A few weeks ago, our site manager Matt Provenzano wrote a piece on how the Mariners were pitching backwards more than any other team in baseball. In that piece, he linked to an interview with a new pitcher the Mariners had acquired, Austin Adams.
In this piece, it’s apparent that Adams has a rather analytical mind for a player, shown through him mentioning how he reads FanGraphs, interprets data, and how he is always looking to improve. He had mentioned his emphasis on development and how he was using a RapSodo to better himself by improving the spin efficiency on his fastball.
“Right now I’m getting on the RapSodo a lot and getting better spin efficiency on my fastball. I have a really high spin rate on my fastball but sometimes the spin efficiency gets a little low so it either cuts or prorates too early and it starts getting away from me and you don’t get that ride that you see some pitchers get. They’re down in the zone or up in the zone and you see hitters talk about [pitchers] that (make it) look like the ball is actually rising.”
Matt mainly focused on an answer from Adams on fastball usage. Even with fastball velocity going up, he maintains that fastball usage shouldn’t be.
“Just because fastball velocity has gone up doesn’t mean that fastball usage needs to go up as well. If anything it’s trending the opposite (way). With fastball velocity is going up, (for) a lot of teams fastball usage is going down. As a reliever, if I can have a hitter thinking 50–50 up there, then that’s the more pitches the better I can put in the back of their mind and they have to think about.”
Taking what Adams said and looking at it numerically is rather interesting, because he has taken this belief into action this season. After being dealt by the organization he had spent three seasons with, the Nationals. After a minor trade to the Mariners, he finally found his place in a big league bullpen after years of bouncing between Triple-A and and brief stints in the majors. His comments about fastball usage, his own fastball usage, and his boost in performance all line up perfectly.
In his three small stints with the Nationals, Adams threw 188 pitches, a not great but reasonable sample to deal with in pitch usage. Of those pitches, 100 were fastballs, all of the four-seamer or sinker type. That 53.2 percent rate was just a few ticks under the league-average rate for a big league reliever (57.1 percent) between 2017 and 2018.
With finding a spot in the Mariners bullpen, Adams now has a much larger sample size with 357 pitches thrown since he was traded. And with the rather quick stabilization of pitch usage numbers, a clear change in his pitching profile is easily noticeable. Going back to his Mariners debut on May 13th, 222 relievers have thrown at least 20 innings. Adams is one of them and he ranks 187th in fastball usage, a clear change.
Adams is replacing he missing fastballs with more sliders. It’s been his best pitch in the majors and it was graded as one of the better sliders in all of the minor leagues, with FanGraphs pinning a 70-grade on the offering. He’s simply throwing his best pitch more often.
With the slider being his predominated offering, he throws the pitch at a very large rate, the fifth highest in baseball, with only Matt Wisler, Chaz Roe, Andrew Miller, and Anthony Swarzak exceeding his 59.9 percent clip. Throwing it late in counts has garnered him a ton of strikeouts too, as only four different offerings from four different players have exceeded the strikeout-rate on his slider.
Highest K% By Pitch
With the high strikeout-rate on the his slider and his increased usage of it, Austin Adams has created an incredible run of success for himself. As it currently stands, the only pitcher in baseball with as many innings as him this season and a higher strikeout-rate than his 42.7 percent is Josh Hader. In a smaller stretch of the last two weeks, he’s struck out an unbelievable 65 percent of the batters he’s faced, equating to a negative FIP in that time. He’s pitching like one of the better relievers in baseball, all because of that slider.
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.