It’s tough to look at the Angels 2022 season through a positive lens. Yes, two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani had another historical campaign. However, fans can still come away frustrated at the results of another disappointing season. They recorded their seventh straight losing season, this time going 73-89. The Angels missed the playoffs for an eighth straight year. That streak is now tied with the Detroit Tigers for the longest current playoff drought in MLB. The season also included a 14-game losing streak that led to their manager getting fired. It’s safe to say that the Angels season did not go as planned.
The sky isn’t falling completely for the Angels. The starting pitching for the Angels was a real bright spot for the team. In 2022, the Angels starting pitching ranked sixth in fWAR, sixth in ERA, eighth in K/9 and fourth in HR/9. This amounts to a pretty good year based on recent Angels pitching standards. However, the second half of the season was when the pitching staff’s performance really started to turn heads. The Angels ranked second in fWAR (only behind Houston), fourth in ERA/FIP, and second in HR/9. Patrick Sandoval, José Suarez and Shohei Ohtani all had pretty good second halves of the season, but for this article let us focus on the youngest pitcher of the group, Reid Detmers.
In his first full season with the Angels, Reid Detmers threw 129 innings and finished with a 3.77 ERA. One of his 25 starts ended up being a complete game no-hitter against the Rays on May 10th. His no-hitter was only one out of three no-hitters thrown this season and the only single pitcher no-hitter. However, there wouldn’t be much success following that no-hitter for the Angels nor Detmers. Detmers was demoted to Triple-A after his June 21st start, but that move worked out well for the young pitcher.
His pre-demotion numbers would make you question how he was even able to throw a no-hitter in the first place. Reid Detmers had a 4.77 ERA with a 5.35 FIP, a 6.83 K/9, a 3.26 BB/9, and a 1.71 HR/9. He found himself being in the bottom five in BB/9, HR/9 and batter swing and misses in all of MLB. Despite all of that, he only allowed a .204 batting average during that span. Detmers only allowed 43 hits, which was the fifth lowest in the league out of 109 starters (min. 50 innings IP). Unfortunately, the home run ball was his weakness. Detmers allowed 11 home runs in 12 games. Combine that with being average in terms of walks allowed, and those home runs proved to be costly.
Detmers was sent down to Triple-A in the middle of June. Now, whether it was the Salt Lake City drinking water or he simply caught fire, the demotion worked out. He didn’t pitch a lot when he was down there, he started one game where he went 6 innings and allowed a solo home run, but it didn’t look like he went down there to pitch a lot. Detmers was demoted for a total of 16 days. At the time, the demotion seemed like it was due to more than just his pitching on the mound or to work on his fundamentals.
Since July 8th, Detmers had a 3.04 ERA and a 2.51 FIP. He also increased his K/9 to 9.89, dropped his HR/9 to 0.25, and accrued 2.4 fWAR the rest of the season. He would end up allowing only two home runs in his last 13 games pitched, which was the killer in his pre-demotion part of the season. The key to fix this problem was tweaking a specific pitch, his slider.
So what Happened?
As the graph indicates, the slider became an important pitch for Detmer’s during the second half of his season (post-demotion). The first half of his season (pre-demotion), he used his slider 16.65% of the time, his third most used pitch. In the second half, his slider usage jumped to 32.62%, falling just behind his four-seam fastball usage (41.27%). His overall swing and miss percentage increased as well, but there was a much larger increase in the slider swing and miss percentage, which propelled that jump.
This appears to have been a philosophical change by the Angels as a whole. Ohtani, Sandoval and Suarez all saw their slider usage increase as the season progressed. Ohtani’s slider was already producing a 20% swing and miss percentage, making the increase in slider usage warranted. Detmers on the other hand, did not have as effective of a slider to warrant that increase. Detmers was sent down to improve his slider. The difference in movement is displayed below:
His slider changed quite a bit following his demotion. His sliders are in the orange circle and there is a significant difference in the movement of his slider from pre/post-demotion. The vertical break on his slider decreased from -7.3 inches to -1.43 inches following his demotion. His average vertical break changed as well, going from -2.38 inches to 0.016 inches. The velocity on his slider also jumped about 4 mph, going from 82.9 mph to 87.1 mph. However, the biggest difference in his pitch profile was his spin axis. When we look at the second graph we see the difference between pre/post-demotion spin axis for his slider.
There is a big range when it comes to how he throws his slider. His slider has some aspects of top/back and even side spin to it. However, the biggest difference between his pre/post-demotion slider is the usage of backspin on that pitch. The effect of throwing the slider with some back spin is what it does to the fastball. More backspin will increase the velocity, which makes sense why his velocity jumped. However, it is also not a cutter. The spin axis indicates it is a pitch that is thrown like a fastball (back spin), but the spin does not indicate to baseball savant that it is a slider. So what does this do to the fastball?
Well for starters, the average spin axis of Detmers’ four-seam fastball is about 137 degrees, which puts the average right where the slider’s thrown (on the graph in between 120 – 150). These are two vastly different pitches with a similar spin axis. So, this allows the two pitches to look exactly the same when they leave his hand. This produces a tunneling effect that makes it difficult to distinguish between both pitches. His slider saw an increase in swing and miss percentage, going from 8.07% pre-demotion to 18.9% post-demotion. Despite a slight decrease in usage, his four-seam fastball saw an increase in swing and miss rate going from 9.35% to 12.4% and his curveball jumped from 9.09% to 11.2%. Both of these pitches did not see a drastic difference in his pitch profile, but they were able to benefit from the success of his slider.
The great thing about Baseball Savant is that it allows us to see which pitchers have similar profiles. Detmers’ pitcher profile shares similar qualities with a pitcher named Daniel Lynch, who pitches for the Kansas City Royals. If you go to FanGraphs and look at his overall career numbers, it doesn’t show someone who has dominated the league. However, the key similarity between the two is Lynchs’ gyro slider and how it’s thrown. In 2021, Pitching Ninja tweeted out a photo of Detmers’ grip on his slider back in August of 2021 (his MLB Debut):
There is also an article at the Athletic that discusses Daniel Lynch’s slider and included within the article is a photo of Lynch’s slider grip:
It appears they both throw a spiked slider, although on different areas of the baseball. If we look at both of their spin axis usage for their sliders, we see a wide range of usage:
Lynch has a much wider range in his spin axis compared to Detmers. There isn’t an updated picture of his slider grip but it seems that Reid Detmers was able to alter his spiked slider grip to allow it to have more gyroscopic movement on it. I wrote about gyroscopic movement here, but essentially this pitch is thrown like a football and it lets gravity do all the work, rather than relying on the movement applied by the fingers to dictate the spin. They both throw their sliders with a low spin rate (Lynch – 2020 rpm, Detmers – 2125 rpm), so gyroscopic sliders would be beneficial for them.
Detmers has an active spin percentage of 29%. That is probably too high given Lynch’s active spin percentage is around 15%. However, this number can be lower for Detmers if we filter out sliders thrown before he was demoted. Regardless, it looks like the Angels were able to tweak Reid Detmers’ slider to have more gyroscopic movement overall. This tweaked gyro slider improved his overall repertoire, elevating his game in the second half of the season.
Feature Image Via: @Angels