Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reset Button May Be Pressly's Best Friend

Through the first month of the big league season, Ryan Pressly has had a rough time out of the Minnesota Twins bullpen. A reliever that profiled well for a high leverage role in the late innings, he's staring at an ERA just south of 9.00 and at times, has been searching for answers. A bit deeper dive suggests all is not lost however.

Currently, the Twins former Rule 5 selection owns a 8.74 ERA across 11.1 IP. He's surrendered three homers, and owns a 5.56 FIP. There's no way to look at those numbers and suggest that there's a whole heap of positive to be had. Looking beyond the surface a little bit though, we can see this start has the ability to be a small blip on the radar in what can turn out to be a nice season.

Maybe most easily visible, Pressly is actually striking out 8.7 per nine, up from his career high a year ago. He's also walking slightly more than in 2016 (3.2 BB/9 as opposed to 2.7 BB/9), but it's not incredibly far off from his career norms. His offerings have stayed the same, and he's actually seen velocity increases on all three of his pitches (including a 2 mph jump with his slider).

So what gives then right?

Well, the reality is that Pressly has seen his confidence shaken in roughly three pitches, by three relative no name hitters. He's given up homers this season to Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and John Hicks. None of those three are big league stalwarts, and they came off of a good fastball, and two hanging sliders.

From a results standpoint, Pressly has generated virtually the same amount of groundballs, line drives, and fly balls. He also has a similar (albeit slightly down) chase rate, with a similar swinging strike percentage. There's not a massive spike in contact, or contact being made within the zone either. If there's a spike, it's in how hard balls are being put into play, and what is happening in those instances.

During 2017, Pressly is allowing hard hit contact 40.5% of the time, up from 31.8% a year ago. Also, his home run to fly ball rate has skyrocketed from 9.5% in 2016 to 21.4% this season. The hard hit rate has also produced a .353 BABIP, up from his career .300 mark, and .311 last season. Of the 185 pitches Pressly has thrown, 14 have been put in play with an exit velocity north of 95 mph. Of those 14 balls in play, 10 of them have resulted in base hits.

Hard contact resulting in runners on base isn't groundbreaking by any means. It would make sense that a ball being put in play with solid contact would result in a good outcome more often than not. What's unfortunate, is that the hard contact is coming just under half of the time for the Twins reliever. It's likely in part a by product of throwing with increased velocity, but also likely in part, due to batters being more able to hit the Twins reliever.

At this point, I'm not sure if Pressly has tipped pitches, or shown any hints to opposing hitters that would give his stuff away. As things stand, he's doing everything he always has done, but three balls in the seats have inflated his overall numbers. Opposing hitters making hard contact are forcing him to really work through his outings, but for a guy with his stuff, it shouldn't be an obstacle he's incapable of overcoming.

When at his best, Pressly is among the best arms in the Twins pen. Clearly that time is not now, but there's not much to suggest he can't get back to it either.