Mixing It Up: King proves his worth, Quantrill leaning on his splitter

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It's the final week of the MLB regular season, which means it's the final week of Mixing It Up, a weekly column where I look at starting pitchers who are making noteworthy changes to their pitch mix or pitch shape/velocity. Since there is only one week left in the season, I'm going to give you some quick-hitters instead of deep dives today. I want to highlight a few pitchers who are intriguing for this week alone based on recent changes in their pitch mix.

As always, I've made sure we have enough of a sample size to work with and I've mixed in both shallow and deep league targets, so there should be a little something for everyone as you look to close out wins or move into the money in your leagues.

In the last few weeks we identified some positive changes in Luis Medina , Freddy Peralta , Cole Ragans , Brandon Williamson , and Chase Silseth before major breakouts so hopefully we can hit on a few more arms making intriguing changes.

With that said, let's dig in to this week's pitchers of note.

Michael King - New York Yankees

Michael King has stealing hearts since moving into the Yankees' starting rotation. Over 30.1 innings as a starter, King has a 1.78 ERA, while striking out 45 batters and walking just four. It's an absurd statline and while some of it was aided by matchups against Detroit and Washington, his best outings were against Milwaukee, Boston, Toronto, and Houston. So he's earning these results.

A big reason for that has been the increased use of his sinker. As a starter, he's throwing the pitch 41% of the time, after throwing it 30% of the time as a reliever. The change makes sense since he needs to rely more on the fastball to go deeper into games. The sinker has been his best pitch by results for the entire season and has a 111 Stuff+ on Fangraphs. That's second to his sweeper, which has an absurd 146 Stuff+ on Fangraphs.

However, the underlying metrics also suggest King is getting a bit lucky, which really shouldn't be a shock considering the aforementioned 1.78 ERA. According to Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard, as a starter, King has a 3.45 dERA (Defense Independent ERA), compared to a 3.35 dERA as a reliever. King has also allowed a 11.1% barrel rate as a starter and has seen his swinging strike rate (SwStr%) drop to 12.5%. His sweeper, despite it's great Fangraphs number also has a 4.75 dERA as a starter and as dropped 3% on its SwStr%. In September alone, King has registered a 3.81 dERA despite the electric results.

Now, that's not to say that the dERA is "real" and the actual results are "fake," but it is just an indicator that King may be good, but he's likely not THIS good. That's something to keep in mind when he sees the Blue Jays again on Tuesday. Although, you're definitely using him in all your fantasy lineups.

Cal Quantrill - Cleveland Guardians

Cal Quantrill missed part of July and all of August with an injury and has come back in September with a noticeably new pitch mix. The thing that jumps off the page the most is that Quantrill went from throw his splitter just 4% of the time in July to 27.5% of the time in September. This also led to a decrease in sinker usage from over 40% earlier in the year to just 30.7% in September.

Quantrill pitch mix
Quantrill pitch mix

The changes have seemingly worked for Quantrill, who has a 1.95 ERA across 27.2 innings in September with just a .200 batting average against. He's also posted his highest SwStr% of the season; although, it's just a 9.6% rate for September, so not something to write home about.

Still, the change in mix works for him. The splitter has an 11% SwStr% and 3.27 dERA in September, and his sinker has performed better this month than any other month of the year, with its highest SwStr% and dERA. He has also seen massive improvement from his change-up, which has a -3.63 dERA in September as he's added more vertical movement to the pitch, perhaps to pair better with the splitter. In fact, the introduction of the splitter would logically help both his sinker and change-up play up since all three pitches have arm-side run and are thrown between 86 and 94 mph.

He's still not going to be a big swing-and-miss arm, but this version of Quantrill should be able to perform great for you in a final start against the Tigers.

John Means - Baltimore Orioles

Means has made three starts since coming off of the injured list, and Lance Brozdowski was quick to point out that his fastball shape has changed. In 2022, his four-seam had 22” vertical break with 8” arm-side movement, but so far this season it’s down to 20” with 7” arm-side movement. His slider and change-up are also harder with slightly less movement, which has led to a drop in swing-and-miss on both.

Now it's only been three starts, and Means is very likely feeling his way back into a groove, but the changes are noticeable, especially with only one start left this season against Boston. With the approach angles so different on all three pitches, I just can't be confident enough to say that Means isn't making a change to the shape of his pitches. If he is, I can't back a pitcher with a 7.1% SwStr% going against Boston at the end of the season.

Edward Cabrera - Miami Marlins

Since being recalled from the minors in early September, Cabrera has acted as bulk reliever twice and then a traditional starter twice. Over those 19 innings, he has a 1.89 ERA, a .167 batting average against, and 22 strikeouts. He also has an absurd 0.63 dERA in September, so he's doing something right.

The biggest changes I can see in his approach has been relying on his change-up more (34% usage in September to 26% in July) and shifting the vertical approach angle from 0.18 in July to 0.36 in September. Since the height of his release hasn't changed, it seems as though Cabrera has moved on the rubber, closer to third base, which means he's releasing the ball more behind a right-handed batter, which can aid in deception. The VAA is also definitely impacted by him throwing the pitch slightly hard. What we do know for certain is that the pitch has a -1.63 dERA and 25.6% SwStr% in September, so we like that.

The final change we can see with Cabrera is a spike in velocity on his change-up, curve, and slider. Even in his final two starts, when he was operating as a traditional starter, his curve was 86.2 mph, which is a clear uptick from earlier in the season.

Cabrera velocity
Cabrera velocity

Considering this is also the best his curve has looked in a while, with a 2.97 dERA, 11.3% SwStr%, and .200 batting average against (.126 xBA), that looks like another solid modification for Cabrera, who looks to be a great start against the Pirates. Just don't expect more than five innings.

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Brayan Bello - Boston Red Sox

At the end of August, Bello modified his slider, throwing the pitch a bit harder and with more movement. His older slider was 85 mph with around 6” vertical break and just 1” glove-side movement, but his new slider is 86 mph with about 2” vertical break and 8” glove-side movement. The SwStr% on the pitch exploded from 4.5% in June and 1.8% in July to 8.9% in August and now 21.1% in September. Considering Bello has been solid for much of the year but was missing a true swing-and-miss pitch, this is tremendous for him. The 13.5% SwStr% he has produced overall in September is a huge improvement for him.

The only issue is that, while his slider has been performing better, his sinker and change-up have not been. The changeup has been Bello's bread-and-butter, but it has a 5.16 dERA in September and just a 14.9% SwStr%, the worst of any month this season. Bello has also now thrown 151 innings, which is the most in any professional season, so we might not know until next year if this is just fatigue or if the tinkering with the grip on his slider has impacted his feel for his other pitches.

Nick Martinez - San Diego Padres

Nick Martinez has moved into the Padres rotation and has yet to allow a run in his two starts. The only issue is that those two starts added up to seven total innings. Still, Martinez struck out eight and allowed just three hits and with a start against the White Sox this week, we have to wonder if this may be a sneaky deep league option.

There has been no major change to his pitch mix; although, he did throw his change-up 40.3% of the time in his last start, which worked for him since it posted a 52.9% whiff rate and has been his best pitch all season. If he continues to be more change-up focused as a starter, it could help him get through five solid innings against a sputtering White Sox lineup.

Jose Butto - New York Mets

Since being called up to join the Mets' rotation in late August, Butto has a 3.38 ERA across 21.1 innings with a .205 batting average against and 24 strikeouts to seven walks. As you can see from the graphic below from Alex Chamberlain's pitch leaderboard, Butto has been throwing a little harder across the board and also getting on top of his four-seam more, which has led to better performance.

Jose Butto graph
Jose Butto graph

He has also doubled the amount he's throwing his slider and also changed the slider, adding more break across the board. The pitch before had basically been an 85 mph cutter, but now he's throwing more of a downward biting slider at 86.7 mph. This has led to a jump up to a 23.1% SwStr% and an 0.89 dERA. That's a nice change for Butto and I could see running him out against the Phillies on the final day of the season if Philadelphia chooses to rest a few of their starters.

Alec Marsh - Kansas City Royals

Alec Marsh continues to make changes, so I'll continue to address them a bit. In September, Marsh is now throwing his sweeper 86.3 mph after throwing it just 83.7 mph in August when he introduced it. Here's the part that I like the most: Marsh's best pitch early in the year had been an 87 mph slider. When he changed it to add more sweep, he slowed the pitch down but it got hit hard. Now, he's kept the sweep but added back the velocity, and Marsh has seen the pitch post a 2.28 dERA with a 22.2% SwStr% in September.

Now he just needs to find a solid second pitch to go along with that, but in his last outing against the Astros, when he struck out six and allowed three runs on three hits in 5.1 innings, he relied a lot on his new sinker, which posted a 28% whiff rate, but also allowed one very loud home run.

Marsh emerging as a sinker/sweeper pitcher after starting the year as a four-seam/changeup arm is intriguing, and I'm curious to see how he continues to develop.

Reid Detmers - Los Angeles Angels

Reid Detmers has really struggled this year, and when young pitchers struggle, they tend to play around with their arsenal. We're seeing that pretty clearly with Detmers, who added back in his change-up in late August and then started throwing the pitch 21% of the time while significantly cutting back on his slider usage.

Detmers pitch mix
Detmers pitch mix

But here's the thing, even though Detmer's change-up has a 4.26 dERA and .105 batting average against in September, we don't really like this modification. I don't hate the change-up itself. It's actually nice to have a pitch for him that reduces hard contact, but a 9.8% SwStr% is not appealing, especially when it comes at the expense of a pitch that has been his best all season with the slider posting a 2.70 dERA and 19.9% SwStr% on the year.

Detmers does need another consistent pitch to go with his slider as his four-seam has been poor and his curve has not been missing bats. Perhaps the change-up can be that, but it would be a shame if he stopped relying on his slider.