Game 40, Mariners at Yankees – Covered in Pine Tar

marc w · May 9, 2019 at 3:20 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. JA Happ, 3:35pm

The M’s look for a series split today behind Mike Leake as they take on old friend JA Happ and the Yankees. The M’s won last night behind a great start from Yusei Kikuchi, who tossed 7 2/3 IP, and while he didn’t have his strikeout stuff going, he clearly kept the Yankees off balance most of the night.

And Yankee fans think they know why: pine tar. Kikuchi appeared to have a glob of something on the inner brim of his cap, and he went to his cap quite often during the game. Now, why would a pitcher WANT pine tar? About a year ago, baseball was riven by some controversy as Trevor Bauer accused most of the league of using sticky substances to improve spin rates. Bauer claimed that he/Driveline had tested spin rates before/after using pine tar and they found clear, clear evidence that it boosted spin rates by several hundred RPM. Thanks to Statcast, we can now see what happened in last night’s start: did Kikuchi get a boost in fastball/breaking ball spin rates, or was this just a sticky red herring?

According to Statcast, Kikuchi’s four-seam and breaking ball spin rates are below league average, at around 2180 RPM for his fastball. Last night’s start saw his spin rates…drop. His curve (his fastest-spinning pitch) was down about 70 RPM, while his fastball was down about 70-80 RPM. If he was using it to boost his spin rates, the experiment failed. That shouldn’t be a shock, given that he wasn’t getting many whiffs; he had 10 fastball swings-and-misses in his previous start, and just 1 last night (though of course Cleveland’s a terrible hitting team thus far). His average velocity was down slightly last night compared to his start in Cleveland, and given all of the preceding data, it’s no shock that his vertical movement was a bit lower too. All of which points to the fact that spin rate may have been a bit oversold. I think if a specific pitcher can improve his/her spin rate by 300 RPM, that may make batters struggle. But it’s not at all clear that a pitcher with a 2,500RPM fastball has a better heater than a different pitcher with a 2,200RPM fastball.

Today, the M’s face a pitcher with an above-average spin rate in lefty JA Happ, and that rate may have helped him post a few solid seasons with Toronto and with the Yanks last year. This year, though, Happ’s been crushed. His velocity’s down, and with the juiced ball, his HRs-allowed are up sharply, continuing a worrisome trend for him.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Haniger, RF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Santana, LF
5: Healy, 3B
6: Beckham, SS
7: Vogelbach, DH
8: Murphy, C
9: Bishop, CF
SP: Leake


One Response to “Game 40, Mariners at Yankees – Covered in Pine Tar”

  1. LongDistance on May 10th, 2019 2:13 am

    With that information, it’s obvious: the pine tar was making his off speed pitches even offerer off speed. My suggestion: no stride, and throwing with no rear-back and elbow held in glove, he could get that down into the high 40s.

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