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Nick Burdi Is More Than Just Velocity And Spin

Nick Burdi’s spin rate does not separate him from other relievers. His ability to hide the ball does. Photo by AP.

After two Trevor Williams posts over the past week, it ?s time to move on to another TPOP darling: Nick Burdi. It might be time to give up the ghost and rename TPOP The Point of Trevor/Burdi. To be fair, there ?s a lot to get excited about with the rookie right-hander. Kevin set the table a couple weeks ago. Now we can take a deeper look since there are results in the books and film to watch.

At the moment, Burdi is second among relievers in FIP (-0.54), which is a direct result of his 50% strikeout rate. Yes, his ERA is ugly at the moment and we ?re still in peak ?small sample size ? season, but the early returns for him are glowing.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Burdi is missing bats, and when hitters do make contact, it has been pretty soft. Last year, the Pirates hit the lottery with minor league free agent Richard Rodriguez. It ?s obviously too early to say the same with Burdi yet, but it ?s starting to look like the Rule 5 pick who was purchased for $500,000 in international bonus pool money could be something special.

The fastball is what jumps out first with Burdi, sitting comfortably in the 96-97 MPH range. There may have been some concern if he would fully recover after Tommy John surgery, but it looks like he has. This is the type of pitch every rookie wants as their bedrock. Burdi has that foundation set.

The slider has arguably been his most important pitch so far, using it 58.5% of the time. This isn ?t an example of a secondary pitch only succeeding because batters are geared up for a fastball. There may be some of that in play, but the real takeaway is the two pitches play well with each other. For more on this, I would strongly recommend David Slusser’s piece on Rum Bunter from Tuesday.

His slider ?s velocity has jumped nearly three MPH from his September cameo last year, currently sitting at 88.5 MPH. He is also burying the ball very well, getting plenty of whiffs as a result.

Burdi’s sliders. Courtesy of Baseball Savant. Click to enlarge.

In today’s game, the first instinct for understanding why a pitcher is getting so many swings and misses is he is spinning the ball well. That ?s not really the case here, which is not to say Burdi ?s spin rates are bad. Both are well above average, actually. But that ?s just it, they ?re only above average, not great. His fastball is in the top 30 percentile, and his slider the top 38 percent. Again, that ?s good, but the Pirates have multiple pitchers who get more spin than he does.

Pirates top five pitchers in average spin rate, 2019. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Pirates top five in slider spin rate, 2019. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

But spin is secondary for him. Where Burdi succeeds is his velocity and his ability to hide the ball during his delivery.

Burdi revamped and shortened his delivery a couple years ago. By doing so, batters don ?t get as long of a look at the ball during his windup, if any. Patrick Hageman of Twins Daily made a great side by side comparison of his old and new delivery.

It ?s pretty easy to follow the ball in his old windup, with hitters getting an especially long look when the ball is behind his back. That ?s not the case anymore. It ?s worth noting these videos are not from the point of view of a batter in the box. Those brief glimpses of white are even rarer in games. Take this pitch during the the opener in Cincinnati. Burdi catches Barnhart looking for strike three.

Even as a left-handed hitter, Barnhart ?s view of the ball during Burdi ?s windup is obstructed by the pitcher ?s body or head. Burdi ?s delivery can be broken down into five parts.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant. Click to enlarge.

The rule of thumb is if you can see a gap between the pitcher ?s body and the ball from the TV angle, a batter with the same handedness can see the ball. There isn ?t a clean look here. As a lefty, Barnhart got a peek. It didn ?t do him any good.

Batters aren ?t going to be able to see the ball well and will be kept on their toes by the velocity. The only thing that can sink him is control, and not necessarily just walks. He ?s gotten away with some meatball fastballs so far. Baseball Savant qualifies nine of his 27 heaters as over the heart of the plate. Fortunately for him, only one has been hit.

That could have– and probably should have– been a lot worse. Pitchers who throw 97 can get away with those against the Kyle Farmers of the world. If he is going to be a reliable late inning arm, he can ?t make those mistakes to the Joey Vottos.

Even with that one caveat, Burdi is justifying why the Pirates acquired him and broke camp with him. He is a special pitcher, and it ?s not just because of his spin rate or velocity. He has a rare combination of power and deception that could make him a force out of Pittsburgh ?s bullpen.

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.

2 Comments on Nick Burdi Is More Than Just Velocity And Spin

  1. great article Alex

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