Meet Brad Brach and Will Harris
Photo Courtesy of ESPN-Brad Brach Player Profile
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Okay, be honest with yourself here. Did you have any idea who the guy in that featured photo for this article was until you read the subheading to this article? If you are one of the few who did, then I have one of two things to say. If it was sheer luck, congrats on miraculously recognizing the face of a first time All-Star from this year’s mid-summer classic in San Diego. Or, if you actually knew who Brad Brach (RP, BAL) was before reading this article or tuning into the All-Star game, we will probably become good friends pretty quickly.
Unlike David Robertson (CP, CWS) from the last edition of MLB 100, both of the pitchers discussed in this article are hitting their prime in their early 30s. I of course am talking about Brach and Will Harris (RP, HOU). Their backgrounds are fairly different—Brach hails from Freehold, NJ and went on to play four years at Monmouth College before being drafted in the 42nd round by the Padres; Harris was recruited out of Houston, TX to play four years at LSU before being drafted in the ninth round by the Rockies—but their performances since 2012 have been fairly similar. Both players reached the big leagues in their mid 20s and struggled early with their original teams. How, they found their strides early on in their tenure with their current teams.
Let’s take a look at their respective rises from making random occasional appearances in 2012 to becoming legitimate back-end options by 2016:
So, why are these guys becoming effective now? Especially with Brach, who is having a career year in all the categories I decided to track, is there anything in particular that is driving this performance?
One thing that jumped off the page to me was Brach’s improvements with his sinker from 2013-2016:
What does all of this mean? As Brach relied more heavily on his sinker since 2015, more AB’s ending with sinkers resulted in strikeouts and opposing hitters hit for a very low average. Another thing you will notice is that he has really picked up the pace on his sinker. While one MPH may not seem like a lot, it can make all the difference for a hitter. Especially once you take into consideration that Brach averages 93.2 MPH on his fastball over his big league career, giving hitters less time to react to a pitch with some movement can make all the difference.
Fangraphs’ Pitchf/x is an incredible resource for evaluating a player’s velocity and the results of at-bats for each pitch he throws. To make your own insights on Brach, please visit his Fangraphs Pitchf/x page: http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=6627&position=P
Meanwhile, Will Harris features two main pitches: a low 90s cutter with a lot of movement and a sharp curveball in the low 80s. While Harris may have had his best year in 2015, rather than in 2016, he has still been very effective overall this year.
Let’s take a look at Harris’s Pitchf/x:
Before I try to analyze anything going on here, can we just take a second to acknowledge the fact that more than 50% of at-bats ending with a curveball from Harris in 2015 resulted in a strikeout? That is insane. Unlike Brach, Harris’s story is a lot less about changing pitches as it has been about changing speeds on his two go-to pitches.
When you really get deep into the numbers and look at correlations, it is pretty clear that opposing hitters’ averages do not necessarily show high correlation to the changes in speeds. However, with the amount of at-bats resulting in strikeouts, we see that as Harris increased the speed on his cutter, his strikeout rates declined and that as he increased the speed on his hook, strikeout rates skyrocketed.
Now, to tell the whole story: both guys haven’t exactly been as successful after the All-Star break as they were before. Brach had an ERA of 0.91 before his trip to San Diego compared to his 3.68 ERA after the break and opposing hitters improved their average from .155 to .300. For Harris, the letdown has been even worse as he went from a 1.62 ERA to 6.23 ERA and opposing hitters improved their average from .215 to .368 en route to 3 blown saves and Harris losing the closing role in Houston.
However, let’s remind ourselves that with a sample size of 71/3 and 41/3 IP respectively for Brach and Harris, both relievers are far from being in panic mode. With Harris losing his closing role, maybe this will take some pressure off and allow him to perform with the same ease he displayed before the All Star Break. Meanwhile for Brach, I suppose a step back from his pre-All Star Break performance can only be considered human.
I now look forward to focusing on more dynamic guys who play nine innings instead of one. Be on the look out Cubs fans, the next one may hurt. Until next time: Go Cubs Go!
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