Frankly, I’m sick of it. When was the last time anyone talked about baseball? I don’t want to hear why Triston Casas making an error is actually Chaim Bloom’s fault because Casas was too busy thinking about their lack of bullpen arms down the stretch. I don’t want to listen to talk about Alex Cora’s job security because he didn’t use Chris Martin for two innings with the team down by three runs. I certainly don’t care about the politics of the front office and how John Henry actually hates Bloom because Bloom said that his favorite Premier League team is Everton.
I get that it’s all a part of the sport and you don’t agree with how things are being done. Or maybe you do agree with the way things are being done and love the direction of the team. I still don’t give a hoot. We all want the Red Sox to win games, but debating the merits of different front-office employees isn’t the reason we love baseball. I’d argue that talking about what Chaim Bloom had for dinner the night before the trade deadline isn’t a baseball discussion at all. You didn’t fall in love with baseball because of discussions around contracts, arbitration, and Rule-5 eligible prospects. You fell in love with baseball because of the game itself. So, if you’ve made it this far without closing the tab, sit down, shut up, and let’s talk pitching.
We’re going to throw it back a little bit this week because I want to talk about Brayan Bello. It’s June 29th, and Bello is in his sixth inning of work against the Marlins. He’s thrown 67 pitches without allowing a run and is facing the back half of the lineup for the second time.
AB #1: Jesus Sanchez
In his first at-bat, Sanchez saw six pitches from Bello, swung once, and drew a walk. Everything was a fastball or a changeup, with nothing significantly close to the zone.
First pitch; more of the same as Bello misses by a mile with the four-seamer.
The second pitch is another miss but in the zone this time. It’s a sinker that was supposed to be away but ends up over the middle of the plate. Sanchez is taking all the way and the ball is down nicely. Tom Caron is jumping around for some reason. Back to an even count.
Bello goes back to the sinker and puts it over the plate again. The late drop on the pitch is enough to make it really difficult to square up so he gets away with just a foul ball, but it’s not where he wants that pitch. Ideally, he’d like it down in the zone where basically all Sanchez can do with it is pound it into the ground.
Here’s a pitch I really like from Bello and would like to see more of. In more recent games, it’s felt like hitters are sitting on the sinker and changeup. Both offerings have virtually identical movement patterns, the difference being the velocity. What we see here is a cutter in on the hands of Sanchez. Sanchez fouls this one off, but it’s a pitch that’s really effective. With this pitch moving toward Sanchez, it’s really difficult for him to do much damage with. With cutters inside to opposite-handed hitters, you’ll see a lot of foul balls and weak contact, making it a good pitch earlier in counts. It wouldn’t be my go-to offering with two strikes, but it’s nice to see Bello execute that pitch.
He follows up the cutter with a changeup low and away. It’s a really good pitch and Sanchez is totally fooled. He lunges at it and does a really good job of getting the bat on it to stay alive.
Based on Sanchez swinging out of his shoes at the previous pitch, he was likely looking for the sinker. If that’s the case, it makes sense to not throw him a sinker. Here, Bello goes with the slider and completely spikes it. It’s a non-competitive pitch that Sanchez doesn’t have to even think about. Again, Bello could really benefit from having a pitch that breaks the other way, but the slider consistency just isn’t there.
Another miss from Bello, this time with the four-seamer. It’s a decent idea following the slider and changeup, it’s just not close enough to the zone to induce a swing and the count is full.
Looking at the last few pitches, Bello has missed with the fastball and missed with the slider. He probably isn’t confident enough in the cutter to throw it with three balls. That leaves the sinker and changeup in a spot when he really doesn’t want to walk the leadoff man.
He goes with the sinker and gets pretty fortunate. As I said before, the drop on the pitch makes it hard to hit square, but this one is right down the middle and Sanchez fouls it back. That’s two sinkers over the middle that Sanchez has fouled back. Bello probably doesn’t want to give him a third chance at it.
Bello goes back to the four-seamer up in the zone and locates it well this time. He probably wants it a little more away from Sanchez, but it’s not in a bad spot. Unfortunately, Sanchez fights it off again.
Finally, Bello throws a changeup down in the zone and it’s an absolute beauty. Sanchez is way out in front once again and whiffs by a considerable margin. Bello’s changeup, sinker, and four-seamer all spin on a similar axis, making it very difficult to pick up out of his hand. Here, Sanchez thinks he’s getting the sinker and strikes out on the tenth pitch of the at-bat.
While some credit is due to Sanchez for fighting off some tough pitches, I think this really illustrates how much better Bello can become. If he could locate his slider consistently, either early in the count for called strikes or later in the count outside of the zone, he could be that much more efficient. The cutter would also be useful to get some quick outs against lefties. The fact that he’s getting by with mostly just his sinker and changeup is impressive, but there’s still so much room for the 24-year-old to grow. Lucky for us, he’s only 24.
AB #2: Nick Fortes
First pitch sinker off the plate. 1-0.
Bello doubles up on the sinker and throws a better one. Fortes thinks about it but ultimately takes to even the count.
With the count even, Bello throws his slider and it’s much better than his previous ones. It doesn’t get a swing as it’s a little too far off the plate, but it gives Fortes something to think about.
As a general rule of thumb, when you’re behind 2-1 or 3-1, you want to throw a strike that gives you the highest chance of getting an out. With the hitter ahead, they’re expecting a pitch to hit and are more likely to swing, so you want to throw a strike that they can’t drive. That’s good advice just about all of the time, but it’s especially true in hitter-friendly, one-strike counts.
Bello executes that idea perfectly here, with a sinker just below the zone that Fortes hits directly into the ground for the second out. Generally speaking, if Bello keeps his sinker down in the strike zone, he’s going to get a lot of quick, easy outs.
AB #3: Luis Arraez
With two outs, Luis Arraez steps up to the plate. He’s only hitting .393. How hard an out can that be?
High fastball, Arraez is taking all the way. We love strikes. Shoutout the writer’s guild.
Another high fastball, and this time Arraez is a victim of his own skill. He gets the bat on it and pops it straight up for the third out. Bello’s four-seamer hasn’t performed very well this season but it does have a fairly “flat” approach angle, which helps the pitch play up in the zone. Here in particular Arraez swings under the ball and pops out. Very nicely done by Bello to get a quick out after a long at-bat to start the inning.
This is just one inning of many that Bello has thrown this year, but it shows who he is now and who he can become. He’s a 24-year-old pitcher with an incredibly bright future. Right now, he’s leading the staff by leaning heavily on two pitches. With an off-season to develop his slider, cutter, or maybe even something else, he can become a perennial Cy Young candidate.