Do you ever have those moments where life just seems to catch you off guard and surprise you? When something so ridiculously cool happens that you can’t be certain it was part of your reality until it’s already passed and behind you? That’s what the past month of my life has been like. I distinctly remember a conversation we had within our Pitcher List group chat during the preseason this year where we were fantasizing over the possibilities of the site’s growth.
“How cool would it be if we got to a point where we’re actually getting to interview players ourselves?” someone asked.
Without hesitation, Nick Pollack replied with “We will. Just watch.”
It’s an exciting thing to imagine. That would be beyond cool, but surely it wouldn’t be for another couple years down the road after we continued to grow and gained more credibility within the industry, right? Wrong.
On July 12th, we published a GIF Breakdown that I wrote showcasing the arsenal and approach of a rookie starting pitcher that was making waves in Tampa Bay – Jacob Faria. Within 15 minutes of publication, Faria himself liked the tweet that we had sent out that linked to the article. It’s weird enough knowing that someone you wrote a breakdown on read your piece – let alone the fact that he was one of the first people to read it at all.
That in itself blew my mind. You write these GIF Breakdowns with the intention of shining a light on a rising possible fantasy asset, so that readers can decide if they like what they see enough to pick him up and add him to their team. You write them to explain to those readers who don’t have the time or opportunity to watch this player play why it is that this pitcher is having success – with the help of GIFs. Your audience is pretty well defined within the niche community that is fantasy baseball. Never, in all of my writings for Pitcher List or otherwise, have I written a piece with the thought that the player I was writing about would ever read that article – and yet here we were.
After the initial shock wore off, I sent out a responding tweet saying how cool it was that Faria saw the article. He then takes it a step further and responds to me saying “Appreciate all the kind words man!” At this point, I’m admittedly freaking out. It’s a first for me in so many ways. A professional athlete that I wrote an article on read my work and enjoyed it. Holy crap. I realized that I needed to use this opportunity wisely and ask him something about his arsenal that had been bugging me while I had his attention.
If you read the Breakdown, you’ll know that I was curious about Jacob’s Fastball. Sometimes it would be straight as an arrow on both sides of the plate, but other times he would get this beautiful cutting action with it that would also show up on both sides of the dish. I couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or not, so I then asked him publicly on Twitter if he had an answer. He was kind enough to send me a direct message almost immediately saying that the cutting action is more of a feel thing that works some days and doesn’t on others. We exchanged a few more messages and after a couple days of letting it all sink in, I decided to keep pushing the envelope. Why not ask him if he’d be open to answering some questions if we met up at a game?
I’m based in Seattle, and unfortunately the Rays weren’t coming back up to the Northwest in 2017, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from asking. Who cares if I have to travel to Florida to make this happen? Let’s give it a shot. After a couple days of waiting I got a response that simply just said, “Yeah bro no problem just let me know when you get here.” I’d be lying if I said I kept my cool in this moment. I was ecstatic. Not for myself, but for Pitcher List as a whole. This felt like a team win – for Nick, for the entire staff, and for our loyal readers that have kept us going. We finally scored our first player interview. Looks like I’m headed to Florida!
We settled on a date to target for the interview, which would ideally not be on a day that Faria was scheduled to pitch. Unfortunately, that’s incredibly hard to predict three weeks ahead of time, and rotations and schedules change all the time with injuries, call-ups, and other natural baseball road bumps. Two days before I was going to fly out to Florida, I realize Jacob is scheduled to pitch the day of the interview. Oh no. I know as a former pitcher that on the day you’re making a start, you want nothing to do with anything that disturbs your routine. I would never want to ask someone for a lengthy talk prior to them making a start. This is not good. However, within half an hour of knowing this, news broke that Faria had landed on the disabled list with an abdominal strain. I messaged Jacob to wish him well and verify that he would still be open to having the interview that Tuesday, and like the cool, calm, and collected individual that he is – he was still on board.
The day of the interview was mind blowing. Here I was, not even two years into writing for Pitcher List and I’m picking up a media badge at Tropicana Field that grants me access to the clubhouse for interviews, on-field access to watch batting practice, and a seat up in the press box to watch the game. What is even going on right now? Is this a dream? How did I get here? Focus, Ian, focus.
I can’t explain how surreal it is at first when you’re in a major league clubhouse. You live your life watching these players through a screen or from the stands at a game, but now they’re just casually walking around you or getting prepared at their locker while you do your best to try to look like you know what you’re doing. I’m a big proponent of the phrase “act like you’ve been there before.” It’s extremely difficult to pull that off in this situation. To my right is Tommy Hunter cracking jokes to everyone while he ices his arm, to my left is Steven Souza doing a radio promotion, and not even ten feet away from me is Evan Longoria patting his glove getting ready to go take some grounders. It’s insane. By the end of the day, I felt a lot more accustomed to the environment, but those initial fifteen minutes or so were something I’ll never forget.
Jacob was throwing and receiving treatment during the hour that media has access to the clubhouse so we set up in the Rays dugout while the team took batting practice and began the interview.
Ian Post: Jacob, first of all, thanks for agreeing to meet up and answer some questions. This is my first time doing anything remotely like this, so bear with me – we’ll get through it.
Jacob Faria: Of course man, don’t worry, you’re gonna do great.
IP: Let’s start by acknowledging that you spent 6 years in the minors before coming to the majors, so you obviously got used to how things were run at that level. What are some of the biggest differences in the majors – such as facilities-wise or travelling?
JF: Facilities are obviously much nicer than the minor league side of it. Like this year in Durham, and Durham is obviously great, I love playing in Durham, but it’s a little bit of an older ballpark. The ballpark is probably the same age as this one (Tropicana), but this place is made for a big league team, so the +–clubhouse is a little bigger and a little nicer, training room obviously a little more accommodating so that’s nice. The travel is way better. No super long bus rides so that’s obviously a nice change of pace.
IP: That upgrade in travel must also play into helping things like your routine too, right? Probably eases some of those things up.
JF: Yeah exactly. Instead of driving for 12 hours to somewhere where you gotta pitch the next morning, you’re flying, at the longest, like 6 hours. Not only that, but it’s a nice flight on a nice plane so it’s much easier on both the body and the mind.
IP: With you spending so many years in the minors, you obviously had a number of different pitching coaches that you developed relationships with. What I’m most curious about, is now that you’re in the majors and with Jim Hickey, do you stay in touch with any of your previous coaches to talk about stuff like mechanics? Or is it mostly limited to only Hickey now?
JF: Right now, from the Rays side, it’s just Hickey. We talk mainly about what’s going on in the ‘here and now’. Then I have the guy I work with back home who knows me better than anybody. He knows me better than any pitching coach I’ve ever had. I’ve been working with him consistently for the last 6 years whereas the pitching coaches I’ve had working with the Rays is on a year-to-year basis, so they know me from what they see during the season. He knows all the ins and outs of my delivery as well as me as a person and a pitcher so I stay in constant contact with him.
IP: Has your routine changed at all since you came to the majors or is it the exact same as it was in the minors?
JF: Not one bit, it’s the same thing. The only thing that has changed is that I used to not eat the day that I pitched. I used to not really do much. I found that because of that, the anxiety kind of builds up more, and the nervousness kind of builds up more, so now I try to go out and do stuff. I’ll go eat at a restaurant.
In fact, there was one day when I was making a start, I decided to schedule an appearance to go do a hospital visit on purpose – just to get the game out of my head, you know? I wanted to go visit the hospital because that’s something I really enjoy doing, but also because it was on a game day and it helps me not focus on the game so much and that actually helps a lot. So that’s the only thing that’s really changed at all. My day-to-day pitching routine hasn’t changed one bit.
IP: Something a lot of pitchers tend to have trouble with is just staying repeatable, or fluid, with their delivery. From what I’ve seen, you’re very good at that. You’ve kept a very “steady Eddy” delivery no matter the pitch type or situation. Is that something you’ve always had or is it more something that’s been gradually refined over the years?
JF: It’s been refined over the years. I mean, it was never “bad.” It was never a problem where I’d have a different thing happening every time, but it’s definitely gotten better over the years. With things like physical maturity, you know once you get bigger and stronger everything sort of comes a lot easier. Once that came along the repeatability got a lot better.
IP: So once your body stopped changing for the most part you’re able to settle in to something you’re comfortable with?
JF: Yeah, I mean my weight still fluctuates and stuff like that. I’m still, you know, getting my “man strength” as all these guys say, but other than that it’s pretty much done.
IP: Transitioning from mechanics to your arsenal, with everything being repeatable and fluid up until the point of release, when you come to release, what are you thinking on all 4 of your pitch types? Could you briefly go over the things you’re telling yourself when you get to that point? What do you tell yourself?
JF: I just tell myself to “stay through it”. Stay all the way through it. If you’re trying to throw a Curveball, you don’t want to try to create a hump. You know, a lot of guys try to create the break and that’s when it ends up being terrible, so I just try to stay through everything and finish it all the way through. All it is, really, is the grip. I let the grip do all the work. I don’t try to do anything extra on my Changeup to get that bite, or the arm-side run, it’s just the way I hold it that gets it to do that. As long as I finish through the baseball and everything, it’s good.
IP: Speaking of grips, I was wondering if you’ve changed or at least played around with any of your grips since joining the majors. Have you done anything like that yet?
JF: Actually, yeah, I have. I played with my Changeup grip a little bit just to help with the consistency of it. Sometimes it would be good and sometimes it wouldn’t be. The last two games (vs. CLE, @ TOR) is when I’ve thrown it. I was talking to Nate Eovaldi and he showed me something on his Split Finger that he actually learned from Masahiro Tanaka when they were teammates in New York. I played catch with it one day and it felt nice, so I tried it in a game the next day and it worked great, so that’s how I hold it now.
IP: Let’s talk about approach. From what I’ve seen, you seem to mix it up early and often. You prefer to put your whole arsenal on display early on in the game. Is that something you’ve always done? Is that part of your pitching philosophy or does it kind of go by game?
JF: It goes game by game. You just have to read scouting reports on certain hitters. My philosophy used to be “I’m gonna throw you nothing but a Fastball and a Changeup the first time through the lineup, and then the second time through I’ll start throwing Sliders and other stuff” but, you know, that’s a very cookie-cutter or beginner approach. Early on in pro ball, that’s what guys should learn. You want to have control of your Fastball and your Changeup and then that other stuff will play in later, but once you get up here, from pitch 1 to pitch 115, it’s go time. Each hitter is different. It’s not like a hitter is gonna go up there thinking “his thing does this”, I mean with some hitters it doesn’t even matter if they know what your stuff does or not. If it’s something that they’re just not good at hitting at that point in time, then they’re not gonna hit it, so I don’t shy away from throwing everything early on in a game.
IP: When you have runners on, or you’re in a tough situation, do you have certain mental cues that you tell yourself to help you get to that extra gear?
JF: Not really. I try to stay the same kind of even keel mentality no matter the pitch or situation. The biggest thing for me is to control the running game. I had problems with that early on and in the middle my minor league career so now I focus a lot on trying to shut down the running game. Once that’s shut down, I can just go back to work. It hasn’t really been a problem up here with guys taking off on me. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at shutting that down.
IP: Let’s transition to a couple questions regarding pitch usage. You have 4 pitch types but you really only throw 3 to both righties and lefties. According to Brooks Baseball data, you only throw your Slider around 3% of the time to lefties, and you only throw your Curveball around 1% of the time to righties. Could you briefly explain why that is? Why wouldn’t you want to mix those in more?
JF: Honestly, I don’t even really know why, it’s just not something I’ve really done a ton – at least in the big leagues. In the minor leagues, it was something I worked on a lot. I did it early on when I got called up to the big leagues. It’s not something I’m afraid to do or something I knowingly shy away from doing, it’s just if the catcher doesn’t feel it’s going to work and he doesn’t put it down I’m not gonna throw it. We go over scouting reports and stuff like that with all these guys so whatever they feel like is gonna work, I’m gonna go ahead and chuck it. If there’s a pitch type that a hitter might at that point in time be crushing no matter where you put it, I’m probably just not going to throw that pitch. I’m going to go to the pitch that I know I’m going to get him out on. So, for the most part, it’s whatever the catcher it throwing down that I’m throwing, and those two examples you gave are just something they haven’t been putting down.
IP: So it’s much more game-plan-oriented than something like “I don’t want to or choose not do that.”
JF: Yeah, it’s entirely game plan. Even going against that pitch data that I’ve shown so far, like If there’s a lefty up who we know struggles with hitting Sliders, then I’m gonna throw him nothing but Sliders.
IP: You and I talked previously on Twitter about your Cutter, and whether it’s intentional that you throw both a cutting fastball and one that’s more straight, and you said it’s more-so a day-to-day thing that varies by the current feel of it.
JF: Yeah, sometimes it just cuts more than other days. Honestly, most of the time it’s just my Fastball and I’m cutting it on accident. If there’s a day when it cuts every time then I’ll use that to my advantage. Sometimes it’s exclusively on certain locations that it’ll cut, like low and away it’ll end up cutting a little bit so I’ll play that to my advantage and put it there more often. It’s just something that after a bullpen session the catcher comes up and says “Hey your Fastball’s cutting and we’re gonna go off of that.” It’s like, “Ok, sounds good.”
IP: Is that something you would want to work on in the future – maybe to get more consistent results with? Would you even want consistent cut all the time or do you kind of like having that randomness playing into the minds of hitters who also don’t know whether to account for cutting action on their swings?
JF: Oh, I would definitely like to have the control over it. That’ll be something I work on over the off-season for sure. You know, having the feel of throwing certain pitches and understanding why it’s cutting or why it’s not cutting. Understanding the pitch and its movement better would be great.
IP: On days where you know the Fastball isn’t really cutting, do you do anything differently in your approach to overcome that? Do you throw a certain pitch type more than you would if the Cutter was working that day?
JF: Not really. I mean, like I said, the cutter really just cuts because that’s what my Fastball is doing, so I’m still gonna throw it when the situation would normally call for a Fastball. If I was gonna throw a Fastball away from a guy because it’s cutting I’m probably still gonna throw a fastball away to that guy even if the action isn’t there. Then we’ll still use my offspeed stuff to play off it. We don’t really change the game plan or overall approach based on the amount of cut I’m getting.
IP: Going back to your Changeup, you only throw the pitch within the zone around 30% of the time. I understand that it’s a great “chase pitch” because it just dips instantly and falls off the table, but is throwing it more in the zone for strikes something you’d want to work on or do you like having it as that sort of “bite pitch”?
JF: It’s more of a bite pitch for me. It’s something where I want to have the pitch finish down in the zone. I feel like if I try to start it up in, or above, the zone and have it finish within the zone, it doesn’t do anything or move as much, and I want that pitch to have that bite to it. If I start that pitch down the middle and it ends up underneath the zone, most of the time I’m getting that swing-and-a-miss or weak contact off it, so I’m pretty comfortable with where it’s at right now.
IP: One of the things I’ve always wanted more of in a baseball is something akin to NFL’s “Mic’d Up” series, where players wear microphones and give the fans the ability to hear the on-field conversations that take place. Things like mound visits or conversations with umpires would be so cool for fans to hear. So I’m curious, during a mound visit, is Jim Hickey mostly talking mechanics, going over a scouting report on the hitters, or is he ever cracking jokes by chance?
JF: It’s a little bit of the first two. If my delivery is off a little bit, it’ll be more about what he’s noticing is going on with my mechanics. He’ll tell me what he’s seeing and what I need to do to get them back on track. If I’m throwing strikes and everything’s good it’s more of a scouting report type thing. It mostly depends on what’s going on that day. If I’m just missing everything and my delivery sucks that day then it’s all about mechanics and maybe a little bit about approach.
IP: There was one occasion where I really wanted to ask you this question. You were facing Boston and you walked the 9-hole hitter twice – both times to lead off an inning. Hickey came out immediately after the second time. Could you share with me what he said?
JF: That one was more mechanical. That was definitely a delivery meeting. The biggest thing we want to shy away from is walking the 9-hole guy, not even just to lead off the inning, but in general. It’s not that he’s supposed to be a free out, but it’s not a guy that’s likely to do significant damage for the most part. So, it wasn’t that I was trying to shy away from getting contact, you know, it’s just that my delivery was crappy. It’s something where my delivery was just off to start an inning and I happened to be facing the 9-hole guy. The mound visit was more of a “let’s just get back on track” type of thing.
IP: Finally, let’s just brief over the injury (abdominal strain). You were throwing earlier today so that’s good news. Nothing too serious, hopefully?
JF: No, I don’t think it’s anything too serious. It’s just something that’s kind of been aching a little bit for about a month. At first, I could get it to go away, you know. I was doing some self-treatment. But then over the last few starts it went from an ache to an actual pain. Then in the last start I made, it went from a pain to, you know, “I just hurt and I can’t throw the baseball.” But it felt good today. I don’t think it’s too serious. As long as we monitor it and we keep doing the treatment and program that we’re doing, then we’re all good.
IP: Do you have an expected date back or a timetable at all?
JF: No not really, just going with the recovery program we’re working with and steadily seeing how it feels – gradually working back into my regular routine.
IP: What has your program change for this DL stint been like?
JF: It’s kind of just using less stressful exercises. I’m a big fan of squats. I squat a lot, you know, I like to do heavy squats, and now it’s kind of like “Ok, you’re only gonna do body weight exercises.” Just lessening up the weight and putting a little less stress on the body throughout workouts.
IP: Thank you again for doing this, Jacob, I really appreciate you taking the time to hangout and talk.
JF: Yeah man, no problem, thanks for having me.
A couple answers really stood out to me. First of all, I love the idea of him scheduling a hospital visit to help take his mind off the game on a day he’s scheduled to pitch. We get so lost as fans of the sport that sometimes we forget that these athletes are people just like us. They deal with nervousness and stress like the rest of us and hearing that Jacob chose to do something so charitable to cope with the pressures of being a major league pitcher was both heartwarming and eye-opening.
Also, knowing that the Split Changeup he’s throwing now has a hint of Tanaka’s Splitter to it fascinates me. Pitch grips are one of our favorite aspects of the game here at Pitcher List. Every pitcher is different and there’s no real right or wrong way to go about it. It’s cool to know that because Nate Eovaldi was traded from the Yankees to the Rays, Jacob Faria now has a new way of holding one of his deadliest pitches. It makes me wonder how often that happens in the majors and who else has adjusted their pitch grips due to the passing of info from players who spent time on other teams. I absolutely love this type of material.
After the interview was over, I asked Jacob if he could showcase all four of his pitch grips while I record him doing so. One of our goals here at the site is to build a database of pitchers doing this. How sweet would it be to be able to view the differences of everyone’s grips all on one site? Jacob obliged and showcased all four of his offerings. He is now both the first official “Pitcher of Pitcher List” as well as the first entry in our eventual “Grips Database.”
This entire experience was something I’ll remember forever. There’s so much to get acclimated to as someone who never imagined this was possible. Just two years ago, I was only writing weekly updates for my fantasy baseball league that nine people would glance at over their morning coffee. Now I’m conducting interviews with major league pitchers in a big league dugout. Unbelievable. The doors are now open for other writers here at Pitcher List to do something similar – and that’s incredibly exciting. The future is bright and I simply cannot wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us.