“We have a real weapon in Tejay Antone at the back end of our bullpen.” – Those were the words of Cincinnati Reds catcher Curt Casali after the loss on Monday night in Milwaukee to the Brewers. Antone has been a big surprise, not just to Reds fans, but to anyone paying attention around the league. He hasn’t been a closer, and he’s only pitched in six games – with some of those being long relief, and he even got one start, but he’s been dominant when he’s taken the mound. Through Monday’s game he’s thrown 16.1 innings with 22 strikeouts, a 0.86 WHIP, and an ERA of 1.65.
“Me and Tuck joke all the time, ‘give me Tejay and give me all you can get of Tejay Antone right now’ – He is pitching with a tremendous amount of confidence,” said Casali. “He’s proving to be one of the reliable guys at the back end, which is awesome, especially considering this is his first go of it – first time in the bullpen, too. So that’s a challenge in one aspect, but the fact that he’s coming in and pumping 97-98 right at you, and then two different breaking balls. It’s a lot to cover. He gives you everything he’s got every time he goes out there. And he wants to be out there. I’m thrilled he’s on our team. ”
On Monday night, David Bell turned to Tejay Antone in a big spot on the night. Just prior to bringing Antone into the game, Bell asked starter Trevor Bauer to intentionally walk Christian Yelich – a move that put runners on the corners with one out, in the 7th inning, of a 2-run game. Antone came on and got a shallow fly ball to right field and came back to strike out Justin Smoak to end the inning and strand both runners.
Back in early January when writing the scouting report for Tejay Antone, here’s what was said about his four pitches:
Fastball | The pitch has good movement on both planes, working in the 89-92 MPH range and tops out around 95.
Curveball | An average to above-average offering that works in the mid-70’s.
Slider | A pitch that improved throughout the year and is now an average to above-average offering.
Change Up | It’s a below-average offering.
The change up hasn’t shown up much this season – coming out of the bullpen, he hasn’t really needed it much. The other three pitches, though – he’s using them a lot. The fastball today is a lot different than it was in 2019. He’s averaging 96 MPH on the pitch this season. He didn’t even hit 96 MPH last season to my knowledge. But the two breaking balls – those pitches were both ones that graded out well and looked good last season. We’re still dealing with a small sample size here, but both of them have played out very well against Major League hitters this year.
According to the Fangraphs pitch values, his fastball, slider, and curveball are all above-average (or better). This is based on what hitters do against the pitch, not how they would grade out on a scouting scale. That is an important distinction because a pitch could have an above-average grade on a scouting scale, but if you can’t throw it for strikes enough, it won’t play out that way.
Among the 309 Major League pitchers this year to throw at least 10 innings, Tejay Antone’s slider has been the 3rd most valuable in the game. Only Kenta Maeda and Scott Barlow have had more success than Antone with regards to slider success. He’s throwing his slider in 2020 more than any other pitch – 43.5% of the time. He’s mixed in his fastball 42% of the time, the curveball 11.5% of the time, and the change up 3% of the time.
Antone’s ERA is tied with Trevor Bauer for 45th lowest in baseball among that same group of 309 pitchers. His 35.5% strikeout rate on the season ranks 25th best in baseball among that group. His ground ball rate of 48.4% ranks 94th best among that group. The swinging strike rate of 13.4% ranks 78th in baseball. All of those are within the top 30% of the game, and all of it has combined to an outstanding start to his Major League Baseball career. Not bad for a pitcher who wasn’t on the opening day roster.