Dylan Cease’s first start of the season was ugly, but since then Cease has been adjusting both his pitch usage and approach. Although still learning how to pitch at the big league level, watching him progress over his first three starts has been promising.
Below is a quick look at Dylan Cease’s three starts this season.
Cease wasn’t fooling any Indians in his first start, but in his most recent against Cleveland, he kept them scoreless in his five innings of work. Yeah, he allowed five walks, but only two hits and he was much more effective in keeping the Indians hitters guessing.
Let’s look at the difference in pitch usage between those starts.
The biggest changes you can see between the two Indians starts are that he threw a lot fewer fastballs and he threw more changeups and sliders. He used less changeups in that Royals start given the higher number of righties in that Kansas City lineup, but in the most recent start against Cleveland he used a complete three-pitch mix.
The most important factor in his success is that changeup usage- particularly against left-handed hitters. Successfully combining a fastball and changeup is what can really make a major league starter who can handle both righties and lefties. Not just the usage, but the location is something we’ll look at below with Cease’s changeups.
Not only did he is throw more changeups in that second Cleveland start (right image), but look at the location of where he threw them. Eight of them down and inside (all to lefties), whereas in that first start he didn’t throw a single one there! He’s obviously getting a better feel for that pitch and some more confidence in it and that’s a huge reason he was much better in this start.
He also mixed up his fastball location from that first start.
In that first start (left) he was only using his fastball up in the zone. In the most recent (right), he threw them both up and down. This not only changes the hitter’s eye-level, but allows for the fastball to look very similar to his changeup, which I wrote about for Renegade Sports Analytics previously with Jack Flaherty’s emergence last season.
The first benefit seen from throwing down in the zone more frequently is a spike in Cease’s groundball rate.
|Date||Opponent||Groundball %||Flyball %|
A massive difference from one start to another in terms of getting groundballs, which are even more important for double plays if you walk a few more guys as a consequence of using the entire zone.
There is another benefit too below.
The percentage of pitches that hitters swung at outside of the zone (O-Swing%) was very similar, but hitters swung at a much lower percentage of pitches inside of the zone (Z-Swing%). This means they are being kept much more off-balance by the approach Cease had in his last start. The product of that is also seen by the last column in the above chart: Percentage of Strikes that were swung at and missed (SwStr%). Hitters are more unsure what’s coming resulting in them taking more strikes, but also swinging and missing more often.
Dylan Cease is only 24-years old and still learning how to pitch, but when he’s mixing a higher number of off-speed pitches as well as locating both up and down, he is much more successful. Even if he doesn’t have the best control of those off speed pitches yet (five walks in last start), he got a big spike in groundball rate and kept hitters off-balanced. He was much more effective with that approach than throwing more fastballs and more strikes.