With the season winding down and the Red Sox being all but eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to look ahead to next season. It’s no secret that the rotation needs work. Injuries haven’t helped, but the Sox are 28th in the league in innings pitched by starters. It’s put stress on the bullpen which isn’t sustainable through a full season.
One of the few constants in the rotation this season has been Brayan Bello. A few months ago, I wrote that Bello needs a third pitch to fully break out. He isn’t there yet, but he’s made some tweaks to his slider that are worth talking about.
It’s September 10th. The Baltimore Orioles lead by a run in the top of the fourth inning. It’s pouring rain, the game should have been delayed some time ago. I have an eye on the game as I watch football and prep my buffalo wings for cooking. The Patriots are yet to start and my spirits are high.
AB #1: Cedric Mullins
First pitch, changeup down and away with Mullins taking all the way. Free real estate.
Bello follows up the strike by yanking a fastball. Nothing to see here.
At 1-1, Bello goes to the fastball over the outside corner that Mullins fouls off. In his first time up, Bello attacked him with pitches inside that he was able to foul off. Seeing as Mullins is a pull hitter, it makes sense to keep the ball away from him. Given his typical approach at the plate, Mullins probably wouldn’t do much damage with this pitch had he put it in play.
With two strikes, Bello has a few options. He could go with the changeup down and away, although Mullins has already seen that exact pitch. He could go with a high fastball as he did in the first meeting, but Mullins was able to foul a couple of those. He could also go with his slider which Mullins hasn’t seen yet.
There you go. The “new” slider from Bello down in the zone to get the out. If you go back and watch the old slider, you’ll see that it’s a little tighter and doesn’t break as much to the glove side. This one is closer to a sweeper and doesn’t have as much vertical. Mullins is early, lunges at the pitch, and rolls over for the ground out.
AB #2: Austin Hays
First time up, Hays got into a two-strike count and didn’t see a single good pitch to hit before striking out on a slider. He’s a good fastball hitter and probably wants to avoid getting into a two-strike count where Bello can throw him junk. This is why it’s so important for Bello to have that third pitch. If he gets to two strikes and only has his changeup to end at-bats, good hitters will be able to fight those pitches off until they get a fastball to hit. With another breaking pitch, Bello can use the changeup and slider in tandem to get punchouts and get deeper into games.
Here, we see that aggressiveness from Hays. He tries to put a ball onto Lansdowne as he’s early on the changeup.
Now we see why the slider is so important. Hays is timed up to the changeup, but the ball breaks in the other direction and he whiffs entirely. 0-2.
As I always say, at 0-2 Bello can throw just about anything. Here he tries to freeze Hays with a backdoor sinker. Good idea, just a little too far off the plate.
Another changeup from Bello in a really good location. Hays is still timed up to the fastball and does just enough to foul it off. Again, Bello can throw another changeup/sinker inside or go to the slider low and away.
He goes to the sinker inside, and it’s a good take by Hays to even the count. At this point, Hays has taken two sinkers pretty close to the plate which tells me that he probably isn’t going to be fooled by another.
Wow. Bello probably gets away with one here. He wants to go low and away with the slider but leaves it up and inside. Hays is still early and swings and punches out, but that pitch could have been punished. Just goes to show you how Bello is young, and the slider is still a work in progress.
AB #3: Aaron Hicks
First pitch sinker, dotted on the outside corner for strike one.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this. Earlier this season, this would be a changeup down in the zone or a high fastball 90% of the time. Nothing wrong with either of those pitches, but it became predictable to an extent. Now, I turn to my girlfriend and say “slider” every time he gets a whiff on a slider as my way of saying “I was right”. This one isn’t a whiff, but the result is the same as Hicks is fooled and fouls it off to get to 0-2.
At 0-2, Bello goes to the high fastball that’s way too high. It was raining, can you blame him?
Another fastball above the zone. It reminds me of the age old adage, “You can only blame the rain for missing your spot on a four-seam fastball once. After that, it’s on you, pal”. Maybe put this one on the shelf for now.
Bello, hearing the old saying in his head, goes back to his bread and butter with the changeup below the zone. Hicks is fooled and half-commits to the swing, rolls over, and hits a weak ground ball. Bello is an athlete and gets over for the easy putout. Inning over.
This is just 15 pitches out of 2,300 Bello has thrown this season. This one inning doesn’t mean that Bello has all of a sudden found his slider and will be a more complete pitcher next season. Take a look at this graph of his breaking ball movement:
Each data point represents a different appearance this season, with the movement being shown from the catcher’s perspective. Some of variation is just normal fluctuation from start to start, but there’s clearly “different” pitches here. The four points separated on the right side of the graph are his last four starts where he’s getting more horizontal, and less vertical movement. He knows he needs that third pitch and is willing to experiment to get the results he needs. Put together his youth, his willingness to improve, and Pedro Martinez and you have a pretty good recipe for another step forward in 2024.