Rooting for a bad baseball team can be torture. Forcing an inmate to follow the 2018 Orioles may have qualified as cruel and unusual punishment. That’s why we, as baseball fans, have to adapt. Until the NFL season rolls around, there are few entertainment options to distract us, and baseball is often the only option. We have to find things to be excited about and carry us through long, hot, summer days. One of the best reasons to continue watching what may seem like a futile season is to see a young player develop. Even better, a young starting pitcher. If you can’t stomach watching all 162, why not tune in every fifth day to see a potential future piece of the rotation get the ball? I’m not counting the 2023 Red Sox out just yet, but if you aren’t a believer, at least find out when Brayan Bello is pitching and turn on NESN; that rerun of United States of Al can wait.
Bello allowed 5 ER in his first start of the year and has allowed 17 ER in his next 48.2 innings (3.14 ERA).— Red Sox Stats (@redsoxstats) June 12, 2023
What Bello does isn’t particularly flashy; he’s had to slowly bring his ERA back to a respectable number after his outing on Marathon Monday (His first start back from injury in the pouring rain). Coming off a seven-inning, two-run outing against the Yankees on a national stage, I think it’s fair to say Brayan Bello is here to stay.
I’ve been on the Brayan Bello bandwagon for a couple of years now because he has a lot going for him in terms of skills. Take a look at his repertoire on these spin-axis charts.
As you can see, Bello’s operates with a two-seamer, four-seamer, changeup, and slider. The chart on the left shows the direction the ball actually spins, while the chart on the right shows the direction the pitch moves. When a pitch moves in a different direction than it spins, it’s called a “seam-shifted wake”. To put it more simply, when someone says a pitch has “late life”, what they’re likely referring to is movement that is unexpected based on the spin of the ball.
I’ve read about the physics of the “seam-shifted wake”, and I won’t pretend to fully understand it or try to explain it to you. What’s important to know is that it’s typically a good thing, and Bello has it. His sinker in particular spins just like his four-seamer, but has 17-18 inches of arm-side run. Out of his hand, the two pitches look the same but the sinker runs and drops while the fastball has good vertical movement and less run. Even if it doesn’t return a ton of whiffs, it makes it really difficult to square up and make hard contact, explaining how Bello can get through seven innings against the Yankees with just three strikeouts.
If you look back at the chart on the left, you’ll also notice that the slider perfectly mirrors the fastballs. Hitters have virtually no time to react, so differentiating the spin between a fastball with front spin and a slider with backspin is nearly impossible. In theory, Bello’s slider should play off his fastball nicely. The slider also exhibits the SSW effect as it drops a little more than expected. At this point, his slider hasn’t performed very well, but it’s worth noting that the Stuff+ pitching model grades the pitch positively, so it could improve with better command.
Let’s take a look at this at-bat from the fifth inning of Sunday night’s game so we can see all of that in practice. It’s an excellent portrait of who Bello is right now, while also showing who he can be with more experience.
He starts Torres out with a changeup, his best pitch. It has excellent horizontal movement and returns a lot of swings and misses. In this case, Torres is way out and front and fouls the ball off. That’s important because it tells us, and Bello, that Torres is looking to hit a fastball.
Bello, being an incredibly polite young man follows it up by giving Torres the fastball that he’s looking for, about three inches above the strike zone for a swing and miss. Now at this point, being ahead 0-2, Bello can throw almost whatever he wants, as long as it isn’t a good pitch to hit.
He elects to go back upstairs with the fastball on the next two pitches. Unfortunately, neither pitch was close enough to induce a swing from Torres. As a pitcher, if you can’t execute the same pitch twice in a row, it’s a good idea to go to something else in order to reset your brain and recalibrate that release point. The mental focus on each pitch is different, so it makes sense to move away from it to prevent yourself from overcompensating and missing yet again.
Perfect - well, almost perfect. Bello has the right idea by going to the changeup, but the pitch is never really a strike, so he doesn’t get a swing. Now at this point, with a full count, his options are a little more limited. Hitters might expand the zone with two strikes but for the most part, he needs to live around the strike zone.
Beautiful. A two-seam fastball on the lower-inside corner. Looks just like a changeup that would fall out of the zone and leaves Torres looking. Even if he were to swing, the odds of him doing any real damage with that pitch are slim as it’s down and in on the hands. Great pitch to finish the at-bat.
A six-pitch strikeout is a great outcome but it could have been better, and that’s where Bello is right now. He has electrifying stuff that works together as an arsenal, but the consistency in execution isn’t there just yet. With experience and repetition, that should improve and he can get quick outs. As many kids do, he needs to stop playing with his food and just eat it. Brayan Bello is growing up before our very eyes. Before you know it, he may be the anchor of the Red Sox rotation for years to come.