Coming into Friday night’s start against the New York Yankees, Jacob Waguespack needed to make a change.
His previous four starts simply hadn’t been good enough. The tall Toronto Blue Jays right-hander managed a 8.40 ERA, failed to complete five innings in each outing, and posted an ugly BB/K ratio of 11/12.
While Friday’s game was no masterpiece, it represented a step in the right direction for the righty. He went five innings, allowed three runs, and struck out six with just one walk in the Blue Jays’ 4-3 win.
It wasn’t the overall result that stood out, though. The most encouraging development was an adjustment Waguespack made to deal with the biggest issue he’s faced this season: an inability to get right-handed hitters out. Prior to his start against the Yankees, righties had been lighting the rookie up to the tune of a .297/.366/.527 line. It’s an unusual problem for a right-handed pitcher to have, but considering Waguespack lacks a top-notch slider, he’s been unable to capitalize on his platoon advantage.
Waguespack, and his batterymate Danny Jansen, found a potential solution in New York. The game plan the two concocted was to pound the inside corner of the plate over and over and over again - which looked like this:
The idea ran in stark contrast to Waguespack’s normal modus operandi against same-handed hitters - which has been to hug the outside corner, as the following heatmap attests:
That plan of attack has been both ineffectual and illogical because the part the middle-out section of the plate is where right-handers have been hitting Waguespack the hardest all year:
Shifting strategy against the Yankees paid immediate dividends for the Blue Jays rookie as the six righties Aaron Boone pencilled into his lineup went 2-for-13 with one walk and four strikeouts. Aaron Judge was the only guy able to truly punish Waguespack for sticking to the inner edge with his fourth-inning home run, but Judge can hit just about anything a long way.
More often than not, the Yankees struggled with the right-hander’s old school attack. Throughout the night they were taking uncomfortable swings, whether it was Austin Romine climbing the ladder to strike out on a perfectly-placed offering up-and-in...
... or Clint Frazier chasing well off the plate:
We’re talking about a one-start sample here, so it’s unfair to say that Waguespack has found a permanent solution to the biggest issue he’s faced as a major leaguer. Pitching inside effectively day in, day out is no easy feat. There’s a reason it’s something of a lost art.
It’s unclear whether the rookie has the command to make it his bread-and-butter, and with his average velocity he’s going to be vulnerable to pull hitters turning on his hard stuff on the inner edge, just like Judge did on Friday.
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Even so, owning the inside seems like a better idea for Waguespack than trying to paint the outside corner and hoping right-handers chase his breaking ball away. His slider and curveball simply aren’t good enough to make that blueprint consistently effective.
In one start, Waguespack provided proof of concept for another way forward. Whether he’s able to replicate it is an open question.
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