast team mentioned that he might be throwing fewer Fastballs early on to ease his shoulder back into form. Whatever the reasoning for this increase in usage, the hookwas absolutely devastating against the Rangers. Adrian Beltre had the perfect reaction to seeing his first Curveball from Lance on the evening, when the young righty showed how he can locate the pitch at the knees within the zone with this 86mph offering:
It would only get worse for the lovable Beltre in his next at-bat, as Lance showed no mercy and worked a three-pitch (all Curveballs) swinging strikeout for his 3rd K of the night:
The pitch also works well against lefties. Typically, right-handed pitchers are warned to not throw breaking pitches inside to a lefty, as slow pitches down and in are what most LH’s golf into the right field seats. McCullers, however, cares not for these warnings, and instead shows us on this 0-2 86mph knuckle curve to Mitch Moreland that he has more than just a Two-Seamer and a Changeup to get opposing lefties out. Check out this ugly looking swing from Moreland:
There isn’t much left to say on Lance’s Knuckle-Curve. It’s a great pitch that he can both throw for strikes as well as locate down in the zone to get guys to chase when ahead in counts. He throws it to both righties and lefties and isn’t afraid to attempt it in any count. It’s downright disgusting is what it is. I’m interested to see if he keeps the elevated usage throughout the season or if he begins to transfer a few of the curves for more fastballs, or preferably, more changeups.
Lance only threw nine of his 92 pitches as Changeups, and only four of those ended up as strikes. Despite the minimal showing, the pitch has some good depth in movement. This 2-2 87mph offering to Nomar Mazara that missed outside displays just that:
Not only does McCullers get solid horizontal movement on the changeup, but he can also generate a ton of sinking action with it as well. He ran this 1-0 Changeup to Prince Fielder all the way up to 90mph, and it rolled off the table at the perfect time to disappear beneath Fielder’s bat for the swinging strike:
To cap off the Changeup’s movement angles, McCullers threw this 88mph offering to Adrian Beltre that dipped quickly downward and in. It moves to the right, it moves straight down, and now it moves down and to the right – what’s not to like? It’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but it reminds the Mariner fan in me of a certain King’s power changeup at times:
There’s been a common theme already in the mere five breakdowns I’ve done so far on these young hurlers. First it was Berrios, who showed he had the movement of a good changeup, but that he couldn’t throw it for strikes – so he didn’t throw it. Then it was Manaea, who showed he didn’t know what a changeup was and only threw 2 pitches against the Mariners – so he didn’t throw it. Then there was Fulmer, who showed me that he had a dirty changeup, but that he didn’t throw it often enough against the Nationals. I wrote that I’d love to see him double his changeup usage in his next start, and guess what he did? He exceeded my expectations and threw is changeup nearly 400% more often just two starts later – which landed him 11 K’s against the Rays. I’m not claiming to be some pitching genius. What I am claiming is that these young guys waiting until the 3rd time through the lineup to start showing their third offering might not be the best way to go about things. Giving batters that extra pitch to have to keep in mind early on can lead to great things, so long as it’s an effective pitch around the strikezone. It’s incredibly difficult to succeed as a starting pitcher with only two pitches, and it’s even more difficult to do so at such a young age. McCullers has a great changeup. It runs wildly away from lefties and sinks out of the zone at a velocity upwards of 91mph. He should work on throwing it more often and earlier in games.
Final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 92 pitches (60 strikes), 14/25 first pitch strikes
After the understandably rough season opener in Boston, McCullers bounced back strong in his first home start of 2016. Knowing it was only his 2nd start of the year and seeing the arsenal he had makes me giddy like a school girl to find out how Lance is going to be looking come Summer time. It’s always important to remember the age of these youngsters – Lance is just 22-years-old. The stuff is certainly there and the sky’s the limit for him to develop and grow into a starting pitching stud in the future. The last step, as is almost always the case, is discovering better command of his pitches – mainly his plus fastball that runs like crazy at times and often out of his own control. He’s incredibly fun to watch pitch. Hold The Door for him to walk into your hearts when he learns to locate more effectively.
Let’s end by ‘oooing’ and ‘awwing’ at that masterpiece of a fastball to Desmond one last time: