Relief pitchers are like snowflakes - they come in all shapes and sizes. Some characteristics help, such as throwing 100 MPH, a wipeout slider, or having pinpoint control, but there’s no one perfect recipe. In my experience watching and evaluating pitchers, one quality has come up frequently for successful relievers: outliers. Give hitters a different look by doing something uncommon, and you can carve out a niche in the bullpen.
Red Sox reliever John Schreiber is an outlier. Take a look at his mechanics. He’s six-foot-two, yet has one of the lowest release points in the major leagues. He drops down and throws sidearm while also having some of the best extension in baseball. Altogether, it makes for a very uncomfortable at-bat. There are numbers to back that up, but it’s more fun to look at an inning and explain things with examples.
Tuesday, August 15. Nick Pivetta didn’t have his best stuff against the Washington Nationals, leaving it up to the bullpen to get the final 14 outs. John Schreiber comes on for the sixth. Nobody on, nobody out.
AB #1: Stone Garrett
Schreiber starts off with a sinker up and inside to Garrett. It’s not a traditional sinker in the sense that it doesn’t have a ton of vertical movement, but in comparison to his four-seamer, the sinker appears to drop. Schreiber loves to throw it inside to righties for weak contact and foul balls, as he does here for strike one.
Here, we get our first look at Schreiber’s slider. Take a look at the spin-based movement chart below, it’s basically a perfect mirror of his fastballs. With the ball spinning so fast, the human eye can’t tell if it's spinning left to right, or right to left, so the pitches look virtually identical.
Against righties, he’ll locate the pitch down and away. He does just that this time, starting the slider down the middle so it finishes off the edge of the zone. Garrett fouls it off to make the count 0-2. As I always say, at 0-2, Schreiber can do almost anything as long as he doesn’t throw a good pitch to hit.
He goes back to the slider, but this time starts it more outside. It’s not close enough to get a swing. 1-2.
A third straight slider, again off the plate. I don’t love tripling up after a take, but it almost gets a swing. If it were a little closer, it may have got the job done. After two takes in a row, you have to go to something else.
I like the idea to go back to the sinker. He misses his spot though and runs the count full.
He again misses his spot with the sinker, but this time inside. He might not deserve the whiff here, but the pitch ties up Garrett who can’t check his swing. That’s what I mean when I say it’s an uncomfortable at-bat, especially for a right-handed hitter. A pitch from a sidearm release point like Schreiber’s “should” be moving to the glove side, but Schreiber’s sinker comes back hard to the arm side. It’s awkward, not something you see every day, and really difficult to pick up.
AB #2: Jake Alu
Everybody knows dudes named Jake can’t hit.
I love the pitch call here after two fastball misses as Schreiber goes to the backdoor slider for the free strike. If a pitcher can’t execute a particular pitch, it’s typically a good idea to throw something else and reset mentally as different pitches will have different mental cues. For example, the way Schreiber finishes his slider release is going to be different than a fastball.
Schreiber again misses inside, but it’s okay as it’s down in the zone where not a ton can be done with it. Alu fouls it off for strike one.
Schreiber follows up the slider with his four-seamer for the first time tonight. He’ll typically throw use more four-seamers than sinkers to lefties. Here, he misses upstairs for 1-1.
Another first from Schreiber as he goes to the changeup, a pitch he almost exclusively uses against lefties. Following the repeated misses with his slider and fastballs, why not try something new with nobody on?
Pitch models hate the pitch, but it’s too small of a sample to draw any concrete conclusions from. This one looks great to me, tons of drop, solid arm-side movement, and down in the zone. Alu can do nothing but hit on the ground for Trevor Story to show off the glove. I told you guys named Jake can’t hit.
AB #3: Idlemaro Vargas
Schreiber starts Vargas off with a sinker on the outer half for called strike one.
Another really good changeup down in the zone that Vargas is in front of and fouls into the ground. Schreiber’s change has a ton of vertical movement, making it really hard to do a lot of damage against when it’s down in the zone.
Here’s a slider from Schreiber that’s supposed to be down and in but misses outside. With robot umpires, it might be a strike, but missing the spot costs him the call.
The camera angle makes it hard to tell, but this ball starts way off the plate. Because of the early swing on the changeup and lack of interest in the slider, it’s reasonable to assume Vargas is looking for a fastball.
And there’s your fastball. Up in the zone with some natural fade. In that location, it’s going to get a swing almost every time. His release point makes his fastball incredibly “flat”. It may even appear to rise out of his hand. Flat fastballs are incredibly successful when elevated. It’s only 93. It’s not even above the zone. Vargas just swings right under it. Here’s a chart showing wOBA against Schreiber’s four-seamer. Keep that ball up and good things will happen.
All in all, that wasn’t Schreiber’s best outing from a command standpoint. He missed spots left and right, up and down. His stuff isn’t so good that he can get away with that every night, especially against good hitters, but his unorthodox release helps the stuff play. Be an outlier, hitters don’t like weird.