In the 2015 season the best pitcher the Reds have had was Johnny Cueto. He’s now gone. After that it’s probably been rookie right hander Anthony DeSclafani. He’s thrown 169.0 innings with a 3.67 ERA with 53 walks and 137 strikeouts on the year.

From April through June his ERA was solid, posting a 3.68 mark in 95.1 innings. In that time he had 37 walks and 68 strikeouts. His walk rate was a little bit higher than you’d like and his strikeout rate was a little bit lower than you’d like to see. While the ERA was good, the peripherals were suggesting that he was going to see some regression of that ERA.

Starting in July and going through today his ERA has been nearly identical, 3.67. However he’s cut his walk rate down, walking just 16 batters in 73.2 innings and he’s upped his strikeout rate as he’s posted 69 strikeouts.

Let’s take a quick look at a comparison of the two parts:

95.1 92 6 9.0% 16.6% 3.68 .296
73.2 77 9 5.3% 22.8% 3.67 .337

The numbers are interesting to look at. His walk rate has really dropped off, almost cut in half and his strikeout rate has gone up to a level that would put him at 28th in baseball among qualified starters (there are currently 84). Those are both very big gains in the right direction, but his ERA hasn’t really improved a bit. The biggest reason is because his batting average on balls in play has risen in the same time period by 41 points.

What has led to that? The first place to look is to see if he’s watched his batted ball tendencies change.

32.2% 41.3% 20.4% 6.0%
31.8% 40.4% 23.3% 4.5%

There really hasn’t been much of a chance. The line drive rate has jumped up some, but overall, the rates are nearly identical. Certainly nothing that should have led to 41 points of BABIP.

The next place to look is to see if his exit velocity has changed in the splits.

Balls in Play
Exit Velocity
216 89.09
167 88.85

While there are some balls in play missing in both samples, they both have a good sample to work with and the exit velocity is nearly identical. So the batted ball breakdown hasn’t really changed and guys aren’t hitting the ball any harder against him (in fact, it’s ever so slightly less hard). While there is a possible reason somewhere that can explain why his BABIP has gone up, we aren’t seeing it anywhere in areas that we know should lead to it. That probably means it’s just one of those things where the ball just happened to find the grass and that in the long run, assuming his batted ball profiles don’t change, should return to more normal ranges (.300).

The other big difference for Anthony DeSclafani has been the drastic improvement in strikeouts. He’s missed 37% more bats from July through today than he did in April through June. More strikeouts is always better than fewer strikeouts. With three out of every 10 balls in play going for hits, the fewer balls in play allowed, the better. Where have the strikeouts come from though? Let’s take a look at his pitch selection:

April – June July – Today
Pitch Velo Usage Velo Usage
4-seam 93.71 37.50% 93.47 28.50%
2-seam 92.87 29.10% 92.88 29.10%
Change 86.62 9.20% 86.77 6.40%
Slider 87.44 20.40% 87.80 27.10%
Curve 78.49 3.50% 79.98 8.70%

He’s gone with less four-seam fastballs, but hasn’t increased his usage of the two-seam fastball. Instead he’s thrown more sliders and more curveballs. His velocity hasn’t really moved much on any of his pitches, but the usage has certainly changed. He’s throwing more strikes, which certainly helps. Let’s take a look at how often guys are swinging and missing at his pitches between the two periods of time:

April – June July – Today
Pitch Velo Whiff/Swing Velo Whiff/Swing
4-seam 93.71 16.74% 93.47 21.57%
2-seam 92.87 8.38% 92.88 12.26%
Change 86.62 22.64% 86.77 20.00%
Slider 87.44 35.71% 87.80 38.10%
Curve 78.49 10.00% 79.98 38.20%

With the lone exception of a small decrease in swings and misses on the change up, he’s getting more swings and misses on his other four offerings and three of them are significant increases. His four-steam fastball is getting 29% more swings and misses. His two-seam fastball is getting 46% more swings and misses. The slider is getting 6.7% more swings and misses. The curveball is getting 282% more swings and misses (not a typo).

Let’s now look at the movement that each pitch has been generating in the two periods of time:


The points in red are the ones from the second half. There is some slight movement in the fastballs and change up, but it’s minimal. There’s been a change of note in the movement in the two breaking balls though. Both are getting less “downward biting action”. The slider is becoming more of a cutter and the curveball is biting a little less and coming across the zone a little bit more.

One other thing worth noting is that his release point has changed. The height is still the same as it was, but it’s now five inches closer to the center of the rubber. Going back to some video, he hasn’t changed his arm angle at all, but he has moved over on the rubber.

There hasn’t been a single big change that Anthony DeSclafani has made. But he made more than a few small changes that have all added up to him increasing his strikeout rate dramatically and lowering his walk rate. More breaking balls with small amounts of differences in movement, fewer fastballs and moving over on the rubber seem to be making a big difference.