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***BASEBALL NERD BLOG ALERT*** Let's Try To Fix Cody Heuer

Earlier this year, I made this statement to Red Sox fans:

And it's a statement I stand by. The only problem is, is that he hasn't been "really, really fucking good" this year. In fact, he's actually kinda stunk, and I've been trying to figure out why he's kinda stunk for a solid while now, and if I can't do that, at least come up with a theory or two that can lead to figuring out the Cody Heuer conundrum for a while now. 

I am bullish on Heuer for two reasons:

1. We've seen him dominate in a middle relief role already and
2. He's got the "shit" that can't be taught

This is the "shit" I'm talking about:

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But if his "shit" is so good, then why is he giving up so much hard contact in the event that contact is actually made?

It doesn't make too much sense, so I decided to do a little digging. Now it's clear as day to the naked eye, to the numbers, to the computers, to the brains in the math department, and to anyone who's ever watched him in a 10 pitch sample size that Cody Heuer is a sinker pitcher. The usage of his pitch arsenal is broken down like this:

Sinker: 55.5% of pitches
Slider: 22.5% of pitches
Changeup: 20% of pitches

There's a 2% or so margin of error in those numbers, but they're close enough for all intents and purposes. The only thing you need to know is that Cody Heuer throws a sinker. He throws it a lot. He threw it a lot in 2020 when he dominated, and he's throwing it a lot this year when he's stunk.

So what's different? The balls being juiced or not, the "sticky stuff", the players he's facing - that's all out of his control… But a pitcher can control 3 variables in order to accrue outs at the best rate possible: velocity, command, and movement. 

Velocity: There hasn't been a noticeable decrease in fastball velocity year over year for Heuer. In 2020 he sat at 97.6MPH with his sinker, in 2021 he's averaged 96.8, lower yes, but it shouldn't make THAT much difference in statistical output. Maybe a hair, but nothing insane. I'll cross velocity off the list as to why he's struggling. `

Command: Heuer's control has technically improved this year, but his command has gotten worse. In 2020, he had a BB rate of 9.8%. In 2021, however, he's had a 3.2% BB rate, which is near the top of the league. More on this in a moment. 

Movement: Heuer's sinker had a 16.7" of drop on average in 2020. In 2021, it's had 16.2" of drop. Horizontally, his sinker had 15" of run in 2020 compared to an average of 14.7" of run in 2021. Like his velocity, none of this should matter THAT much in terms of being the shut down reliever his stuff says he should be, and the lousy reliever he's actually been this year. 

Consensus: After digging through this data, I think we can draw two conclusions: 

1. His "shit" isn't QUITE as crisp as it was a season ago, but he shouldn't have gone from "this guy is a future closer we don't want to trade because he's a really cheap, really good high leverage arm" to "don't put Heuer in, he'll blow the game" guy. That said, the margin for error in baseball is razor thin. If you miss by 1" as a pitcher, you might give up a bomb. If you miss a barrel by 1/4 of an inch as a hitter, you're flying out to the track instead of hitting a bomb. Baseball is a REALLY REALLY hard game to play. 

2. He's over the plate too much, judging by his "awesome" BB rate. You can't miss over the plate against big league hitters, doesn't matter how good your shit is. His walk rate and control have been awesome this year - his command hasn't been. There's a difference. A pitcher with good control doesn't walk people. A pitcher with good command puts pitches wherever he wants to, both on the edge of the plate and even well outside it. Heuer is living over the middle of the plate this year WAY too much and he's suffered the consequences of doing that.

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That's part of the reason why I think he's gone from these numbers in 2020 (top row) to the numbers he's had thus far in 2021 (bottom row):

The other reason I think the book is now open on Heuer. If I'm an opposing team, I know I'm going to see a lot of sinkers in the zone at more than a 50% clip. As a hitter, the best way to put yourself in a position to succeed is to eliminate as much of the "guessing game" as possible. For instance, if you're in a 3-0 count, you know you're gonna get a fastball like…99% of the time. With Heuer, you know there's a better than 50% chance you're going to see a fastball (sinker) on any given pitch, and that it's going to probably be in a part of the zone you can put a barrel on it.

BUT!!!

Giphy Images.

He's still got awesome shit, the shit you can't teach as I said earlier. The fastball velo, the 7"+ extension with the 6'5" frame that adds to the perceived velocity of his fastball velo, the NASTY changeup, the finishing slider, that's all still there. Hitters just know they're going to get that sinker and they're going to try to tee off on it when they do get it. 

And that's what yours truly is here to solve. Kinda. Not really at all. But I personally do have a theory on how Cody Heuer should readjust to the adjustments the league has made on him, now that he's got a dearth of data on him readily available. 

1. Ditch the sinker.

"But WSD you just said his sinker's filthy!!! Why in the fuck would he ditch it you fat idiot?!?"

It's actually quite simple. Sinkers are dying in baseball right now. With the advent of launch angle, upper cut swings, and the willingness to sacrifice swings and misses for the potential to drive a baseball to the gap and/or over the fence, the sinker is a pitch most hitters salivate over. For about 100 years, hitters were taught to swing level or even down on the baseball. "Hard and on the ground!!!" was a common phrase used by coaches. Make hard contact that forces the defense to make a play. The issue with that is is that MLB defenses make plays on ground balls about 10000% of the time. 

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Once hitters realized that, they started saying "fuck it, a strike out is no different than a ground out, so let's sacrifice striking out more if it means we're hitting for more power". 

And that's what they did. Hitters started striking out a LOT more while simultaneously hitting gaps a LOT more. This was because hitters ditched their level cut, contact oriented swings and started swinging for the fences more or less. Bat paths went from level/down to upper cuts in order to generate loft on contact from the baseball. 

For pitchers who specialized in throwing awesome sinkers down in the zone that generated (preferably weak) ground balls, this was no bueno. The sinking action of the fastball now lined up PERFECTLY with the upper cut attack angle of bat paths. The result? 

Giphy Images.

Bombs away. To combat the launch angle trend, pitchers then ditched sinkers and went 4 seam fastballs up in the zone. The path of a 4 seam fastball almost seems like it rises, especially if it's a tight fastball with exceptional spin rates. This neutralizes an upper cut swing because the attack angle/bat path doesn't directly line up with the flight of the pitch. 

The result? 

Swings and misses. A LOT of them. 

Cody Heuer has the raw ability to miss a TON of bats up in the zone with his aforementioned velocity, the perceived velocity of his fastball to the hitter, and arm angle. He's just not missing bats like he should because of the sinking action of his fastball paired with the league's gravitation towards upper cut swings. 

Check out this picture:

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The way Heuer grips his fastball is going to result in a TON of sinking action. Like I said in the tweet, his index finger is going to catch the seam it's placed on and cause a horizontal spin and running action and that's going to ride right into a lot of bat paths and result in way too much hard contact. 

To me, it's as simple as that. I truly believe so. We saw this same fix work for Lucas Giolito. Just sayin' 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Heuer's results haven't been good this year. I'm of the opinion that with one simple fix - and I'm talking literally as simple as moving his fingers to a traditional 4 seam grip - that he'd see a lot better results. He doesn't have to change anything mechanically or in the way he attacks hitters, either. Just ditch the sinker, add the 4 seam, and see how it goes, because it honestly can't get much worse than it is now for him. Just look at how badly hitters are teeing off on his sinker this year:

I'd wager a hefty sum he'd see a lot better results with the 4 seam. If not, then fuck me. Oh and hope his insanely high BABIP falls back to earth. That too.