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The Anatomy of An Inning: Don’t Give up on Mauricio Llovera

He may not be a lockdown closer, but don’t write the righty off just yet.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

When the Red Sox acquired Mauricio Llovera in late July, a large portion of the fanbase threw their hands in the air and wrote the reliever off as yet another depth arm. At the time, he was the lone addition to the pitching staff at the deadline, when the bullpen was taxed and quality innings were hard to come by. Given the state of the staff at the time of the acquisition, high expectations were placed on Llovera, and he failed to perform in his early appearances. A few bad outings ballooned his ratios, and at a glance, he looks like a train wreck. You can’t play the game on paper, but there’s still plenty of reason to believe in Llovera as a productive member of a strong bullpen.

The Situation

September 12th. Top of the seventh inning. After a scoreless inning in which he struggled to command his sinker (37.5% strikes), Llovera returns to the mound, trailing the Yankees by a run.

AB #1: Everson Pereira

94 MPH sinker. Pereira is taking it all the way. 0-1.

Llovera follows up the sinker with a slider. This is what you get with Llovera - sinkers and sliders. Here’s a look at the arsenal in terms of spin.

As you can see, the sinker and slider are almost perfect mirrors for one another, making it impossible for the human eye to identify the pitch based on the spin. When you hear someone talk about tunneling, this is what they mean. Here, Pereira is thinking sinker and is caught off balance when the pitch sweeps away from him. 0-2.

Pereira lays off the second slider at 0-2, but it’s a good pitch nonetheless as it’s off the plate where it won’t be punished.

Take a look at where McGuire sets up on this pitch. What he’s trying to do is start the pitch outside, like he did with the previous slider that kept running off the plate. The idea is that Pereira will see the pitch away, identify it as a slider, and take the pitch. The movement of the sinker, however, would bring the ball right back over the outside edge for called strike three. It’s the same idea as throwing a low fastball after a hitter spits on a breaking pitch in the dirt (see: Chris Martin).

It’s a great idea in theory, but it requires Llovera to hit his spot. Here, he misses his spot and the pitch ends up inside. Pereira still isn’t prepared for the sinker and can’t get good wood to the baseball, pounding it into the ground and making the first out of the inning.

AB #2: Kyle Higashioka

Sinker away, 1-0.

After missing with the sinker on back-to-back pitches, Llovera turns to the slider for called strike one. This would be better at 0-0, but a free strike is a free strike.

Again, Llovera tries to throw the backdoor sinker. This time, Higashioka is waiting for it and shoots it back up the middle for a base hit.

AB #3: D.J. LeMahieu

Llovera starts off LeMahieu with a slider, looking to get the free strike, and instead throws it in the dirt for ball one.

LeMahieu wants absolutely nothing to do with this sinker for strike one. It’s hard to say if he’s got the red light, or if he’s looking for a slider, but I would guess from his body language that he wants the slider. The scouting report shows that LeMahieu has struggled against breaking pitches this season, but he could just be guessing based on Llovera’s struggles commanding his sinker so far in this outing.

Here’s the slider that’s left up over the plate, and Llovera gets away with it. The pitch is supposed to be below the zone, but it hangs up over the plate. Again LeMahieu seems to be on the wrong page; he can’t stay back on the pitch. As I said before, it looks just like the sinker, so it’s somewhat of a guessing game for hitters. Command needs to be better, but stuff makes up for it to an extent.

AB #4: Aaron Judge

With two outs, Llovera can afford to be careful with Judge. You never want to put a runner on second, but sometimes you have to pick your battles. Llovera starts him off with a slider below the zone for 1-0.

Here’s another slider that Judge thinks about before checking his swing. Llovera doesn’t get the call, and now needs to be extra careful behind in the count 2-0.

I like the idea here. In a 2-0 count, you’re really trying to throw a pitch that has a high chance of getting an out. A sinker down in the zone is a great way to get a ground ball. Of course, that requires a swing, and Judge lets this one go to get to 3-0.

At 3-0, I would almost consider just putting Judge on first. Llovera laughs at that idea, and throws a sinker for strike one.

For the first time in forever, Llovera hits his spot and gets the sinker down and in. It’s in a great spot where Judge would have to really sell out to get to it. He fouls it off his foot to run the count full. With the count full Judge can’t be as selective, and Llovera is back in the driver’s seat

Another missed spot, but this sinker eats Judge alive to end the inning. This is both why I like Llovera, and am terrified by Llovera. Throughout the inning, you could say he was “effectively wild”. I would never characterize lack of command as a positive, but it can improved. While he was with the Giants AAA club this season, he walked just six of 84 batters faced. If he can reign in the command and hit his spots more frequently, he can be a really solid contributor to the staff. Watch that sinker to Judge again, not just anyone can make Aaron Judge look that silly. First impressions can be hard to shake, but don’t give up on Llovera just yet.