No one questions Peter Fairbanks’s stuff. He regularly amps his fastball up into the high 90’s, and his slider is harder — while dropping more — than almost any hard slider in the league. There was a reason the Rays traded a solid prospect in Nick Solak to get Fairbanks, and a reason Tom Verducci used him as the centerpiece of his excellent article on the Rays approach to pitching and pitcher acquisition.
But Fairbanks hasn’t always gotten the results you’d expect with that stuff.
Part of that is command. It doesn’t matter how good your slider is, this is not where you want to put it:
IN FLIGHT— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 25, 2020
We're tied! pic.twitter.com/J3oj3VeOT2
But there are times when we’ve seen opposing players put good swings on good sliders in good locations; better than they should be able to if they’re gearing up for 99 mph.
Some of those swings were weird enough to make Danny Russell wonder last year whether that odd Fairbanks delivery with the short arm stroke—the one credited in the Verducci article for turning around his career a few years back—was presenting the batter with a good view of his grip.
Here is the picture from Danny’s article showing the moment of revelation.
Well it’s subtle, but one appearance into 2020, it looks like Fairbanks has cleaned that up, at least a little bit. Here’s the comparison, with 2019 on the left and 2020 on the right:
Note that so far in 2020 the right shoulder dips a bit more, as compared to 2019. And the ball in the hand comes lower, below the belt, rather than staying in place after the glove moves and leaves it uncovered. The release point is slightly higher as well, coming from behind the head.
On the whole, it’s a set of minor tweaks that should give batters less of a chance to pick up the pitch before it leaves the hand.
There are some other changes as well. I’m leery of reading into pitch tracking numbers this early in the season, especially with the new Hawkeye system being incorporated as we speak, but the preliminary data confirms what Verducci suggested: that the Rays have coaxed more rise out of Fairbanks’s fastball.
Also, there are better socks. Good socks. Bravo to the socks.
Time (and command) will tell whether these adjustments combine into a breakout season for Fairbanks, but they’re good adjustments that we’ll be watching for the next time he takes the mound.