Judging by the articles written about him over the last two years, Cubs Insider seems to have an affinity for Alex Lange. I wrote about him before he was even a Cub and Greg Huss profiled the righty this spring. But the Lange we’ve been talking about is no longer the same pitcher. He has transformed himself and earned a promotion to Double-A Tennessee as a result.
I recently sat down to talk with Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster Zach Bigley about a number of topics, one of which was how Lange has gone about reworking his game. In April, he had an ERA of 21.00 as he struggled to adopt some changes he had implemented this winter. Instead of relying on his curveball, he began to emphasize the changeup a lot more and it took awhile for the changes to actually click in.
Lange pitched to a 4.91 ERA over five May starts, striking out 25 in 25.2 innings and allowing just a .216 average rather than the unbelievable .491 in April. Numbers are important, but what really matters for prospects is how they’re able to improve and adapt to new challenges. For Lange, that meant acclimating to the heavier workload of professional baseball.
“Last year, especially towards the end of the year, he started to get a little tired,” Bigley explained. “It was his first full season and he’d thrown a ton of innings at LSU. He just started to get a little tired and you could see that with how aggressive his delivery was.
“Whereas this year, he is more confident and fluid and in great shape and you could really see that. Even his velocity was picking up, hitting 94 at times.”
Lange’s delivery looked a little cleaner to me when I watched him this season. He was still throwing with a lot of effort, but not as much as he used to display. That isn’t surprising given the way he goes about his work off the field.
“He’s always been one of the hardest workers in between starts,” Bigley said. “He’s doing workouts, medicine ball throws, whether it be hand-sized or full-body one he throws with Keegan Knoll, our strength and conditioning coach.
What’s crazy is he’s the first guy that I’ve ever been around in sports that the strength and conditioning coach had to tell him to stop working so hard. That’s the kind of guy he is in terms of his work ethic.”
That bodes well for Lange’s stamina and, sure enough, June was his best month as a Pelican with a 2.77 ERA and a .208 opponent average. He’s going to take some time to settle in at the next level, but has a solid 3.52 ERA over his first four Double-A starts. And lest you go thinking it’s all about working hard and staying in shape, there’s a lot that has gone into improving Lange’s pitches as well.
“In terms of the grips, they changed up a little bit in spring training,” Bigley explained. “[The Cubs] were trying to get a little higher spin rate and spin efficiencies on his pitches.”
Perhaps the biggest growth area was learning how to really be a pitcher and not just a strike-thrower. Lange realized hitters were going after his first pitch because he was just trying to get ahead and was leaving too many offerings right over the plate.
“It was also realizing that you have to be able to throw efficient strikes,” Bigley said. “So it’s not always pounding the strike zone. He’s always done that his whole career. He started to realize that guys are good enough at this level to attack those pitches even if they are good pitches. Learning how to pitch a little more was really important for him”
A lot of those changes aren’t going to show up in the box score, at least not immediately, but the Cubs know what’s going on and how improvements are taking place even when the numbers don’t reflect them. That’s been Lange’s story for the most part, though the results should continue to improve as his
“He’s one of those guys that’s a really hard worker in terms of going into the film room, talking with our video guy Matt Foster and really making sure he has the right adjustments he has to make from a statistical standpoint, from a physical standpoint,” Bigley concluded. “And he’s really good at doing that and looking past the ERA, the walk numbers, and all that. He’s focusing on throwing efficient strikes and pitch tunnelling, especially.”
I have no doubt Lange is pleased with his trajectory and getting the promotion to Tennessee, but based on what we’ve learned I think we can say he is not satisfied with himself at this point. Not even close. These next few weeks at Double-A should really tell us a lot more about Lange as a pitcher and I’m excited to see what more we learn.