Don’t let the 4.78 ERA keep you from looking deeper into Ryan Tepera‘s performance and seeing his elite whiff rate. Among 186 qualified relievers, Tepera’s 46.3% whiff rate ranks 4th-best behind only Devin Williams (52.8%), Edwin Diaz (47.1%), and Amir Garrett (46.8%).
In previous seasons, Tepera was never a big swing-and-miss guy. With the Blue Jays last year, Tepera’s whiff rate was only 25%, nearly half the rate he currently owns with the Cubs. So, then, what’s the difference?
It’s not one pitch alone driving the spike in Tepera’s performance. All of his secondary pitches — slider, cutter, and splitter — are getting more futile swings from hitters this season.
Perhaps one reason for Tepera’s high whiff rate is greater cutter usage. Rather than throwing the cutter once every three pitches as he did with the Blue Jays, he is throwing it nearly 45% of the time with the Cubs.
But it’s not just that Tepera is throwing more cutters in general, it’s that he’s throwing more first-pitch cutters and breaking pitches instead of fastballs. Specifically, Tepera has cut his first-pitch four-seam usage in half this season.
2019 First-Pitch Usage
2020 First-Pitch Usage
Tepera is whiffing more hitters with sliders, cutters, and splitters, but it’s this greater reliance on the cutter that might be the key that unlocked his potential. I’m so bullish on his performance, I’m starting to think about him as a potential closer. While I’m into Jeremy Jeffress‘s attitude and Craig Kimbrel‘s return to normalcy, I love limiting the potential for BS.
I hate bloop hits and I despise seeing-eye squeakers that sneak into the outfield. So far this season, Tepera is one of the best at limiting that particular brand of BS.