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The interesting reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen

Sam Gaviglio has shown promise in his new role.

Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

In the middle of last season, I wrote about how Sam Gaviglio was working a unique brand of success, using a sub-90 mph fastball and a nasty slider. The success ran out with his subpar heater after though, as after July he put up a 6.16 ERA and 4.83 FIP in 76 innings.

His time as a starter ended after his lackluster second half campaign. He now currently sits in the Blue Jays bullpen, still working with that sub-90 mph fastball and his signature slider. But as a reliever, the results have been more interesting a second time around. In 15 innings spanning across seven appearances, Gaviglio has only allowed two earned runs, striking out 16 and walking only two to the tune of a 1.20 ERA and 2.45 FIP. Among 250 pitchers with at least 50 results this year, he has the third lowest wOBA against at .188, supported by a .222 xwOBA that that ranks 21st lowest among that same group.

As a starter, Gaviglio used a four-pitch mix of a sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball. Now working in shorter stints, he predominately uses his sinker and slider, occasionally working in his changeup to left-handed batters. The pair of offerings have been useful in their own way, as the sinker has induced a plethora of weak-contact. His slider on the other hand generates an ideal amount of whiffs. They increased usage of it in his new role can probably be viewed as the culprit to his decrease in contact allowed.

Out of 157 pitchers with at least 50 sliders thrown this season, the swinging-strike percentage on Gaviglio’s ranks 12th, standing at 26.5 percent. Compare this to last year, when his already serviceable slider ranked 44th in swinging-strike percentage (19.0 percent) out of 140 pitchers with at least 300 sliders thrown.

Top 20 SwStr% on sliders in 2019

Rk. Player Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
Rk. Player Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
1 Corbin Burnes 30 81 37.0
2 Jake Newberry 19 61 31.1
3 Andrew Chafin 21 69 30.4
4 Robert Stephenson 30 99 30.3
5 Lucas Giolito 15 50 30.0
6 Edwin Diaz 15 51 29.4
7 Francisco Liriano 15 51 29.4
8 Adam Morgan 17 58 29.3
9 Chris Archer 37 130 28.5
10 Nick Burdi 25 88 28.4
11 Chad Sobotka 20 71 28.2
12 Sam Gaviglio 22 83 26.5
13 Dakota Hudson 27 103 26.2
14 Zac Rosscup 18 69 26.1
15 Sonny Gray 18 70 25.7
16 Max Scherzer 25 98 25.5
17 Ken Giles 25 98 25.5
18 Ryan Brasier 15 59 25.4
19 Kyle Gibson 19 76 25.0
20 Luke Jackson 22 89 24.7
Minimum 50 sliders thrown Baseball Savant

So far, he’s showing the velocity on his slider (sitting 85 mph) that he showed in his impressive stretch early last season. The extra velocity on the pitch has added a good amount of vertical movement too.

RHP in 2018, minimum 300 sliders
Baseball Savant
RHP in 2019, minimum 50 sliders
Baseball Savant

Looking outside just the slider, all peripherals have looked fantastic for Gaviglio as a reliever. His strikeout-rate is up from 19.2 percent to 29.6 percent. His walk-rate is down from 6.9 percent to 3.7 percent. The quality-of-contact against him has improved too, as his ground ball-rate is up from 48.9 percent to 54.3 percent and his soft-contact rate is up from 17.7 percent to 28.6 percent.

Among 111 pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2018 and 10 innings this season, here’s where Gaviglio’s improvements in each peripheral rank.

  • K%: 7th
  • BB%: 15th
  • K-BB%: 4th
  • SwStr%: 2nd
  • GB%: 20th
  • Soft%: 3rd
  • Hard%: 15th

Sam Gaviglio will never be an overpowering reliever that can blow it by hitters, but he’s showing a rare form of success with his lack of velocity, relying on the outdated sinker/slider combo. His combination of good command, control, and plus-secondaries have played well in shorter-stints. Even if his improved peripherals regress a bit to the mean, as long as they stay improved to some extent, Gaviglio should be a useful and versatile reliever for the Blue Jays this year.

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.