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MK Ultra

Nick Pollack reviews every starting pitcher performance from Friday.

Merrill Kelly vs SD (ND) – 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 36% CSW, 75 pitches.

Just like Tylor Megill from Opening Day, we heard whispers of Merrill Kelly becoming a new man in 2022, featuring seven frames of 13 Ks, one baserunner, and zero runs across the spring. I was itching to find out what he’d developed into and it was glorious — 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 36% CSW, 75 pitches. There may be something here.

I watched this start in full and there’s a good amount to discuss. His velocity was up 1.5 ticks to a comfortable 93 mph, but more importantly, his command of four-seamers and sinkers was excellent, helping return a whopping 50% CSW on four-seamers alone. He made a few mistakes given the human that he is but he worked East-West beautifully and I can only hope that ability sticks. The new velocity isn’t enough alone as it sits well below the 95 mph hump we all want to see, but it will do its part to limit the damage on his mistakes when they arrive.

The bigger story to me was the changeup. Mmmm that pitch was filthy — 7/17 whiffs and 47% CSW as it punished lefties and righties alike and was tossed regardless of count. Kelly has struggled to find a proper whiff pitch over the years and if he suddenly has this changeup consistently to allow his curveball and cutter to act as zone pitches, this could work in a major way.

It’s a major IF and while I’m leaning you should feel fine grabbing him against the Mets next week, we’re not at the point of a must add. Kelly has had great nights before and he’s clearly in rhythm given the spring results, but it could fall before May arrives. He’s worth that stream on Friday next week as he’ll be over 80 pitches and we’ll take it from there.

 

Let’s see how every other SP did Friday:

 

Sean Manaea @ ARI (W) – 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 Hits, 1 BBs, 7 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 31% CSW, 88 pitches.

Opposite Kelly was Manaea, who went seven no-hit frames because why the h*ck not. I think this was more of a “hey, the Sneks aren’t all that great” than “Manaea is dope again!” but I’ll give him a lot of props for tossing 76% strikes with his sinker at 91 mph — it’s not the 92/93 we saw in the second half, but it sure ain’t the 88-90 from the spring. His curveball and changeup were hung just once or twice in the danger zone that is hi-loc (upper third of the zone or higher location) across 37 thrown and it all worked. He gets a proper test next week against the lefty-swatting Giants and I’m curious what we’ll get.

Shane McClanahan vs BAL (ND) – 4.1 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 13 Whiffs, 37% CSW, 68 pitches.

McShane was amped in this one, firing 97.2 mph heaters, but he didn’t have the greatest command we’ve seen. His curveball and slider were nasty, though, and while the shift of usage didn’t change a whole from last year (still ~40% heaters), as long as he doesn’t allow a ton of hits on heaters, he can excel. And what do you know, he featured more vertical ride than ever (thanks @Iambored44!) and allowed just 1/29 in play in this game. I’ve never been so happy to see 1/29 before…unless it’s your birthday. It’s a wonderful birthday, I’m sure, I just don’t know you. Yet.

Lucas Giolito @ DET (ND) – 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 39% CSW, 61 pitches.

So the line is wonderful but the news isn’t — Giolito left this one early due to abdominal soreness and he’s going to hit the IL.  Tony La Russa Jr. suggested the optimistic timeline is to miss just two starts, but it’s always smart to be conservative here and I’m putting it at roughly four. Bleeeeegh.

Robbie Ray @ MIN (W) – 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 3 Hits, 4 BBs, 5 Ks – 17 Whiffs, 31% CSW, 96 pitches.

Aces gonna ace. I think Ray went six innings at 88 pitches, realized he wasn’t going to win a share of the Gallows Pole and elected to come back out for the seventh. 96 pitches was not something I expect from anyone during their first pass in the rotation and you have to be thrilled Ray is ready to do it through the year for the Mariners. All that said, his heater was down 2.5 ticks in this game, falling to about 89/90 mph by the end after sitting 94.8 mph last year. A bit concerning and something we’re going to have to monitor, but he still went 34% CSW on the heater with 10 whiffs FWIW.

John Means @ TB (ND) – 4.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 5 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 23% CSW, 84 pitches.

The WHIP stinks, but the ERA is good. Huh, that’s…the opposite of all of last year. Okay, it doesn’t matter and you know that, the real news here was 91.8 mph on the heater (blegh, it’ll come back) and some of his changeups finally landing at the bottom of the zone, allowing for 6/25 whiffs on the slowball. Curveball + slider went 65% strikes combined as well and that’s cool with me. Keep starting him, of course.

Logan Webb vs MIA (ND) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 5 Hits, 1 BBs, 3 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 31% CSW, 85 pitches.

Aces gonna ace. He gave us a scare fielding a grounder up the first-base line but came back out to give us a performance that doesn’t surprise me. Webb is a great arm, but he really shouldn’t be boasting a strikeout rate far above 25%. He’s more like a 23/24% strikeout guy given his stuff and that’s 100% fine with all of us. He’s going to give you lovely ratios over six frames constantly and having a rock like that as your SP #2 is a cool thing.

Charlie Morton vs CIN (W) – 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 Hits, 1 BBs, 5 Ks – 7 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 78 pitches.

Aces gonna ace. Sure, you wanted him to finish the sixth, but it’s his first start. He’ll do it in the future. Be thrilled about Morton, even if he’s a tick down at the moment.

Sandy Alcantara @ SF (ND) – 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 3 Hits, 5 BBs, 4 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 23% CSW, 83 pitches.

Oh Sandy. He had a rough first inning, then earned four outs on 11 pitches. I imagine his adrenaline was pumping in the first and he never quite got into the groove we know he should be in. His stuff is still insane and his command wasn’t as erratic as someone like Professor Chaos and whatnot. You know he isn’t walking five guys again and the fact he still went five frames despite it should tell you a lot. I can’t wait for more.

Walker Buehler @ COL (W) – 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 7 Whiffs, 26% CSW, 78 pitches.

The velocity is still down on Buehler, and while I’m downplaying a lot of single tick velocity drops in early April, it’s a bit more concerning for Buehler given he had depressed velocity last year. This is lower than that lowered velocity. Match that with Coors and being limited to just 78 pitches, I wasn’t thrilled about this outing, but hey, great job Buehler giving us a solid performance and a Win. Let’s hope he ramps up properly and capitalizes on the visiting Reds next week.

Joe Ryan vs SEA (L) – 4.0 IP, 2 ER, 2 Hits, 4 BBs, 4 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 26% CSW, 70 pitches.

There’s been a lot of anticipation for Ryan’s first full season in the majors and this wasn’t the fanfare we were hoping for, especially with his rough first frame. He settled down and while he didn’t carry the 92/93 mph we saw in the spring, it’s far too early to make any judgments here. And hey, this isn’t that bad at all — it could easily have been opening day jitters for the rook. Oh, and Jhoan Duran made an appearance and it was unreal. He’s the real deal with 100 mph sinkers and 96 mph splitters, it’s just a question of how the Twins use him — I’m seeing fireman, but if he cracks the rotation at some point this year, you best jump on that boat.

Reid Detmers vs HOU (ND) – 4.0 IP, 2 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 3 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 28% CSW, 75 pitches.

Detmers! You were supposed to debut against Miami but were forced to start here instead and it wasn’t as good as we know you can be. I imagine jitters had something to do with it and with Texas next, I think he’ll be just fine in the short term and great in the long term, especially when he can go more than 75 pitches. 68% strikes on curveballs with high-fastball intent is oh-so lovely.

Jake Odorizzi @ LAA (ND) – 4.0 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 0 BBs, 2 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 21% CSW, 66 pitches.

As I suspected, Odorizzi went just four frames in this one, though Cristian Javier surprisingly didn’t follow. Bummer, no sneaky Win there. He’ll get Seattle next and while he may go more than four there, I think Seattle’s offense is a little too good for my tastes.

Jon Gray @ TOR (ND) – 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 27% CSW, 70 pitches.

This was a sit for me in the PL Legacy league and it looks like the right choice…for the wrong reason. Gray was looking solid through three (95 mph velocity and 7/24 slider whiffs on the night), then struggled in the fourth, and apparently was pulled with a blister that began appearing in his final spring start. Uggggggh. I hope he’s okay, it may mean he misses a start or two to let him properly heal. That would be the Angels next, which I was all kinds of pumped for. Let’s hope he’s okay.

Gerrit Cole vs BOS (ND) – 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 3 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 28% CSW, 68 pitches.

Cole allowed his first four batters to reach, then just one across the next 13. That’s baseball, Suzyn. Seriously, don’t worry about this. He even credited the four-minute delay of the opening ceremonies to him being out of early rhythm. You never know. Y’all are obviously smart enough to not overthink this.

Eduardo Rodríguez vs CWS (ND) – 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 2 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 19% CSW, 83 pitches.

Some things change in this world. And other things don’t. The White Sox are a crew known for pummeling lefties and it’s obviously so soon to do anything, but man this isn’t the vision many had of Rodríguez pitching in Detroit. Velocity was down 1.5 ticks as well, but I’ll attribute that to needing more time for now.

Nathan Eovaldi @ NYY (ND) – 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 Hits, 1 BBs, 7 Ks – 17 Whiffs, 38% CSW, 76 pitches.

Despite earning a Golden Goal are we ever going to get separate awards again? — Eovaldi faced the rapid swing of the HR-powered Yankee offense, allowing two swats that sent balls over the right-field fence. In the end, a slightly elevated ERA with a 1.20 WHIP sounds kinda right to me from Eovaldi, and the strikeouts should be above average, just not flirting with 30% through the year. Everything’s cool here. Sidenote: Eovaldi sat at least a tick up across everything yesterday, I’m attributing it to opening day + against the Yankees.

Max Scherzer @ WSH (W) – 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 Hits, 1 BBs, 6 Ks – 7 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 80 pitches.

Aces gonna mostly ace. He allowed an absolute BOMB to Josh Bell and his stuff wasn’t as overwhelming as we know it can be (7/80 whiffs is a bit weird), but whatever, we’re all good here.

Aaron Nola vs OAK (W) – 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 4 Hits, 0 BBs, 7 Ks – 10 Whiffs, 37% CSW, 76 pitches.

Hahahahahaha. This was unreal. Nola returned 67% grounders — SWEET — and cruised through six frames at 65 pitches. So fine, Girardi, I get it. Let the man go out there for the sixth in a 6-1 ballgame and Nola’s at 65 pitches. But hot dang, don’t keep him in after it’s 1st and 3rd with no one out in the seventh…so of course he allowed a Seth Brown home run off a 3-2 curveball. DUH. Everything is fine y’all, and I’m not just saying that. It’s all working, except for Girardi’s keyboard. His F4 button is broken.

Josiah Gray vs NYM (L) – 4.0 IP, 4 ER, 8 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 28% CSW, 80 pitches.

In traditional Gray fashion, his breakers earned a good amount of whiffs, but his fastball just isn’t getting the job done. 93 mph vs. the 94.6 mph from last year isn’t what you want to see either and I’ll stand by my feelings on Josiah: I think there’s legit breakout potential with time, but for now we wait and see on the sidelines, hoping for a mid-season pickup when it clicks.

José Berríos vs TEX (ND) – 0.1 IP, 4 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 0 Ks – 1 Whiffs, 18% CSW, 34 pitches.

Jeeeeeez. This feels like your “friend” who’s really just an acquaintance you met that one time at a bar through a friend and oddly gave you a major hug when they left despite exchanging one “oh, I feel that” during the entire night and now they just sent you an essay of a text that you have zero context about. There’s nothing to say except I’m sorry that happened. 

Frankie Montas @ PHI (L) – 5.0 IP, 5 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 6 Ks – 16 Whiffs, 34% CSW, 92 pitches.

Montas allowed a looooongball to Kyle Schwarber to kick off his season and ran into more trouble in the third, but honestly? He looked good to me. Splitters returned 35% CSW, sliders went 16/20 strikes without allowing a ball in play and his fastballs pummeled the zone in traditional fashion. This is good Montas, not bad Montas, so Frankie, I don’t give a damn.

Kyle Freeland vs LAD (L) – 3.2 IP, 5 ER, 5 Hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 28% CSW, 74 pitches.

It was a fun ride watching Freeland fan six across the first three frames before it all came crashing down in the fourth. His slider and curveball are strong offerings, but with heaters sitting 91 mph in Coors, it just doesn’t work. Not the worst streaming option, though. Keep an eye out.

Reiver Sanmartin @ ATL (L) – 2.1 IP, 5 ER, 4 Hits, 5 BBs, 2 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 58 pitches.

I think Sanmartin could be a stream at some point this year, but not in his first start against Atlanta. This wasn’t it and I hope you were Sans Martin. Nick. Gotta get y’all used to the bad jokes at some point.

 

Game of the Day 

Justin Verlander vs. Noah Syndergaard – It’s pretty cool that we have all three TJS guys – Thor, Verlander, Severino – pitching on the same day, especially two in the same game. But Clevinger…Yeah. I know. Soon.

But Nick?! Where are the streaming picks? – I’ve moved them to the daily SP Matchups & Streamer Rankings article.

Have Questions? – Join my morning Twitch livestream! I answer all questions there for free: 9:00 am – 11:00 am ET Monday through Friday.

Photo by Barry Stahl (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bsstahl/) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

4 responses to “MK Ultra”

  1. RAY CROWE says:

    MK Ultra Hype!!! <3

  2. Leo says:

    Would you trade Detmers for Kyle Hendricks?

  3. Jim Delaney says:

    Sans Martin, worth reading to the end for that gem. And all other gems you have throughout the year.

  4. drew.c16@gmail.com says:

    having listened to a podcast about mk ultra recently it’s pleasant to know this article is nothing about that lol thank you PL

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