The Oakland Athletics had a plethora of relief help last season. The once formidable Blake Treinen turned into the most dominant pitcher in baseball, midseason they added Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney, while getting help from other serviceable relievers such as Ryan Buchter, Liam Hendriks, Yusmerio Petit, and Emilio Pagan.
Helping out that bullpen was an under-the-radar right-hander by the name of Lou Trivino. A former 11th round pick, Trivino had a steady climb through the minor leagues first debuting professionally as a starter in 2013, later moving to the bullpen in 2016.
After four dominant outings to start the 2018 season in Triple-A, Trivino earned his opportunity in the major leagues. He was there to stay too, as he ended up appearing in 69 games spanning 74 innings. He played a key role in an AL Wild Card berth for his team, with only Blake Treinen putting up a higher Win Probablility Added and Leverage Index than out of that whole A’s pitching staff.
Looking further, his numbers tell us that he was nothing special during his rookie campaign. Not bad, but nothing more than okay, posting a 2.92 ERA and 2.69 FIP. If he had any issues, it probably had to due with his control as it seemed walks were holding him back from a breakthrough. Among 151 qualified relievers last year, Trivino had the 35th highest walk-rate.
His early outings this season have told a different story though.
Through his first 12 outings this season, Trivino has only walked one batter out of 44 faced (2.3 percent). His -8.1% change in walk-rate from last year is the third best in baseball.
Biggest decreases in BB%
The improved command/control for Trivino doesn’t seem to be the root from any mechanical adjustment. There’s been no drastic change in his release points, nothing visibly different. It seems more likely to do with a change in attack strategy. Last season, Trivino worked outside the zone at a below-average rate. His zone percentage of 48.1 percent ranked 335th out of 550 pitchers with at least 150 results. This remained true even though his xwOBA while working inside the zone was elite, as his .275 mark ranked 67th lowest out of the same 550 pitchers. Meanwhile, his xwOBA while working outside the zone was .319, above last season’s average of .310.
So far in 2019, he’s been changing the script on that.
Now out of 449 pitchers with at least 25 results, Trivino’s zone percentage of 53.5 percent ranks 58th. As for his success on those results, he has the fifth-lowest in-zone xwOBA at .143. Only one pitcher has a higher zone percentage with a lower in-zone xwOBA.
When you work with an upper-90s four-seamer and sinker, one of the best cutters in the game, and an upper-80s changeup, the strategy might be as simple as just going after hitters. The numbers suggest he might have been doing his opponents a favor last season by throwing the ball outside the zone at a high clip, helping them layoff the offerings. Lou Trivino has one of the best arsenals in the game and now that he’s going after hitters more often with it, the results are looking fantastic.
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.