The 2017 Mariners are not off to a great start; they're currently 17-21 and fourth place in the AL West. However, they are not without their bright spots. Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano have hit to their value, Jean Segura has been a very productive newcomer to their lineup, and Mitch Haniger, prior to being injured, showed some ROY-worthy promise. On the pitching side, James Paxton looked like a no. 1 starter until being placed on the 10-day DL.
Okay, no more injury talks. How about this: One of Seattle's many offseason pickups, left-hander James Pazos, so far has emerged as one of the newest intriguing power lefty arm out of the bullpen. Not only has he thrown hard (96.1 mph average fastball velocity, per FanGraphs), he's also pitched to a 2.65 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 17.0 innings.
A 13th-rounder out of the University of San Diego in the 2012 MLB Draft, Pazos was never heralded as a top prospect, but he performed well on each level, reaching the majors in 2015 with the New York Yankees. While he did not pitch much with the big-league club (5.0 innings), he showed an electric arm, clocking in at 93.8 mph with his fastball. He came into 2016 spring training as one of the bullpen candidates but had a rather mediocre showing, allowing six runs (three earned) in 5.2 innings while walking four. An unknown injury put Pazos on the shelf from early June to late August in the minors. When he pitched, he battled command problems; in 27.1 innings in Triple-A last year, Pazos allowed 19 walks.
On November 18, 2016, the Mariners acquired Pazos for RHP Zack Littell. Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto made the move based on the team's need for lefty relief help and, because Pazos had only 8.1 MLB innings under his belt, they were willing to roll the dice on him based on his stuff. In the 2017 season, Pazos has emerged as one of the better late-inning lefties in the league. In 16 appearances (17.0 innings), Pazos has a 28.9 percent strikeout rate, 10.5 percent walk rate, and 61.4 percent ground ball rate. While the walk rate may be a bit higher than ideal, Pazos has been limiting the damage by overpowering hitters and keeping the ball down. What's changed?
Over at Lookout Landing, James Trupin pointed out that Pazos is more locked in nowadays, with a consistent release point. I am inclined to believe that that indeed is a big factor in the lefty's breakout. Here is the release point data from Trupin's article:
Such consistency does not happen overnight, though. I recalled that Pazos had a bit of an interesting delivery with the Yankees system — long, loopy arm action, lowered his posture as he strided out, etc. He has had that since the early days in the minor leagues. Here is what it looked like in one of his first ML appearances in 2015:
It's pretty hard to locate pitches in general — the strike zone is about the size of a tin pie plate. It seems even harder, generally speaking, when you have limbs flying all over like that.
In 2016, after having a rough spring, Pazos and the instructors were determined to fix his mechanics to simplify things. In an interview with Lohud, Pazos said he wanted to emulate Andrew Miller by reducing his leg kick and simplifying his delivery as a whole. Pazos had a little bit of a different look in his September call-up with the Yankees in 2016:
Results don't necessarily show up overnight, of course. It is unclear exactly when he adapted the new mechanics, but Pazos walked 19 hitters over 27.1 innings in Triple-A and allowed five earned runs in 3.1 innings with the Yankees in September.
And behold, Pazos' 2017 delivery:
This was clocked at 99 mph to strike out Edwin Encarnacion. What really jumps out to me is how his left elbow leads the forearm instead of it going way back to drag the arm along throughout the delivery. He now has a shorter, snappier arm action, and maybe that's one of the biggest keys to him finding consistency. It also looks like he's doing a better job at hiding the ball too (or, as they'd say, he's got more deception); the batter doesn't see the ball until right before its release.
I asked Kyle Boddy, the founder of Driveline Baseball, on his observation. "(Pazos) went from a really bad stab wrap/stab long arm action to a short and compact one," Boddy said. "It should take slack out of the system, and it's no surprise that he's not only throwing the ball harder, but commanding it better."
Obviously, there's no such things as cookie cutter approach in terms of pitching mechanics. Some pitchers have displayed exceptional performance with long, slinging arm action (Ben Sheets comes to mind). However, Boddy did note to me that shorter arm action "is definitely better for all performance markers."
It would be a big generalization that short arm action is better for pitchers. What Pazos did was find something that works well for him and fix his mechanics to take his pitching to the next level. He was gifted with a big arm and, like all other minor league pitchers, needed refinement to succeed in the majors. Perhaps he found the way with this mechanical adjustment.