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Jalen Beeks could become an elite reliever

The Rays lefty has made some minor adjustments that are producing major results

Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last week, Adam Sanford documented a few minor adjustments that Rays pitcher Jalen Beeks made to his delivery and approach — namely that he had moved even further to the third base side of the rubber and that he was throwing more “cutters” and fewer curves — and noted that with these changes, Beeks has been getting good results. So far, he’s increased his strikeout rate (to 44.1% right now) and decreased his walk rate (to 5.9%) from a year ago.

It’s true that Beeks is only 8.1 innings into his season, and very little weight should be put in any statistics at this point. It’s also true that the mechanical adjustments Beeks has made are very subtle.

But small changes in process can lead to big changes in results, and even if we set aside Beeks’s increased in swings and misses for a moment (we will revisit it a little later), we can still see that there’s something interesting going on.

Let’s talk about mechanics.

Starting with a side by side video, we have 2019 on the left, 2020 on the right:

Both pitchers are fourseam fastballs, and both are up in the zone. Tough to spot the differences, right? Let’s go frame by frame.

First, as Adam pointed out in his piece, Beeks is indeed further toward the third base side of the rubber, almost not even touching it.

With that, we also notice a few other things. One, the starting position of his head. In 2019, his head is over his back foot, while in 2020, his head is more over his front foot. This tells me that when he starts his motion now, his weight is centered rather than sitting mostly on his back leg.

Next, let’s look at peak leg lift, with a line drawn down from the middle of his head. Again, we notice that he is much more centered over his body, rather than being so far over his back side that he essentially “sitting.” To be clear, one is not necessarily better than the other. Rather, it’s all about the pitcher’s intention. More on that later.

Also notice how his his head positioning directly affects his shoulder alignment. In 2019, his shoulders are much more in line with his direction, but in 2020, his shoulders are not only much more counter rotated, but they are more parallel to the ground, as opposed to the first photo where his shoulders are tilted back and early scap loaded — more evidence that his mass is more centered, rather than over his back leg.

Moving along to the drive phase, we continue to see the same story. Beeks’s head remains much more in the center of his mass and his shoulders are much more counter-rotated, rather than tilted back. Additionally, Beeks’s head is also lower, meaning he is generating better forward momentum and that his energy is more linear.

As we get to front foot strike, we start to see the fruits of these small adjustments bearing together. In 2019, notice how he is almost jumping off of the rubber, while this year he is simply extending his ankle. This, again, shows that he is getting better linear momentum toward home plate.

Here is why all of this matters.

All of these subtle mechanical adjustments net Beeks a slightly lower vertical release point.

Now, none of this on its own contributes to to his recent spike in swings and misses. The important point is these adjustments have altered his pitch movement, which then also affects pitch repertoire and pitch usage. Those are things we need to look at to see if we should put our stock in the swing and miss metrics — or if Beeks’s success is just small sample smoke and mirrors.

With that said, here are a few notable changes to pay attention to. All data is from the Baseball Savant player page::

  • It seems that Beeks has ditched the curveball entirely, going to a simpler three pitch mix. This is surprising since he relied on it nearly 20% of the time in 2019. Will he go all of 2020 without throwing a curveball? Probably not. Will he use use it a lot less? Seems like. Is it interesting either way? You bet.
  • The rise on Beeks’s four-seam fastball is up. Last year it dropped 15.7 inches on its way to home plate, about average for similar-velo fastballs. This year it’s only dropped 13.8 inches, a significant change which puts it well above average compared to similar-velo fastballs.
  • The horizontal run on his changeup is up as well. It was always a changeup with a lot of run (and not a ton of drop or speed separation from his fastball), but this year it’s got a little extra run.

But wait, there’s more.

So we see that Beeks has made some mechanical tweaks to his delivery, and that his fastball is rising more than it did before. Are those mechanical tweaks causing the increase in fastball rise? I think so, because what Beeks has also been able to do is add more spin efficiency, also known as “active spin.”

A higher percentage of active spin on a fastball means truer backspin, and that truer backspin creates better “rise” or “hop” on the fourseamer. Without getting too deep into a discussion on active spin, it’s true that less spin efficiency on a fastball can also be beneficial, if it’s intentional (See Max Fried — recent dominator of Rays hitters and owner of a fourseam fastball with 63.8% active spin). However, some lower ranges of active spin can also produce a very average fastball, ones hitters affectionately call “flat.” Those are the ones that can get hit long way.

This is where we can revisit his mechanical adjustments. Did Beeks’s delivery necessarily need an overhaul? Not exactly — Beeks was already a major league pitcher. But if his intention coming into this year was to miss more bats, or at least, improve upon his ‘average’ fastball, then some changes, even minor ones, were necessary.

Jalen Beeks Fastball Metrics

Year Velocity Usage Spin Rate Active Spin Vertical Drop (inches) % Above Avg Whiff/Swing%
Year Velocity Usage Spin Rate Active Spin Vertical Drop (inches) % Above Avg Whiff/Swing%
2019 92.0 43.50% 2005 82.9% 15.7 4% 18.8%
2020 92.3 36.6% 2005 95.0% 13.8 13% 40.7%
Data from Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball

With a more than 12 percentage point increase in active spin, Beeks, without adding any velocity or spin rate, has gone from an average fastball in 2019 to a better one in 2020 . . . and so far he’s getting elite results.

Now, a fastball that neither has elite velocity nor elite spin, but does have an elite swing and miss rate. That sounds a lot like another left-handed Rays reliever, right?

Jalen Beeks vs. Colin Poche

Player (year) Velocity Spin Rate Active Spin Vertical Drop (inches) % Above Avg Whiff/Swing%
Player (year) Velocity Spin Rate Active Spin Vertical Drop (inches) % Above Avg Whiff/Swing%
Jalen Beeks (2019) 92.0 2005 82.8% 15.7 4% 18.7%
Jalen Beeks (2020) 92.3 2005 95.0% 13.8 13% 40.7%
Colin Poche (2019) 92.9 2291 97.2% 10.5 29% 34.4%
Data from Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball

The story is less clear on the changeup, where a less significant increase in active spin is so far leading to both a bit less drop (but not a large percentage change) but a bit more horizontal run.

Now, while the difference in the changeup is not as drastic as the fastball, lets remember two things: First, with 15.6 inches of horizontal movement and a 27.1% Whiff% a year ago, Beeks was already working from a pretty good changeup. Second, the better rise on his fastball creates a larger movement gap between the two offerings.

So even though Beeks’s changeup is only marginally better (on paper at least, maybe), his improved fastball makes it play better as a result. And like I mentioned earlier, even if his cutter is exactly the same pitch as it was last year, the movement separation between the three pitches makes it a better pitch as well.


While it wouldn’t be prudent to believe that Jalen Beeks will maintain a strikeout rate above 40% for an entire season — even a shortened one — I do think it’s clear that he made adjustments in the offseason with a plan to miss more bats.

Subtle mechanical adjustments are enabling him to get better movement and separation on his pitches, and at least for now, they seem to be paying dividends. With the unfortunate absence of Colin Poche for the season, other Rays pitchers will need to step up to fill those critical relief innings, and maybe Beeks, while becoming more like Poche as a pitcher, could be the man for the Rays in 2020.