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One Big Question: Can Jeffrey Springs find a complement for his changeup?

He has one very good pitch. He needs another.

Red Sox Spring Training Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. Today, we cover Jeffrey Springs.

The Question: Can Jeffrey Springs develop a good second pitch?

As we are now fairly deep into our season preview series, there are some things starting to stand out. There’s the obvious stuff like where the talent is and isn’t among different position groups, but even beyond that there is another obvious thing about just how many new faces there are. It’s not something I’ve become accustomed to, as the last few years have seen very little in the way of offseason additions. When there have been new players, they’ve generally been high-profile. This year, it’s not just a lot of new players but a lot of new players with whom I’m not all that familiar. I like to think I follow baseball pretty closely and know a large chunk of players in this league. I did not know a ton about many of these players before they came to the Red Sox, and really until I did my first deep dive during this series.

To be clear, this is not my way of complaining about any of this. As a bonafide weirdo, I truly and thoroughly enjoy digging through numbers of fringe major-leaguers and trying to figure out what compelled a front office to use one of their 40 roster spots on him. That brings us to today’s subject: Jeffrey Springs.

Springs is a lefty who the Red Sox picked up from the Rangers organization in exchange for Sam Travis. He was a 30th round pick back in 2015 and has made his way progressively through the minors since then. Most of his professional career has been spent in the bullpen, though there was a period, mostly in 2017, where he started. The southpaw has spent parts of the last two seasons in the majors, totaling 64 13 innings with a 4.90 ERA, a 4.65 FIP and a 6.97 DRA. There were two starts in that time, but they were not games in which he was used as a traditional starter, but rather as an opener or the first pitcher in a bullpen game.

Obviously, those numbers above don’t inspire a ton of confidence, and when you combine those with the fact that Springs is entering his age-27 season, you understand why he was available for Sam Travis straight up. But that is not to say there is nothing here. Like I alluded to above, there is a reason for every addition, even if some of them (or even most) don’t work out. You only get 40 roster spots, so teams aren’t too keen on wasting them. Chaim Bloom and company saw something in Springs that they think could make him an effective major-league player.

As I look through what Springs brings to the table, my assumption is that the changeup is the thing that made him most attractive to the Red Sox. We don’t typically think of changeups as a dominant pitch that can catapult a pitcher, but it’s a really good weapon, especially for a lefty. Just look at Eduardo Rodriguez. I’m certainly not saying Springs can be a top-of-the-rotation arm like Rodriguez, but the changeup has been very good. Last year, according to Baseball Savant, the pitch induced a whiff rate over 41 percent, an expected wOBA of .338 and an actual wOBA of .347. The year before, it those numbers were 44.7 percent, .237 and .281. All scouting reports also agree this is his top pitch. This is what it looks like in action, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Mostly due to this pitch being so effective, Springs has been able to post reverse splits over his career and in the majors. That’s a big deal for a reliever who has been good but no dominant, as he’ll need to earn a role and that means facing as many batters as possible. The Red Sox won’t feel a major need to limit him to facing lefties, and in fact want him to face more righties.

The issue for Springs, and the reason that he was available for just Sam Travis despite having a legitimately strong offering in his changeup, is that he doesn’t really have a good complement for it. His most-used pitch in both of his major-league seasons was his fastabll. Baseball Savant labels it a sinker, but it appears that it’s actually a four-seamer. Either way, it hasn’t been good. The pitch has been hit hard on a regular basis and also doesn’t miss very many bats. Despite that, he has thrown it well over 50 percent of the time in the majors. He does throw a good number of strikes with it. The issue is that those strikes are not the kind of strikes you want to be throwing.

2019; via Baseball Savant
2018; via Baseball Savant

Along with the fastball, Springs has sparingly used a slider in his time with the minors. This pitch has been effective when he has thrown it, but that’s been less than 15 percent of the time. I’d like to see what this could look like with more usage, but it’s possible that part of it success is due to it being thrown relatively rarely.

Either way, it seems clear that Springs needs something to go with his changeup. As I said above, a good changeup can be dangerous, but there aren’t very many relievers who survive with their changeup as their primary pitch. In fact, there aren’t very many that survive with a fastball/changeup combination. According to the FanGraphs pitch classification system, only two qualified relievers used that kind of repertoire last year: Tommy Kahnle and José Leclerc.

So, I am interested to see what, if anything, the Red Sox coaching staff adjusts with Springs’ arsenal. I would like to see him maybe try to see if he can develop a cutter, which is sort of crudely a mix between a slider and a fastball. That’s obviously easier said than done, but would be a nice weapon to pair with the changeup. I’d also like to see his changeup used more than the roughly quarter of the time it’s been used so far in his career. Springs is a fringe-roster pitcher who is likely to start the year in Pawtucket, so expectations shouldn’t be high. But the Red Sox picked him up for a reason, and there’s a chance he’s just an adjustment or two away from being a contributor.