Baseball statistics may have crawled out of the Primordial Soup over 100 years ago, but they have evolved more over the last five years than the decades before it. It’s hard to believe that earlier this decade the majority of baseball journalists- the people paid to watch, report and comment on the game- said Miguel Cabrera had a better year than Mike Trout because he had more, gasp, RBI. I’m not in the “RBI is worthless” crowd, but come on. Trout was clearly the better player. And then Cabrera was voted MVP again the next year for the same reasons. That was this decade. We’ve come a long way.
Thank Baseball Savant and Statcast for being the catalyst. Launch angles, xwOBAs and sprint speeds have entered the vernacular. Perhaps no two of their metrics have made as big an impact as exit velocity and spin rate. We can now know how hard the ball leaves the bat down to the tenth of an MPH and if the curveball was rotating at 2,546 RPM or 2,547. Statcast has been a godsend for the nerds and the curious.
But like every godsend, we are programmed to try to destroy it. Break the internet? Nah, Kyle Crick is breaking Statcast.
Crick ?s journey to the Pirates ? bullpen was a turbulent one. Five years ago, he was a unanimous top 50 prospect in the game, but around that time he started to develop control problems at AA. That forced him out of the starter ?s role and into the bullpen. Four years later, he was dealt to Pittsburgh as the centerpiece of the Andrew McCutchen trade. It wasn ?t Crick ?s fault, but there are better ways to become a major leaguer than effectively ?replacing ? the most popular Pirate in decades.
If there is one way to take off some of the heat, it ?s doing your job very well. Crick ?s 2.51 ERA and 3.02 FIP are practically identical to his first year in Pittsburgh. His ERA should probably be even lower. He ?s only been scored on in one outing so far, a four run disaster where he was blooped and bled to death. He got a lot of soft contact, but it was hit in the exact wrong spots.
Soft contact has been a common theme for Crick this year. He ?s allowed 32 batted balls so far, and only two of them have been hit 100+ MPH. Conversely, one third of them left the bat at 70 MPH or slower. Crick ?s K/9 rate may be down, but hitters aren ?t doing any better at squaring him up.
This year, he has an average exit velocity allowed of 76.5 MPH. Of pitchers with a sample size of at least 25 batted balls, that ?s the lowest in Statcast history.
Since 2015, the average exit velocity across baseball is 87.4 MPH. This year, it ?s a tick higher at 88.2 MPH, making Crick’s accomplishments even more impressive.
The majority of that soft contact has come from his slider. Out of the 10 balls in play against his breaking ball, only one left the bat at over 80 MPH. On average, it ?s yielding a 70.6 MPH exit velocity. Again, that ?s the lowest in the Statcast era (min. 10 results).
Oh, hi, Dovydas. Fancy seeing you here. I guess that ?s a sign for me to reiterate there ?s some potential small sample size wonkiness in play. But we have a large enough sample size to take a look at spin rates, and nobody gets more spin on a slider than Crick.
In Statcast history, the only pitcher with a higher average slider spin rate than 2019 Kyle Crick is…2018 Kyle Crick. (2017 Crick is also lurking around in 8th place, just for good measure.). He talked to David Laurila of FanGraphs about how he throws the pitch last month:
?It ?s kind of like a slurve. I have a curveball grip, and I throw it like a slider. About three years ago is when I started throwing more of a frisbee again. I turned it from a normal curveball, with a normal downward angle, to a pitch that goes side-to-side. Instead of trying to get on top of the ball, per se, I started to just throw it from my normal arm slot, which is three-quarters. ?
Let ?s watch what Crick was saying in action. Here ?s a fastball:
And here ?s a slider.
Same arm slot. Same delivery. Crick’s slider is deadly in part due to him not tipping his hand that it’s coming. It gets whiffs and unbelievably soft contact. It’s a pitch that just might break Statcast, or at least its records.