Go back in time nine months, and take a look at Addison Reed. A former top prospect whom the White Sox had installed as their closer for the 2012 season, Reed never really stood out. He'd strike some people out, and his control wouldn't embarrass him, but neither of these abilities garnered him any accolades. Combine that with problems managing contact and velocity trending in the wrong direction, and you could see why Reed came to the Mets on the cheap in late August.
Now return to the present. Reed surged at the end of 2015, notching one of the best adjusted ERAs in the National League over the season's final month. While his FIP- didn't fully support that output, it did place him around the likes of Kenley Jansen and Ken Giles. Roughly two months into the 2016 season, Reed has built off that. He now ranks second in the NL in FIP-, with a mark 58 percent better than average; his 46 ERA- lines up with that. The 27-year-old righty has paired with Jeurys Familia to lock down late leads for the Mets.
On the surface, however, Reed has remained the same. In a few ways, the issues that plagued Reed in the past haven't gone away in the slightest. Let's return to that velocity. He's had two problems with his arsenal, both of which have lingered this season:
Reed's fastball velocity has declined from solid to middling, and he has yet to recover it. He's certainly not a junkballer, but when 92 other relievers throw a harder fastball than you do, you'd better have a quality offspeed pitch to back it up. Reed's slider doesn't have especially great velocity either — it ranks 30th out of the 121 relievers with at least 50 such pitches. Further, what clout it does have might work against him. In general, pitchers want a big velocity gap between their hard and soft offerings, which keeps the hitter guessing; while the Mets have bucked this trend a bit with their Warthen sliders, their strategy might not work for a pitcher with a weaker heater.
In other words, Reed still has a fairly nondescript arsenal. His velocity won't get him ahead, and his pitches move pretty similarly as well. He hasn't added any pitches this year, nor has he drastically altered his usage of any offering. His results seem to bear that out: In 2016, opponents have swung and missed at 13.2 percent of Reed's pitches, per Baseball-Reference. That's not much of an improvement over the 12.2 percent whiff rate he posted before this year. So what makes this version of Reed any better than the one the Diamondbacks wanted to get rid of last summer?
For one thing, Reed had a pretty different delivery before coming to the Mets. Take a look at this pitch, from earlier this year against the Braves:
And compare that to this offering, from a similar point in 2015:
During a stint in the minors last June and July, Reed ditched the leg kick in favor of a quicker release. Reed explained the change to CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes in October:
Reed made one bigger mechanical adjustment in the minors...Whereas the San Diego State product had always used a high leg kick in his delivery, the Diamondbacks worked with him on a slide step in June and it produced results -- for a time. But once he reached Reno, Reed and the club compromised.
"We kind of met in the middle," Reed said. "Not the high leg kick, not the slide step but lifting it quick and just going. That kind of got me a little bit more going into my delivery and going as opposed to the slide step, you’re just falling forward. This kind of got me to gather everything on my back leg and then shoot toward home plate."
Reed did have some problems with stolen bases in Chicago and Arizona. Runners took off fairly often — they tried to steal 30 times in 376 opportunities*, per B-R's data — and 28 of those attempts succeeded. In New York, he's given opponents 60 chances to swipe a bag, yet they haven't taken off once. In addition to keeping runners stationary, the quick release could also make him more deceptive; with less time to respond to the pitch, they might not see it as well.
*The definition of stolen-base opportunities, from their glossary: Plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open.
As noted above, though, Reed hasn't gained many whiffs in 2016. He's instead ascended by racking up strikes of all kinds. Out of NL pitchers with 20 or more innings this season, Reed has the second-highest strike rate, at 73.1 percent. His 61.0 percent zone rate — miles above his 52.6 percent career figure — leads the Senior Circuit. And those haven't been easy strikes to hit. Via Bill Petti's research, check out Reed's Edge and Heart rates by year:
Reed has pounded the center of the plate, but not to an unprecedented degree. By contrast, he's never hit the edges of the strike zone like this before. Only Trevor Rosenthal has a higher Edge rate among hurlers with 300 pitches. This is the real secret of Reed's 2016 prosperity, and this, too, he explained in the CSN Chicago article:
Once he arrived at that [new delivery], Reed began to divide the plate into quadrants and worked on his fastball command. Whether it was up or down, in or out, Reed rediscovered his fastball and cleaned up his slider, which hitters were able to ignore in the first half because he couldn’t throw it for a strike.
The four-seamer had some hiccups for Reed, especially in 2015. He's evidently fixed those problems, as his location patterns from Baseball Savant illustrate:
Versus righties, Reed has shifted his location to the outside edge, grooving fewer pitches. Versus lefties, he's been even better, placing pretty much every heater on the outer part of the plate. That's made his four-seamer one of the most valuable offerings in baseball — its 7.5 runs above average rank eighth among all pitchers. And remember, it doesn't have much velocity; he's just put it exactly where it needs to go.
Reed's skill with his hard pitch hasn't translated to his breaking ball. His slider has remained pedestrian, unable to capitalize on its upped velocity. Still, painting the corners with this four-seamer will get Reed pretty far. With all three Mets catchers — Kevin Plawecki, Travis d'Arnaud, and Rene Rivera — grading out as superb framers, he'll get the borderline calls. Plus, this strategy prevents hitters from getting good wood: By targeting the edges of the plate, Reed has brought down his hard-hit rate to one of the lowest marks in the league, at 23.8 percent. (Prior to this year, he'd allowed 28.9 percent solid contact.) His command has more than made up for his repertoire quality and made him a late-inning force.
A year ago at this time, the Mets were an inconsistent club playing second banana to the powerhouse Nationals. Then they caught fire in the late summer and never looked back. Reed epitomizes this transformation pretty handily: While he doesn't have the impressive resume of some of his peers, he's looked like the pitcher Kevin Goldstein said had "everything it takes to be a big-league closer." Perhaps when he hits the open market after 2017, he'll get a chance to prove it.
. . .
All statistics as of Tuesday, June 7th.