For all its oft-mentioned flaws, one of Marquee Sports Network’s greatest attributes is the in-depth access it grants to Cubs players and coaches during workouts and games. The “Mic’d Up” segments provide insight that wouldn’t otherwise be available even to reporters, especially when it comes to spring training conversations like those between Tommy Hottovy and his new starting pitchers.
A lot of the video shared on Twitter was just the pitching coach goofing off and lightening the mood, but his work with Zach Davies and Trevor Williams was quite notable. Though both pitchers are known commodities from their time in the NL Central, Cubs fans are going to see much more of them this year than ever before and will surely learn a lot more along the way.
Davies is perpetually underrated because he’s a less superlative Kyle Hendricks, then you throw in the fact that he’s the only piece of the Yu Darvish/Victor Caratini trade fans are going to see for a while. Still, he’s been excellent for a while and it’s really a matter of getting used to seeing him looking even more bean-pole-ish in those home pinstripes.
Hottovy was mainly talking at or about Davies in the provided clip, so there’s not really much to take away there. It was nice, however, to hear Contreras say the changeup was unreadable when it was thrown on-line. Davies also froze Jason Heyward with a cutter, his third-favorite pitch behind the change and sinker.
Williams, on the other hand, is coming off of two poor seasons in Pittsburgh and is looking for a make-good campaign that could come if he figures out how to spin the ball more efficiently. That brings us to the content of the video, some of which involves Hottovy and Willson Contreras talking with Williams about his different pitch grips. The slider, a pitch that has a lot of room to get better, was at the heart of the conversation.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 26, 2021
This segment is really illuminating because it lines up really well with what our Brendan Miller has written about the righty’s spin efficiency (link above) and his ability to generate whiffs with the slider. It seems obvious that the Cubs noticed some of the same things and are working to correct or improve upon them. Check out the brief transcript below and we’ll meet back up on the other side.
TH: What slider was that one you threw right there?
TH: Yeah, that’s good. And the one you threw to Happ was which one?
TW: [Displays grip] My normal slider. ‘Cause the other ones were thrown here and it felt like I was going like this [pronates wrist].
TH: Yeah, you were spinnin’ it.
WC: Does your four-seam cut naturally?
TH: Basically does, nice.
TH: There’s that happy zone, right, where you’re still creating depth with that horizontal, and if that’s still, like the one you threw to Happ is still the one to use, then we’ll keep playing around with it.
Just in case you don’t speak pitcher-ese, Hottovy is talking about generating movement in two different directions rather than just one. The “depth” he’s discussing is vertical break, while the horizontal part is probably self-explanatory. A pitch can certainly be successful with just one or the other, but Williams doesn’t generate a great deal of movement in either plane.
You can see that illustrated in the charts below, the first of which shows his average horizontal movement and the second of which shows vertical. If you pay more attention to the y-axis rather than the variation in the results, particularly in the second chart, you’ll see what is essentially a pretty flat pitch.
Just for the sake of comparison, Trevor Bauer‘s slider has averaged around -2 inches of vertical movement over the last three seasons. That doesn’t seem like a lot more than Williams, but one inch is significant when it comes to a worm-burner versus a barrel. What’s more, Bauer’s horizontal sweep is close to 10 inches over that time, a far cry from what Williams generates.
Jacob deGrom has a little more vertical movement than Williams with much less horizontal movement, but the perennial Cy Young candidate throws his breaking an MLB-high 92.5 mph. That’s a tick harder than Williams’ four-seam, in case you were wondering.
And while we’re on the topic of aberrant sliders, how about the freakish sweep on Chaz Roe‘s breaking ball. Dude has averaged more than a foot of horizontal break on his slider over the past three seasons, which is just mind-boggling to think about and to watch.
1047 pitchers have thrown a slider since 2015 according to @DolphHauldhagen pitch leaderboard. No slider has more horizontal movement than Chaz Roe’s does. (Call it a curve? Ok, no curve had more horizontal movement either.) pic.twitter.com/SkB0XWbMeh
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) February 22, 2021
It would unfair to compare Williams directly to any of his fellow pitchers mentioned here and setting any of these other examples up as some sort of target for him would lead only to failure. More than anything, I just think it’s fun to look at how much a pitch that is technically classified the same can vary based on little changes in grip and general mechanics.
That said, it’s very possible for Williams to generate more movement and/or get better results with a little guidance and some minor adjustments this spring. Along with at least five other items, how the former Pirates tweaks his repertoire is one of several Cubs pitching trends to monitor this month and beyond.