Mixing It Up for Fantasy Baseball: Kevin Gausman's sinker, Dylan Cease's cutter and more

Even though spring training has wrapped up, that's no reason for us to stop looking into pitchers who are throwing new pitches. In fact, this is when the fun begins. Many pitchers will test new pitches in the spring but abandon them when the regular season starts. It can often be more informative to see which pitchers have drastically changed their pitch mix or pitch shape after a few starts in the regular season.

With that in mind, we will continue with the premise of the series I had called Pitchers with New Pitches (and Should We Care) by breaking down notable changes in a pitcher's pitch mix (hence "Mixing" it up). We'll look at pitchers who are throwing a new pitch, have eliminated a pitch or are showcasing a different shape/velocity on a pitch.

I'll continue my analysis with the simple premise that not every new pitch should be greeted with praise. A new pitch, like a shiny new toy, might be exciting on its own, but it also needs to complement what a pitcher already has and fill a meaningful void in his current pitch mix. We want to check and see if he has any splits issues. We want to see what his best pitch(es) is and see if this new pitch would complement that. Then we want to see what this new pitch type is generally used for (control, called strikes, etc.) and see if that is something this pitcher needs help with. We can also now see the pitch in action to look at the shape and command and see if it's actually any good. Once we've done all that, we can decide if the pitch is a good addition or not.

If you missed any of the previous editions of this series, you can click this link here to be taken to the tracker, which I'll update as the season goes on. It will also include links to the original articles so you can read them in full if you'd like.

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I feel like I've written more words on Kevin Gausman this year than any other year of doing this and it's just now May. Coming into the year, I still had Gausman inside my top 10 starting pitchers, but I wasn't as high on him as some other analysts because my main concern was that he kind of only had two pitches (splitter and four-seam fastball) and his fastball got hit really hard. In my last pre-season rankings, I wrote: "Gausman’s four-seam fastball is not great and gives up a ton of hard contact, which puts a lot of pressure on his splitter, which is his best pitch. However, Gausman rarely throws the splitter for strikes because he gets so many chases. What that means is that Gausman is a two-pitch pitcher, but one pitch is fairly average, and the other pitch is great but relies on chases. That’s a dangerous tightrope to walk and is a big part of the reason that Gausman tends to sport high BABIPs and WHIPs."

While Gausman also does have a slider, it's not a particularly good one and is more of a show-me pitch he sneaks by when hitters are looking for the splitter. So, just on the simple fact of adding another pitch to take the pressure off his splitter, I love the idea that he's throwing a sinker this year.

Kevin Gausman headshot
Kevin Gausman
SP - TOR - #34
2024 - false season

Obviously, a sinker by nature will run in on the hands of right-handed hitters and also dart down in the zone. That's a similar movement profile to a splitter, so the two pitches could work well off of one another if their release points are the same. Out of the hand, the hitter may think he's getting the 85 mph splitter with more vertical drop but instead, he gets the 95 mph sinker that rides in on his hands. That's a recipe for weak contact, which is exactly what Gausman has needed since he typically runs high Ideal Contact Rates (ICR).

Gausman introduced the sinker just three starts ago and has thrown just 17 so far this season, so we're working with an extremely small sample size here. However, there are a few things I like already. For starters, Gausman is keeping the pitch low and inside to righties pretty consistently, which you can see from the Pitcher List chart below, and considering he also throws his splitter low almost exclusively, that enables him to create more deception with the two offerings.

His four-seam fastball is also getting hit particularly hard by righties this year with a 57% ICR which is, like, really not good. Having another fastball offering to throw to righties will keep them off his four-seamer and prevent some of that hard contact. It should also benefit him that the sinker is a high strike-rate pitch, generally, so he can fill the zone with the sinker which is important since the splitter is not a high zone-rate pitch. Right now, Gausman throws his splitter in the strike zone just 29% of the time, so if hitters stop chasing on a particular day then he doesn't have a good pitch he can consistently get ahead with. The sinker could be that.

However, in order for that to be the case, he also needs to throw his sinker for strikes. As you can see from the chart above, he currently has just a 12% zone rate on the sinker. He's frequently missing off the plate inside, which is not unexpected from a brand-new pitch and may delay some of our celebrations surrounding the new offering.

VERDICT: POTENTIALLY IMPACTFUL. I love this as an idea, but right now it's just an idea and one that he's not really executing. It may take a while for Gausman to truly find the release and comfort with the sinker but when he does, I think it will be an important offering for lowering his WHIP and high BABIPs.

Every year, pitchers emerge out of nowhere onto the fantasy radar, and the injury to Shane Bieber has allowed Ben Lively to do just that. The 32-year-old has made three starts in Bieber's place, registering a 2.30 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 15.2 innings. So what do we make of this and how is it happening?

Ben Lively headshot
Ben Lively
SP - CLE - #39
2024 - false season

For starters, Lively pitched just over 100 innings in eight professional seasons with three organizations before deciding to play in Korea. While he didn't dominate the KBO like some former MLB players before him, he pitched to a 4.14 ERA in 36 starts between 2019-21 before suffering an elbow injury that ended his stint abroad. He returned to a bullpen role with the Reds last season, and the Guardians expected him to be a swingman this year before needing him in the rotation.

Some of the changes to Lively's pitch mix happened in Korea, but we'll discuss them here too. He added a slider in Korea that became his primary secondary pitch and he started to throw both his sinker and change-up more, relying less on his four-seam fastball. Heading into the 2024 season, he made another change to his arsenal, tweaking his slider to become more of a sweeper and then turning a little-used cutter into more of a hard slider.

As you can see in the above graph from Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard, Lively's sweeper this year is only one mph slower than the slider he was throwing last year but with more horizontal movement and a different approach angle. His slider this year has a movement profile that's closer to last year's cutter, with far more vertical drop and less horizontal movement. According to Pitcher List, these are both positive changes. They graded last year's cutter as the worst of the three pitches with a 4.91 PLV (where 5 is around average). The new modified slider has a 5.51 PLV while the new sweeper has a 5.57 PLV, so Lively has gotten rid of his lowest-graded pitch and replaced it with two new variations of pitches that both grade out well. We like that.

Despite the sweeper often being the strikeout pitch, Lively's sweeper pounds the zone with a 64% zone rate and 76% strike rate to right-handed hitters. However, it has just an 8% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) and allows a 50% ICR, which is not a good combination. Part of that could be that he keeps the sweeper away from righties but doesn't keep it low enough, with a 32% middle location, which means 32% of his sweepers are about belt-high. He also throws it early in the count 72% of the time to right-handed hitters, so Lively seems to WANT to use it as a strike pitch but that may not be the best strategy since it's getting hit hard.

Yet, despite his harder slider registering a 20% SwStr% in limited usage, Lively also throws that pitch early in the count 80% of the time to righties. It also has just a 20% zone rate, so it's not a pitch he seems to command well. Given how often hitters swing and miss at it and how infrequently it lands in the strike zone, it may be best for him to throw it more when he's ahead in the count and less so early on.

If he throws his two primary breaking balls early in the count and also has a curve that grades out poorly and hasn't registered a single whiff against righties, how is Lively missing bats? Well, he's not — against righties. Overall, Lively has just an 8% SwStr% against righties but a 13.8% SwStr% to lefties. A big reason for that has been a change he made to his four-seam fastball.

Last season, Lively's four-seam had seven feet of extension but just 13.4 inches of Induced Vertical Break (iVB), which was well below average "rise" on his four-seamer. This year, he added some extension and iVB, now registering a league-average 15.1 iVB. It's part of a larger change that has seen Lively add extension to his whole arsenal, which means he's releasing everything closer to home plate, which can allow velocity to play up but also can change the movement profile and give hitters less time to see pitches and react.

Yet, he also added cut to his fastball, which might be why it's performing better against left-handed hitters. Overall, the pitch has a 14.5% SwStr% but that's because it has an 18% SwStr% to lefties and 8.7% SwStr% to righties. On the flip side, the pitch is being crushed with a 50% ICR to lefties and a far worse mark against righties. Part of that is because of location. He throws the pitch middle far too often, whether that's the belt high or not getting the pitch inside enough. Over 15% of his four-seamers to lefties are "middle-middle" and that's decidedly NOT where you want to throw a pitch.

VERDICT: MARGINALLY IMPACTFUL. The changes to Lively's pitch mix are definitely a positive. With the sweeper and harder slider, he now has four pitches that grade out as slightly above average. He is still learning how to locate all of those offerings and nothing he throws is elite, but there's a future where he has four or five average to slightly above-average pitches that he can use to keep hitters off balance and prevent damaging contact. That sounds like a streamer in 12 or 15-team leagues. Considering we had never even considered Lively as an option before, the fact that he could be turning himself into a streaming option is a clear improvement.

Studying Dylan Cease's pitch mix is fun, but we also know that, at the end of the day, everything for Cease comes down to command. If he can command his arsenal, it's deep enough and dynamic enough for him to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. In that regard, we love that he's adding a cutter since it's a command-focused pitch, but the sweeper is certainly not that, so this might be a mixed bag as we dive in.

Dylan Cease headshot
Dylan Cease
SP - SD - #84
2024 - false season

For starters, we need to acknowledge that Cease does have some minor splits issues in his career. It makes sense, since his best pitch has always been a slider that performs better against righties. In his career, Cease allows a .204/.290/.416 triple slash to right-handed hitters with a 31.4% strikeout rate, while he has a .244/.331/.370 line to lefties with a 24.9% strikeout rate. So he misses fewer bats against lefties and also allows more meaningful contact. Well, a cutter would be a great way to mitigate some of that hard contact issue against opposite-handed hitters.

The issue is that Cease isn't really throwing a great cutter. It grades out at just a 4.78 PLV on Pitcher List and has less extension than all of his other pitches, which tells me that he's not throwing it with the same comfort and release. That's not surprising with a new pitch, but it is worth mentioning. In an extremely small sample size, Cease is trying to keep the cutter up, which is great to see, but he's not consistently getting it inside to lefties and has struggled to command it with just a 33% zone rate.

This is clearly not a pitch he has confidence in right now.

Sadly, he's also struggling to command the sweeper, which you can see from his strike zone plot.

The pitch grades out well, with a 5.54 PLV, but it has just a 22.7% zone rate. Interestingly, he's also throwing it early in the count 64% of the time, so he doesn't view it as just a strikeout pitch. As an idea, I appreciate that. We know his slider is capable of missing bats at a high clip, but it's also a pitch he can struggle to throw in the strike zone, so having a sweeper he can use for strikes would allow him to rely on that slider for more strikeouts. The slider is also harder and tighter while the sweeper has way more movement both horizontally and vertically, so he would be differentiating the looks he gives to batters as well.

However, it's clear the pitch isn't there yet and, even if it was, it wouldn't do much to help him with his splits against lefties.

VERDICT: MINIMALLY IMPACTFUL. I like the idea for both of these, but neither pitch has been effective right now, and it's hard to say when they will be. I'd prefer he be focusing more on the cutter because I think it fills a need more than the sweeper does, but we'll have to keep an eye on how both progress.


Simeon Woods Richardson headshot
Simeon Woods Richardson
SP - MIN - #78
2024 - false season

Simeon Woods Richardson feels like he's been around forever but he's only 23 years old. He was a second-round pick for the Mets in 2018 and was emerging as a prospect of note before he was traded to the Blue Jays along with Anthony Kay for Marcus Stroman. He then posted a 3.80 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 106.2 innings in the Blue Jays organization before being traded with Austin Martin to the Twins for Jose Berrios.

He had a good 2022 season in the Twins organization but struggled at Triple-A in 2023 and pitched just 4.2 innings at the MLB level last year. This season, he was hit hard in three starts at Triple-A but was promoted to the big league anyway with the Twins souring on Louie Varland. So Woods Richardson seems to have a chance to stick in the rotation — but has all of his former shine now worn off?

When you look at his pitch mix compared to last season (keeping in mind it's a small sample in both instances), three changes should stand out to us.

For starters, you can see the drop in vertical release point from 6.8 feet last year to 6.4 feet. That's a pretty major change where he's less over-the-top with his release, which perhaps is more freeing and loose for him but can also change the movement profile in some of his pitches, which we'll get to.

Also, in 2023 he was throwing a fastball that was more like a cutter, with three inches of horizontal movement away from righties. This was something new for him and contributed to his fastball velocity dropping to just 90 miles per hour. In 2024, he has abandoned the cut, throwing a four-seam fastball that almost rides in on right-handed hitters and is averaging over 93 mph. While he has lost some iVB on the pitch, it's still registering 16.1 inches and grading out well with a 5.51 PLV mark at Pitcher List.

The issue with the four-seamer right now is that he doesn't have a clear attack plan. The pitch is all over the strike zone. It's great that he has a 63% zone rate and a 73% strike rate with it, but he's also given up a 46% ICR because he seems to just aim for the strike zone. I'd love to see him create a bit of an attack plan with it, preferably using it up in the zone more often. He is throwing the pitch inside to righties 45% of the time, which is good with the new movement profile, but I'd like to stop seeing it belt-high so much.

The other issue with the new fastball is that the spin direction between it and his change-up is noticeably different. That makes it easier for left-handed hitters to pick up out of his hand and might be why the change-up grades out well but has just an 11% SwStr% to lefties, which is below league average.

The last change we see is with his slider. Last year, Woods Richardson was throwing his slider 83.1 mph with 6.7 feet of extension, almost 10 inches of horizontal movement, and four inches of drop. This year, he's throwing the pitch almost 88 mph with less horizontal movement and almost double the vertical movement. That has led to a massive jump in PLV grade and has helped Woods Richardson register a 16.7% SwStr% and a 40% chase rate on two-strike counts. Considering he throws the pitch often as his two-strike pitch, that's important.

VERDICT: MEANINGFULLY IMPACTFUL. I still don't think the arsenal is particularly deep, and I worry about him in lineups with a lot of lefties, but these are undoubtedly good changes and should add some swing-and-miss to his arsenal against right-handed hitters. I'm not convinced he has another leap in him that will make him a difference-maker in fantasy, but I think, provided he cleans up the four-seam command, he has a shot to stick in the rotation and be a streamer against any but the top offenses.