Blake Snell had a rough go of things in his first start of the season, allowing eight baserunners and four earned runs over 6.2 innings pitched.
It wasn’t a great performance, and Snell knew it, as reported by Bill Chastain:
When asked what happened [...] Snell stated the obvious: "Walks. I feel like that's always been the thing that gets me."
"We're going to get that corrected here eventually," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Blake would probably be the first one to say that. That one inning when the Morales homer came, the one thing that looked a little different was maybe he was trying to be a little too fine with some really good hitters coming up. So you can't fault him too much with Donaldson and Bautista. The last thing you want to do is fall behind and then give in to them. So I understand the thought process."
So what is it that needs to be corrected? Was it pitch selection, or something more?
In his burgeoning career, Blake Snell has a .238/.341/.316 batting line allowed with the bases empty (.299 wOBA), but a frustrating .278/.374/.411 line allowed with runners on, each in 48 innings of work.
I believe much of his struggles with men on base stem from the change in delivery that comes with pitching from the stretch.
To begin, here’s Blake Snell with all the time in the world to deliver the baseball, seeking his first out of the game.
Take note of his delivery. It begins with a foot shuffle to set his back foot, and ends with him hitting his spot, right where old friend Steve Pearce can’t reach. This is a lengthy delivery, but a repeatable one for Snell.
Once Snell has men on base, though, he must pitch from the stretch, which actually has him shorten his delivery. Similar to the above, Sucre has called for the ball to be low and inside, but the pitch gets away from Snell:
Not only is Snell prevented from incorporating the stutter step, lest he take too long in his windup and allow runners to steal, but he also fails to lift his leg as high and get the same momentum.
Here’s another angle of Snell’s delivery with men on base, showing just how low his front leg stays in the movement:
But in the inning prior, Snell had no problem flexing his front leg and using the full motion the next time he faced Morales. Bases are empty, and Snell paints the black:
It’s not uncommon for pitchers to have different deliveries when men are on base, but in Snell’s case, it would seem it’s affecting his game. The change in his motion when pitching with men on could be causing him to lose his control and become wilder. It’s not a 1:1 result, but in my estimation, it could be a contributing factor.
Luckily, pitching coach Jim Hickey and the Rays have worked with a lefty with a big leg kick in the past. Watch this early video of Matt Moore, and note the length of time it takes Moore to begin his delivery, starting with a protracted arm movement overhead before he gets to his leg movement forward.
It’s an exaggerated movement.
And from that same season in 2012, here’s his movement with runners on:
Now I couldn’t resist using this comebacker snag, but note the extreme differences in his delivery, and how rushed it appears. By the time Moore was near his end of his career in a Rays uniform, he’d developed a delivery from the stretch that mimicked the pace of his movement with no runners on.
And I would also add that Moore was not afraid to use his tried-and-true delivery once the bases were loaded either.
The lesson here is not that Snell needs to replicate the pace of Moore’s delivery, but that he needs to isolate the forward motion of his standard delivery, whether pitching from set or the stretch. Maybe once that’s settled, we’ll start seeing a less-wild Blake when he’s on Snell Isle.