Luis Severino and the possibility of too much velocity

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

This Sunday right-hander Luis Severino will make his first minor league rehab start as he works his way back from a mild triceps strain. He’ll be back on the mound only 16 days after suffering the injury, so it was indeed a mild strain. The Yankees weren’t downplaying it. Assuming all goes well Sunday, Severino could rejoin the rotation as soon as next week.

Of course, Severino was not all that good before getting hurt. He has a 7.46 ERA (5.43 ERA) with too few strikeouts (16.8%) in seven starts and 35 innings. There was talk of sending Severino to the minors before the injury, and at the moment, the only other starter you would even consider removing from the rotation is Michael Pineda, and Pineda just had a pretty good start against the A’s last time out.

There is no shortage of possible reasons why Severino struggled so much before getting hurt. And really, it’s probably not one specific thing. It’s likely a combination of several things. Bad mechanics, no confidence, bad tempo, who knows what else? One thing we haven’t talked about much is the possibility of Severino having too much velocity. It sounds silly, but it could definitely be true.

Severino hasn’t been in the big leagues all that long, so the available PitchFX data is limited. This graph still seems pretty telling though. Check out his month-by-month average velocity, via Brooks Baseball:

Luis Severino velocity

You see the data for July 2014? That’s the Futures Game in Target Field. Severino allowed a hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning in that game, back when he was still in High-A ball. That seems like a long time ago now even though it was less than 24 months ago.

Here’s the video of Severino’s inning in the Futures Game. You can’t help but notice how different 2014 Severino looks compared to 2016 Severino:

That’s a very limited look (12 pitches!) but holy moly, that doesn’t look a whole lot like the current version of Severino, does it? The offspeed pitches in particular. His slider averaged 82.3 mph in the 2014 Futures Game while his changeup averaged 83.3 mph. This year Severino’s slider and changeup have averaged 89.4 mph and 89.6 mph, respectively. Huge difference!

Having watched Severino this season, I feel comfortable saying his problems are more a result of poor location than poor stuff. That said, I do think it’s fair to wonder if Severino is being hurt by a lack of velocity separation. Hitters know everything he throws is going to be hard, up around 90 mph and above. They don’t have to worry about that low-80s pitch with a wrinkle in it.

We hear it all the time: pitching is about disrupting a hitter’s timing, and when you throw everything at a similar velocity, it gives the hitter a better chance to time it. Movement and location aren’t always enough to compensate. Right now, hitters can focus on hard stuff with Severino, giving them that much better of a chance to square him up. A little less velocity on the slider and changeup could equal more whiffs and more weak contact.

I have no idea what happened to Severino between the 2014 Futures Game and now. He’s a young man, remember. Severino turned 22 in February, meaning he was only 20 during the Futures Game. He was still maturing physically and he could have added arm strength between now and then. It could be he tweaked his mechanics and unlocked some velocity. Maybe he was holding back at the Futures Game because his schedule had been thrown out of whack. Who knows?

If I had my pick, I would probably take sliders and changeups in the upper-80s rather than the low-80s, but what the hell do I know. Severino’s secondary pitches have not been particularly effective this season and I wonder if scaling back and subtracting some velocity to create more separation with the fastball would help. That theoretically would help his fastball play up too. It’s not often throwing hard is a problem. When it comes to Severino’s slider and changeup, it just might be.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Severino should not automatically re-enter the rotation once healthy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Let’s get straight to the point: the Yankees were counting on Luis Severino to be really good this season. Everyone from Joe Girardi to Brian Cashman to Hal Steinbrenner said one of the reasons they expected the 2016 Yankees to be better than the 2015 Yankees was Severino. They were going to have him for a full season after his strong eleven-start debut a year ago.

Folks were calling Severino the ace of staff before the season got underway and there was even talk about starting him on Opening Day ahead of Masahiro Tanaka. I always thought the instant ace stuff was too much, too soon. Young players often go through growing pains and expecting a 22-year-old with minimal experience to lead the staff of a team trying to contend was very optimistic. Not everyone is Clayton Kershaw.

That doesn’t mean I expected Severino to be bad. In fact, I expected him to be pretty darn good, albeit with some inevitable bumps in the road along the way. ZiPS pegged Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher coming into 2016 and that sounded pretty good to me. I probably would have signed up for 175 innings of that before the season. A 22-year-old pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium? That works.

I certainly didn’t expect Severino to pitch this poorly. Not even the most pessimistic folks could have imagined this. One hundred and twenty nine pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings this season, and Severino ranks 127th in ERA (7.46) and 116th in FIP (5.48). Cashman said a demotion to Triple-A was on the table — the Yankees shuffled their Triple-A rotation to make sure Luis Cessa and Severino were on the same schedule — but, before that could happen, Severino got hurt. He left Friday’s start with a triceps strain.

Injuries often explain poor performance and in a weird way Severino’s injury felt like a bit of a relief. It was a possible explanation for his problems. Cashman shot that down though. Following the injury, the GM offered a brutally honest assessment of Severino’s season to date. From Justin Tasch:

“No, no, no,” Cashman said. “His stuff’s not there, bottom line. His arm strength is there, but his stuff is not there. He doesn’t have command of his fastball. He doesn’t have command of his secondary pitches. His changeup and slider have been inconsistent. It’s not health related.”

Cashman confirmed Severino will make a rehab start but would not commit to him stepping right back into the rotation once healthy, and that’s smart. Even if he didn’t leave Friday’s start with an injury, a demotion to Triple-A felt inevitable. It would have been very hard to justify continuing to send the kid out there every fifth day to take a beating.

Severino grabbed at his elbow on the mound Friday and that was scary as hell. These days it’s easy to assume the worst, meaning ligament damage. A triceps strain is not as severe as ligament damage but it’s still not good. Justin Verlander missed two months with a triceps strain just last year. Severino’s strain was termed “mild,” though who knows what that means. Chances are this won’t be a 15-day stint on the DL. Let’s put it that way.

What the injury does is buy the Yankees and Severino some time. Yes, it would be far more preferable to have him healthy and able to pitch, but that’s not an option. Severino has a chance to clear his head a bit — he’ll be shut down a week before picking up a ball anyway — and then be brought back slowly with a throwing program. It’s an opportunity to get back to the basics and fix whatever is wrong.

That “fix whatever is wrong” part is very important. I don’t think Severino should return to the big leagues until those command issues are solved and he’s having more success locating his slider and changeup. If that means he has to go to Triple-A for a few weeks once he’s healthy, fine. I think it’s reached that point with Severino. The Yankees will be getting CC Sabathia back Friday and they have decent enough depth in Cessa and Chad Green.

Teams always have to balance the short-term with the long-term, though the Yankees have been focused more on the short-term over the last 20 years or so. In Severino’s case, they have to take the long-term view and do what’s best for him as a player, because that’s what’s best for the organization. Bringing him back once he’s healthy just because he’s healthy is a wrong move. There has to be improvement in the secondary pitches and command first.

Many young pitchers have gotten lit up early in their careers before finally finding what works for them. Go look at what Roy Halladay and Johan Santana and Zack Greinke did in their first few seasons as a big leaguer. It was ugly. That isn’t to say Severino will become those guys one day, it just means getting there isn’t always easy. Severino is obviously very talented, but right now he has some real flaws, and he shouldn’t return to the big leagues until he shows improvement.

Once expected to be a solution, Pineda is now just another part of the problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember back a few years after the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade, when there was that big rush to declare a winner? Pineda blew out his shoulder and Montero had a decent year in 2012, so the Mariners won the trade. Then Montero faded and Pineda returned with a vengeance in 2014, so the Yankees won the trade. There were a few back-and-forths along the way, sometimes on a game by game basis.

Ultimately the need to declare a trade winner is pointless. Now, more than four years after the trade, one thing is clear: neither team got what they wanted out of the deal. Montero did not blossom into the big righty bat the Mariners sought, and Pineda did not develop into a pitcher who could pitch near the front of the rotation. Both showed flashes but have fallen short. We can say that with certainty now more than four years later.

Pineda’s latest dud was a five-inning, five-run mess against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night that looked like most other Pineda starts these days. He fell apart with two outs in the inning, made miserable two-strike pitches, and let things snowball out of control. Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, Pineda ranks 101st in ERA (6.60) and 88th in FIP (4.96) among the 103 qualified starters. You can’t even hang your hat on his peripherals anymore.

“It’s easy to say it will turn, but it’s been too long,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to George King after last night’s game. “We are almost a quarter of the way through his starts. We need to straighten it out, especially in the stretch. He is going through a major bump in the road right now. He gets ahead in the count and the numbers worsen. From the stretch position the quality of pitches are not the same. We need to fix that.”

Pineda is very much a good control/bad command pitcher. He can throw strikes (6.9 BB%) but rarely quality strikes, and there was no better example of that last night than the two-strike sliders he hung to Nick Ahmed and Paul Goldschmidt in the second and third innings. Pineda got ahead in the count, had a chance to escape the inning, then put a cement mixer slider on a tee and paid for it. Throwing strikes is generally good. Throwing strikes down the middle is not.

In a few ways Pineda is a microcosm of the 2016 Yankees. He is so obviously talented with a chance to be an excellent player, but he’s not only not performing as expected, he’s going backwards. Pineda was fantastic around a lat injury in 2014, then he took a step back in 2015, and now he’s taken an even bigger step back in 2016. Sometimes players struggle and that’s just baseball. But with Pineda, he seems to be getting worse with each passing month.

At this point it’s hard to see how Pineda not only factors into the team’s long-term plans, but their short-term plans as well. Pineda is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Yes, there’s a lot of season left and he is under team control next season too, but we’ve been waiting for things to click and for Pineda to turn the corner for a long time now. Again, all he’s done is gone backwards. There have been no signs of progress.

The shoulder surgery a few years back total sucks and it’s impossible to know what kind of effect that has had on Pineda. Maybe he was doomed to disappoint from the start. Or maybe he was headed for the front of the rotation before his arm gave out. Either way, the Pineda the Yankees have right now is not very good and he seems to be getting worse. His inability to emerge as a rotation force is one of the reasons the Yankees have settled into this stretch of mediocrity that is going on four years now.

Chad Green’s need for a third pitch is obvious after his first big league start

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Thanks to Luis Severino‘s triceps injury, rookie right-hander Chad Green made his MLB debut last night, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk in four-plus innings against the Diamondbacks. He struck out five and allowed two homers. It wasn’t the worst first career start by a Yankee, but it wasn’t great either.

Despite the numbers, I thought Green’s raw stuff looked pretty good most of the game. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and he showed a sharp — albeit inconsistent — mid-80s slider at times as well. Here’s the PitchFX info for his outing, via Brooks Baseball:

Chad Green pitch selection

Getting six whiffs on 30 total swings against the fastball is really good! The slider … not so much. Green threw 19 sliders and only eight were strikes, though, to be fair, home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor seemed to have a tight zone all night. Both teams had some borderline calls not go their way.

What we don’t see in the PitchFX data is a third pitch, or more precisely a second offspeed pitch. The scouting report on Green says he started throwing a splitter last season but we sure didn’t see it last night. Arizona’s left-handed batters went 4-for-10 with only one strikeout and three swings and misses against Green. The lack of a second secondary pitch was a clear weakness.

This was never more obvious than during Jake Lamb’s fifth inning at-bat with runners on first and second. Green got ahead in the count 0-2 against the left-handed batter, but he had nothing to put Lamb away, so eventually the count ran full, then bam. Homer.

Chad Green Jake Lamb

(PitchFX classified a slider as a curveball for whatever reason. The manually classified data at Brooks Baseball corrected it.)

If there was ever a time to show the splitter, that was it. Green was facing Lamb for the third time — Lamb had a hit in each of his first two at-bats — and he had him in an 0-2 count with two runners on base in a tie game. It didn’t even need to be a good splitter. It only needed to be something different to keep the hitter guessing.

Green’s slider has reportedly improved over the last few weeks thanks to some tinkering by Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Tommy Phelps — “It seems to have some more depth, which is important. Obviously he’s got a very good fastball, and it’s got some sink to it,” said Joe Girardi to Wally Matthews — and that’s good. Improving a breaking ball is a positive. He’s going to need more than that slider to remain in the rotation long-term though.

Left-handed batters have punished Green in the minors — they hit .299/.355/.451 against him in a full season at Double-A last year — so this is an ongoing problem. The scouting report says he has a splitter, and I’m sure he does somewhere, but we didn’t see it last night and it hasn’t kept even minor league lefties at bay. I was impressed by Green’s fastball/slider combination overall against the D’Backs. That won’t be enough though. He’ll need to show a third pitch more often to have success as a starter going forward.

Rotation and middle relief remain problems as the offense starts to turn things around

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

For the first four or five weeks of the season, the Yankees sank like a stone in the standings because the offense was unable to get much of anything going. The struggled to score night after night and it wasn’t one or two guys who were short-circuiting the offense. Everyone except Starlin Castro was a problem for a few weeks there.

Thankfully the offense has started to right the ship, even considering the two runs scored in last night’s loss. The Yankees have won eight of their last 13 games and they’ve scored five runs or more six times in those 13 games. They did it only five times in the first 24 games of the season. It’s not much, but it’s progress. The offense is trending in the right direction, by and large.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been an issue pretty much all season. Masahiro Tanaka has been very good overall and the back end of the bullpen has been ridiculous, but that’s about it. The CC Sabathia/Ivan Nova rotation spot has been fine too I guess, and while Nathan Eovaldi has had his moments, he’s still super unpredictable from start to start. He’s great one night and he can’t get out of the fifth inning five days later.

Last night’s 12-2 loss was the fourth time in the last seven games the Yankees have allowed at least seven runs. They rank 20th among all teams in ERA (4.48) and 18th in FIP (4.12). The rotation is 24th in ERA (5.01) and 19th in FIP (4.44). That’s bad. Legit bad. Not “bad but you can squint your eyes and it’s okay” bad. I mean bad bad. The middle innings are a question and rotation is a straight up liability.

The offense was always going to improve at some point because the Yankees are not nearly as bad as they looked. They weren’t going to hit .100-something with runners in scoring position all year and guys like Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley weren’t going to slump forever. Is the offense a powerhouse? Of course not. But April was just an awful slump. It wasn’t representative of the team’s true ability.

I’m not so sure about the rotation though. We’ve been talking about Eovaldi’s and Michael Pineda‘s potential for weeks and months — we’ve been talking about it since last year, basically — and yeah, that potential exists, but the only thing those two have proven at this point is the ability to be consistently inconsistent. You go into each start hoping for a strong outing and are completely unsure if you’ll get it.

Sabathia has probably been the Yankees’ second best starter this year, which is as much praise for Sabathia as it is a knock against the rest of the rotation. Luis Severino was a total disaster before getting hurt. Severino’s awfulness has been the real rotation killer. Everyone expected him to take a step forward this year and emerge as a rock for the rotation. The opposite has happened. Now guys like Nova and Chad Green are being forced into action.

The Yankees, as it stands right now, do not have the pitching to be a legitimate contender. Tanaka is awesome and the back of the bullpen is as good as it gets. The other eight pitching roster spots leave an awful lot to be desired. And there’s not much the Yankees can do about it right now either. They can swap out some relievers, but, at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to Pineda and Eovaldi being difference makers. Severino righting the ship as well.

We’re approaching the quarter point of the season and the sample size ain’t so small anymore. The rotation has been one of the ten worst in baseball overall and the pitching staff as a whole isn’t much better. It shows in their record in blowouts: the Yankees are 5-11 in games decided by four or more runs. They seem to win close games by turning things over to the end-game relievers and lose blowouts because the rest of the staff is so shaky.

The offense is the main reason the Yankees are 16-21, their worst record through 37 games since starting 15-22 in 1995. They were unable to put runs on the board for far too long. The pitching might be what prevents the Yankees from climbing out of this early season hole though. They’re allowing 4.62 runs per game on average, and that is simply too much to overcome on a consistent basis.

Drifting release points costing Betances deception, but it hasn’t mattered yet

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

After 122 starts and parts of eight seasons in the minors, the Yankees finally pulled the plug on Dellin Betances as a starting pitcher in Triple-A four years ago. His control problems were not going away — he walked 99 batters in 131.1 innings in 2012 — and there’s only so long you can wait for a guy to figure things out. It was time to make a change, so to the bullpen Betances went.

Dellin has been a revelation out of the bullpen. He dominated Triple-A as a reliever in 2013, made the Yankees out of Spring Training in 2014, and has remained a mainstay in the Circle of Trust™ ever since. His numbers over the last three seasons are just insane: 1.53 ERA (2.09 FIP) with 40.3% strikeout rate. Betances leads all relievers in strikeouts (293) — Andrew Miller is second with 226 (!) — and is second in bWAR (+7.5) behind Wade Davis (+7.8) since 2014. He’s been phenomenal.

Betances dominates hitters with an upper-90s fastball and a curveball that is the very definition of a knee-buckler. We’ve seen more than a few hitters jelly leg at the pitch only to watch it dart down the middle for a called strike. The fact Betances is also 6-foot-8 and releasing the ball that much closer to the plate helps things as well. As does the way he “tunnels” his pitches, meaning he throws the fastball and curve from the same spot.

That deception has been an underrated part of Dellin’s dominance these last few years. That deception, the ability to tunnel pitches from the same release point, has been fading, however. Here are his vertical and horizontal release points by month, via Brooks Baseball:

Dellin Betances vertical release point Dellin Betances horizontal release point

See how nice and tight together Dellin’s release points were back in 2014? The fastball and curve came from the exact same spot. So not only was the heater coming in at 98+ mph and the curveball breaking like mad, it was close to impossible to read the pitch out of his hand. Betances released both pitches from the same spot and hitters basically had to guess whether it would stay true (fastball) or break (curve). That’s why so many hitters buckled against the curve. It looked like a high fastball.

Last year Dellin’s release points started to gradually drift apart, and that has continued early season. He releases his fastball from one place and the curveball from another. Here’s a GIF showing his release points by year.

Dellin Betances release points

Again, back in 2014 his release points where right on top of each other. That’s good! Last year Dellin’s release point on the curve started to fade a little towards the third base side. This year the two release points don’t overlap at all. Astute hitters will pick up on this and have a better idea of what’s coming. (I’m not saying it’s easy to read his release points, but it’s possible.)

The called strike rate on Betances’ curveball dropped from 26.1% in 2014 to 22.2% last year. In the super early going this year his curve has a 25.2% called strike rate, so while it has ticked up from last season, we have to keep in mind this is a small sample. He’s thrown 143 curves this year. One outing could chance that 25.2% drastically in either direction.

Betances has thrown his curveball for a strike roughly 41% of the time since the start of 2014 and that rate has held steady. So has the rate of misses when hitters swing. That number is right around 50%, which is out of this world. Even with his release points drifting apart, Betances is still insanely good because his stuff is so overwhelming. He could tell hitters his curveball is coming and lots of them still wouldn’t be able to hit it.

As long as Betances isn’t hiding an injury, and there’s no reason to think he is, the change in release points is not an issue right now. And it might never be. I do think this is something to keep an eye on going forward though. Most pitchers gradually drop their arm slot over time because of wear and tear, but Betances is only doing it with his curve, not his fastball. He’s a guy who has fought his mechanics his entire career, remember. If Betances’ release points continue to drift apart, it could give hitters that much more of a fighting chance against him.