Former first round draft pick and 100-mph fastball hurler Ryne Stanek is back with the Rays.
In his first big league promotion, in May of this year, Stanek appeared in 11 games, three times over multiple innings, flashing a big fastball but not much else. Across 9.2 IP, he tallied 11 K with 21 base runners allowed.
Stanek’s first two big league appearances were at Boston and at Cleveland, and he came through with high-leverage holds in Rays victories. Those were only one-out appearances.
As Stanek was given more batters to face, inconsistencies surfaced. He could walk three batters in one appearance, then strikeout three in the next. Tampa Bay was ready to have Stanek in the bullpen, but consistent appearances were not there.
Stanek has an 80-grade fastball by all accounts, one with great movement, and he backed that up with a 55-grade hard-slider that should have played at the major league level, if the reports were to be believed.
Maybe they weren’t.
Those sliders and curves gathered in the center of the chart? That’s not good movement.
Stanek’s slider is hard, and with plus velocity, you can get away with less movement, but the movement he does have is below average in both planes. Horizontally, it doesn’t actually move gloveside at all, and vertically, it drops .7 of a standard deviation less than is average. This is close to the definition of a straight pitch.
Ryne Stanek’s Slider
So Stanek went back to the Triple-A Durham Bulls to try out something he’d toyed with in Spring Training: the splitter.
As community member Brian Andersbot noted in the comment section of the Tank this morning, adding a splitter at the major league level is something that’s worked for other pitchers with high octane stuff who are searching for depth—like rehabbing Rays pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who introduced his for the 2015 season.
It’s also a change the Rays have used to good affect with pitchers who have a more standard fastball that need a better balance for the whole package to play up—like Matt Andriese, who added a very impressive split-change of his own just last year.
For Stanek, a splitter, with it’s vertical downward action, could give him a strikeout pitch with which to attack both righties and lefties, and the change of speed from fastball to splitter should help keep hitters off balance as well.
The trick will be throwing it with consistent control, a worry Stanek relayed to mlb.com’s Bill Chastain yesterday:
"It's feel and being able to repeat the release point and not have one do what it's supposed to, and one do nothing," he said. "[You need] the ability to repeat something consistently. And if you can't do that, it's almost not usable."
Stanek explained that the pitch has a "straight down action" and sometimes heads to the arm side, but it looks like a fastball to hitters before the bottom falls out.
"That's the whole point, sell fastball," he said.
Looking to Stanek’s chart above, you’ll note a few change ups sprinkled into the mix, directly below his cluster of fastballs. When thrown with consistency, that should be where we see a concentration of splitters during Stanek’s next foray into the Rays bullpen (at least, if it’s going to be effective).
Stanek was promoted on August 1st, but has yet to debut the new pitch. He’ll likely get a chance tonight in relief of Blake Snell, against the formidable Houston hitters. If not, look for the lanky righty to let it loose against Milwaukee’s likewise dangerous offense over the weekend.