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Brault Delivers On A Consistent Delivery

Don’t look now, but Brault is on a hot streak. What got into him? Photo by AP.

Remember back in April when the Pirates were being carried by elite starting pitching? Now it's mid-June and Steven Brault is in a virtual tie for the lowest starter ERA on the team. Life comes at you fast.

That's not a slight on Brault. In fact, he's been the Pirates' best pitcher of late, recording a 2.05 ERA over the last month. He's been worth 0.5 fWAR in that stretch –– tied for the most on staff. In a time where the Pirates are desperate for pitching, Brault has performed like an impact player.

The most notable change is his pitch selection. The Pirates are throwing fastballs more than just about anyone once again, but Brault seems to have shot the moon. He's finding success by throwing a near comical amount of heaters.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Each of Brault's last four starts crack the top six for the Bucs this year. That doesn't even count his slider/cutter, which has been more on the cutter side lately. Jason Rollison wrote about the new sequencing of the two pitches recently. Give that a read if you're interested in the cutter, but we'll be looking at the four-seamer at TPOP today.

So he's throwing more fastballs. Those fastballs are also a little worse quality, at least going by Statcast metrics. Going by each of his appearances in 2019:

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Brault's four and two-seamers aren't coming in as fast and are getting less spin. They've also been harder to hit lately. Sure, his spin rate these last four starts has averaged out to less than 2000 RPM, but batters have a .280 xwOBA against it in that time. Before then, hitters had a .449 xwOBA against his non-cut fastballs. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, he's throwing his four-seamer more often, it's not coming in as hot and it's not moving as much. That's an interesting recipe for success. Of course, the explanation could be 'he's not overthrowing anymore.' And there's evidence to back that up.

I've alluded to Brault's last four starts a couple times in this post. Here's why: his arm slot has been pretty consistent lately. Consistent delivery was one of Brault's main focuses this offseason. He shortened his arm path to try to achieve that, and he had a former minor league teammate sit in on his throwing sessions to tell him if he was repeating his mechanics or not. Brault doesn't have blow it by you stuff, so he needs to rely on good execution. He's been doing that lately.

From Brooks Baseball, here are his four-seam horizontal release points per game:

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Click to enlarge.

It’s been a battle for Brault to string together multiple appearances with the same arm slot. There is one noticeable stretch in his career where he had a steady release point game by game, and that was after his demotion to AAA last season. When he returned from Indianapolis, he recorded a 3.63 ERA with a .313 xwOBA allowed over the final six weeks of the season. A more consistent approach lead to better results.

Now when I say consistent for Brault, I should preface it by saying that when he is 'consistent,' it's more like he's inconsistently consistent. For example, take his most recent outing against the Marlins. These are the release points on his four-seamer:

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

It's all over the place, but there is some order to this chaos. Here are his release points in the first inning:

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

And here they are in his 1-2-3 fifth:

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

The ball is leaving his hand at different at different times, but it's still a tight circle in both innings. To spare you the trouble of digging through his inning by inning release points so you can post a 'gotcha!' comment below, admittedly, most of his innings are not this clean. There are usually a few outliers, but they still follow the same arm path. The same could not be said before his demotion last year.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant. Gif made with GIPHY.

Those release points were tighter over the last six weeks last year than they are in 2019, but the overall body of work has greatly improved.

There's one more part of Brault's delivery that should be examined: where he stands. He started last season standing on the right (third base) side, but shifted over to the left when he was moved to the bullpen. That explains the giant jump in the aforementioned Brooks Baseball chart. He started to inch back to the right side after a few weeks before reclaiming the edge of the rubber in late July. After he came back from the minors, he was consistently back on the edge.

It would seem safe to assume he'd toe the edge again in 2019, but in the first two outings this year, he was back in the center.

Apparently allowing five runs in 4.2 innings and taking a loss was enough for Brault to ditch that idea. Since then, he's been back on the right side.

And he's been pretty solid from that spot, posting a 3.83 ERA and a .338 xwOBA since making the change. So depending on how you want to look at it, he's been an impact pitcher for a month or a good back of the rotation arm for two.

While researching this piece, I kept asking myself 'It can't be this simple, right? There has to be something else.' There might be other factors in play, but they can't be as important as the delivery. His feet are in the right place and his arm is coming in at a more consistent angle with a better release point. He's throwing a ton of fastballs and while the peripherals may not be great, he's doing his best work because he's executing those pitches. Considering there are other pitchers who are having problems because of their fastball usage, Brault is proving that any amount of quantity is secondary compared to the quality of the delivery.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

4 Comments on Brault Delivers On A Consistent Delivery

  1. Norm Cubellis // June 17, 2019 at 10:36 AM //

    Good article. Has his control improved any with this consistency? He had good control in the lower minors but not as good at AAA or in the majors.When he stays ahead in the count he is a pretty decent pitcher, but seems to spend a lot of time where he is behind in the count.

    • Alex Stumpf // June 17, 2019 at 11:06 AM //

      Thank you! He’s cut down on walks these last four starts (8.6% walk rate compared to 13.7% before then). The same thing happened when he came back from AAA last year (14.6% walk rate before demotion, 11.2% after).

    • Leo Walter // June 17, 2019 at 12:30 PM //

      I saw a lot of Brault in AA, and I just can't remember him being as wildly inconsistent with his release point and command as he has looked much of his time in MLB. I also felt the same about Chad Kuhl before his injury. It was very obvious he had been overthrowing and I couldn't believe they seemed to make no moves to correct him.

  2. Phillip C-137 // June 17, 2019 at 6:33 PM //

    Good job on the Brault breakdown. Question – Is this the delivery that got talked about in the Spring (shorter and more repeatable) or is it back to what he had done in previous seasons?

    To me, one part of Brault’s problems is that he throws far too many non-competitive pitches. If you look at the pitch chart in the first video, pitches 1 and 3 are no where close, while pitch 2 is competitive if he has a couple of strikes on the batter. I’ve noticed during his recent uptick that he’s throwing far fewer of these non-competitive type pitches.

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