When I first saw video of Carl Edwards Jr. throwing in camp, I was reminded of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, whose unorthodox delivery is nearly impossible to mimic. As it turns out, Edwards has indeed pattered a mechanical change after a great Dodgers pitcher, just one who closes games rather than starting them. And who’s right-handed.
Side sessions for Edwards, Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, Duncan Robinson and Chatwood. Edgertronic cameras set up behind CJ and Chatwood with Rapsodo devices behind both their catchers. pic.twitter.com/ycTqzZvS29
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 13, 2019
“I watched a lot of video of (Kenley) Jansen,” Edwards told media members who asked about the change. “I think that’s probably why he has so much control. He actually gets his foot down and gets his breath and he can deliver the pitch.
“The purpose was to stand over the rubber longer, have more balance and not really leaking and shifting back and forth. It’s just something that I can really take my time to do, to get used to it and get comfortable.”
For the sake of comparison, here’s a side-by-side look how both Jansen and Kershaw pause between coming down from their respective leg kicks and then driving into their actual throws. It really does look like what Edwards is doing in the clip above.
Jansen is a world-class control freak, posting a 1.48 BB/9 since 2015 that ranks second in baseball to Dan Otero (1.14). But when you factor in Jansen’s strikeout ability, no one else even comes close. Over the 261 innings he’s thrown in the last four seasons, Jansen has struck out 8.72 times more batters than he’s walked. That’s 38 percent better than the next best reliever over that same time (Roberto Osuna, 6.33) and only eight relief pitchers in MLB have posted a 5.00 K/BB or better since the start of 2015.
Edwards can go toe-to-toe with Jansen when it comes to strikeouts, but the control is where the two diverge in a big way. Despite averaging 12.28 K/9 over the course of his career, the lanky Cubs righty has offset that with 4.92 BB/9 for a mere 2.49 K/BB. A little quick math tells us Edwards has been about 71 percent worse than Jansen in that specific regard.
And the Stringbean Slinger is getting worse in that regard as his walks have increased alarmingly over the past three seasons. Of course, that trend doesn’t have to continue. Even though it’s a tremendous stretch to believe he can ever attain something close to the uber-elite status enjoyed by Jansen, the Cubs are working to get Edwards back to being the type of shut-down setup man everyone expected back in 2016.
Part of that has to do with the technology they use, like Edgertronic cameras and Rapsodo devices mentioned in Sahadev Sharma’s tweet above. The ultra-high-speed imaging allows pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and other members of the organization’s pitching infrastructure to see every aspect of a delivery in high definition. That includes reviewing each pitcher’s grip all the way down to finger placement and wrist pronation.
They have even developed a pitch-grip index, the brainchild of minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara, to track whether and how mechanics shift over the course of the season and a career. That’s incredibly helpful to prospects coming up and trying to hone their raw offerings, but it’s also big for major leaguers like Mike Montgomery who want to really dial a new pitch, say, the slider.
The Rapsodo units capture all the pitch data — velocity, spin, movement — and magically transmit it to a tablet that Hottovy and his staff can access in real-time. When combined with the images, they’re able to marry the eye test with analytics at a functional level never before imagined. But as much as those things can give them feedback to help Edwards improve upon his results, it’s the human aspect that may play the biggest role.
Key to that will be catching coordinator and associate pitching coach Mike Borzello, a direct link between Jansen and Edwards. Once the bullpen catcher for the Yankees, Borzello was there when Mariano Rivera discovered the transcendent pitch that made him the first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee. After moving across the country to work with the Dodgers, Borzello taught the cutter to Jansen.
Now I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting Borzello will coax Edwards, strictly a fastball/curveball guy, into getting further into character by adopting his own cutter. I am, however, saying that Borzello is very familiar with the pitchers in question and can help guide Edwards along as he works to improve his control. A lot of that comes from the pitcher having confidence in himself.
For all the nastiness his stuff possesses, Edwards is prone to getting caught up in his own emotions and perhaps overthinking things. Too often he’ll get behind early on a hitter and then completely lose an at-bat. Or he’ll fall apart after a call doesn’t go his way, even to the point that he’ll lose track of the game situation. This new pause, then, could be a means of getting his own breath, centering himself, and remaining in the moment.
Getting locked in early and maintaining greater consistency from hitter to hitter will be huge for Edwards as he looks to assume an elevated role with Brandon Morrow out at least a month. Even once Morrow returns, Edwards is going to be relied upon as one of Joe Maddon’s high-leverage options in late innings.
So here’s to hoping the pause will play.