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The Indians get a revamped Justin Grimm

Grimm was terrible for most of 2018, but changes to his release points made him look dominant in a small sample size towards the end of the year.

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Justin Grimm has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his major league career. A promising fifth round pick by the Rangers turned organizational outcast, to later a stud reliever with the Cubs at his peak. But as the case is with most relievers, his peak was short-lived, as three seasons after he posted a 1.99 ERA in 49 23 innings, he was DFA’d twice in a span of a couple months. He couldn’t even find a spot in one of the worst bullpens in baseball, as the Royals let him go this past June.

Grimm would later find himself hanging onto his baseball career after putting up some very uninspiring numbers during his previous major league opportunity, but he would find himself a rebound in the bullpen of the Tacoma Rainers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners, during such a critical time for his baseball career.

To say the first part of Grimm’s 2018 season was bad would be a terribly bad understatement. He allowed 17 earned runs (21.86 ERA) in the month of April, good for more than any other major league reliever in that time. To make matters seem worse, he also missed a full week in April. Two DL stints, a couple bad outings in between later, and the Royals would let him go. Severe struggles with injuries and performance would have him bound for Triple-A.

It was in the Mariners organization where Grimm finally got things going again. Over at FanGraphs a couple months ago, Rian Watt astutely pointed out some changes he had made in an interview with him. It took the Mariners a whole two days to sign Grimm after the Royals had released him. They had noticed something that they thought they could possibly fix. After tinkering with his pitch-mix and release points, they had revamped Grimm from his earlier 2018 self.

“Brian DeLunas, Seattle’s bullpen coach, had noticed that Grimm’s fastball had a tendency to ‘spray’ left and right up in the zone, which meant that, on nights when his other key pitch — the curveball — wasn’t playing either, hitters were able to sit fastball, accepting walks when the heater wasn’t touching the zone and crushing it when it was. Grimm needed a third pitch.”

It was the slider...

“‘So,’ said “DeLunas, ‘we went out and looked at video, and did some work on the numbers, and had him throw some different stuff and figure out what was going to work for him, and found out that he actually threw a really good slider. It was something that he felt with his hand speed and his effort this year, he could get it into the zone consistently. That kind of opened up a little bit more for him, where he uses the slider to get into good counts and puts guys away with the curveball.’”

The results started showing for Grimm immediately. In a small sample size (11 innings), Grimm dominated Triple-A hitters to the point where it looked he needed another look in the major leagues. A 1.64 ERA, 1.75 FIP, and a ridiculously absurd 34.1 percent K-BB-rate. Only six pitchers (minimum 20 innings) posted a higher swinging-strike rate than at the Triple-A level. That also came with the his Royals rehab outings weighing them down.

Top AAA SwStr%

Name Team Age IP SwStr%
Name Team Age IP SwStr%
Ray Black Giants (AAA) 28 25.2 19.5
Bobby Wahl - - - 26 45 19.5
C.C. Lee Dodgers (AAA) 31 25.1 19.4
Silvino Bracho Diamondbacks (AAA) 25 34.1 18.7
Ryan Helsley Cardinals (AAA) 23 26.2 18.5
Hunter Wood Rays (AAA) 24 42 18
Justin Grimm - - - 29 20.1 17.8
Jacob Rhame Mets (AAA) 25 32.1 17.4
Diego Castillo Rays (AAA) 24 26.1 17.3
Austin L. Adams Nationals (AAA) 27 46.1 17.1
Minimum 20 IP FanGraphs

His dominance through just 44 batters faced gave him a spot in the September bullpen for the Mariners. Like in the minors, his sample size was small, appearing in only five games for 4 23 innings. Also in similar fashion, though, the results still looked promising, especially compared to his time with the Royals.

With the Royals, Grimm threw strikes at a 58.3 percent clip. With the Mariners, he threw them at a 67.3 percent clip. With the Royals, he induced a lowly 16 swinging strikes in 252 pitches. With the Mariners, he got half that amount in roughly a fifth of the time. He was getting swings outside the zone at nearly double the rate than in his time with the Royals.

The changes with Grimm weren’t hard to notice because they were so dramatic. Just look at the release points. No sample size issue here too, as these stabilize really quickly.

Again, the small sample sizes still make the future outlook for Justin Grimm uncertain. It’s why the best deal he could find the offseason was still only a minor league deal with the Indians. But what made even this small sample size interesting were the adjustments followed by improvements. These changes may end up meaning nothing huge in the end, but for now, they have his career pointing back in the right direction.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.