Kevin Siegrist and Pitch Tipping

Kevin Siegrist pitched a scoreless 8th inning in last night’s Mets-Cardinals game, in spite of the fact that he was tipping his pitches.  Look at the GIF below, which takes freeze-frames of Siegrist’s release on a fastball and a changeup (the first two pitches he threw to Wilmer Flores).  The fastball comes out of Siegrist’s hand at the higher arm slot, while the changeup is thrown at the lower angle.
siegrist_fb_and_ch

These slot differences persisted throughout the game and the first half of this season.  The next plot breaks up all of Siegrist’s release points by pitch type, using Brooks Baseball’s bias-corrected data.  Typically, changeups have come out of his hand nearly a half-foot lower and a half-foot farther rightward than fastballs.

siegrist_2015_rel2None of the usual pitch-tipping hoopla has surrounded Siegrist, and that’s because no one is looking to explain any struggles.  After a rocky 2014 season, the lefty has been excellent in 2015.  His 1.5 RA9-WAR ties him with Aroldis Chapman for 10th-best among MLB relievers.  At a micro level, he’s getting plenty of swings and misses, posting strong whiff rates of 25.1% and 31.3% on the fastball and changeup, respectively.  So even though he tips, and even though his fastball-heavy arsenal is predictable before he even steps on a mound, he’s had no issues.

Why haven’t batters exploited this information to a greater extent?  Several possible reasons jump out.  For one, a difference in release point doesn’t leave batters with much time to process this intel—at least, not like when a pitcher shows a pattern in his glove positioning or head tilt before beginning his throwing motion.  Release point differences are even tougher to gather from Siegrist, since the 6’5” pitcher uses his long levers to hide the ball and create deception.  Batters, then, lose split seconds in which they could have picked up those different arm slots.

Then there’s the obvious fact that his pitches are tough to hit.  Siegrist has a big-time fastball, even before the above factors help it to play up.  At an average of 93.8 MPH, he throws harder than all but a small group of southpaws.

Pitch tipping doesn’t always portend the automatic doom that gets hyped by announcers and the media.  As with anything, the pros can outweigh the cons and mask lurking issues—Siegrist’s large margin of error seems like the key here.  But the lefty’s pitch tipping is worth keeping an eye on, because as he evolves (and declines), these tells might engender major struggles and force him to make another round of mechanical changes.

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