Griffin Canning was a second-round draft pick of the Angels in the 2017 draft and moved quickly through their minor league system. The Angels, seemingly always looking for starters, called him up in late April after he had been dominating in AAA to begin the season. The first couple of months Canning was a reliable starter with a decent number of strikeouts and low walk totals. However, the last couple of outings have been less than ideal. In his most recent start, he walked six Astros in 1.1 innings of work. After that game, I had to dig into his season to see what was going wrong with Canning. I broke his season into two halves and then looked at how he attacked righties and lefties.
How Canning attacks righties
Interesting enough, Canning becomes a bit of a two-pitch pitcher when facing righties. The pitch he uses the most is the slider. Batters are hitting .254 with a SLG of .407. What is interesting is that Canning seems to be getting unlucky with the pitch. The xBA and xSLG are .223 and .326 respectively. The pitch has generated 28 called strikes and 26 fouls. However, the slider has generated 70 whiffs and it is pretty easy to see why.
This is exactly how and where sliders should be thrown; down and away from batters. It has deception and is coming in very fast. Out of 60 innings thrown, Canning’s slider is in eighth-highest velocity. Take a look at this pitch from earlier this season.
The next pitch Canning uses to righties is the four-seam fastball
Here is how Canning was attacking batters in April and May.
And here is how he has been attacking in June and July.
He is going more up and away with the four-seam in his recent starts. By doing this, Canning has been able to increase his perceived velocity on the four-seam from 92.09 MPH to 93.28 MPH.
So what has Canning been doing recently that has been killing him against righties? Well…for one thing, Canning is moving away from the slider and using the four-seam, which in my opinion is his worst pitch. In April and May, Canning had a 48%-40% slider to four-seam usage. Now, he has a 42%-41% four-seam to slider usage. What is interesting is when the batter is ahead, Canning is using his four-seam 35% of the time, which is more than the 30% he was using to begin his career. However, he is now using that wipeout slider in two-strike counts. In the first two months, Canning was using the slider in 46% of two-strike counts. Now, he is using the slider 69% of the time. The K% on the slider in two-strike counts went from 38.8% to an impressive 45.9%, with whiffs increasing to 32.4%. It is like Canning knows that is his best pitch and using it to get those outs.
How does Griffin Canning attack lefties
With lefties, Canning mixes up his pitch mix a bit. He throws the four-seam the most, at 44.1% but the curve and changeup make their appearance, at 25.5% and 20.3% of the time respectively. Let me focus on Canning’s curve for a moment as it is a lefty killer. The average velocity on the curve is 81.7 MPH and batters are only hitting 0.083 with a SLG of 0.125.
Look at that beautiful 12 to 6 curve Canning throws to Matt Olson. In the first two months of the season, Canning was using the curve 29% of the time. He was throwing a first-pitch curve 31% of the time. I like the sneakiness from Canning. However, that beautifully sneaky curve has disappeared.
Having done a bit of digging, it appears to me that Canning has lost the feel and therefore confidence in the curve.
Here are the first two months.
And here is the second two months.
Whiffs on the pitch have disappeared from 18.4% down to 7.7%. Another indication of how Canning has lost the feel on his curve is his release points. Here is his release point on the curveball for the first two months of the year.
It is not the tightest grouping but relatively close together. Now here is his release point in June and July.
It is all over the place. In the minors, Canning’s curveball was graded as a 50 so those early results might have been a bit of a mirage. Although, I am confident the pitch will return once he gets the feel for it again.
When Canning started to lose the feel on his curve, he started using his changeup more to lefties to compensate. What is interesting is how Canning is attacking with the change. Instead of being down and away to lefties in the first two months…
…he is starting to come more into the zone.
Not only has the location of the changeup has changed, but also the velocity and spin rate.
When he debuted, Canning’s change was averaging around 87.7 MPH, which is already pretty hard. Now the change is averaging 89.7 MPH, which would be fourth highest, only behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Jose Urena. Normally, more velocity is a good thing but not in this case. The difference between the four-seam and changeup is not as great. Back in April, the difference was six MPH and now the difference is only four miles per hour. To me, the larger the gap between your four-seam and changeup is ideal. As I mentioned before, Canning is coming more in the zone with the changeup and it is starting to get smacked around the yard. It was averaging 80.2 MPH off the bat during the first two months.
Now batters are hitting it at 90.5 MPH.
Which Canning is the True Canning?
In my opinion, I believe the Griffin Canning we saw at the beginning of the season is closer to the true pitcher he can be. In April and May, everything was clicking. He had that wicked curve and the slider was getting those swings and misses. He had CSWs between 32%-34% and his 2-strike rate was averaging 24.4%. Now, his CSW is around 25%-28% with the 2-Strike rate averaging 21.6%. Take a look at his pitch charts from the first two months.
He was hitting the zone and more north and south. Now take a look at the past two months.
Everything looks a bit elevated and more east to west. This makes me think Canning is overthrowing and overall just not locating. Scouts had pointed that he would sometimes go through spells of overthrowing while in the minors but he did come out of it. Not only that, but he and the entire Angels staff is dealing with the loss of their friend and teammate, Tyler Skaggs. Performing at your highest level while grieving is not something most people can do. As a Canning owner, I’m holding on as I think this is just a rough patch and he will be able to pull through.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)