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What Makes Shane McClanahan’s Stuff so Effective?

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MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Since Shane McClanahan’s call-up in April of this season, he has been one of the Rays’ more reliable starting pitchers. He has a 3.31 FIP on the year, and has an above average strikeout and walk rate. While he has fallen victim to some hard contact, he’s done a great job of mixing his pitches to limit damage and keep the Rays competitive. What about his pitches makes him so good? And what can we expect from him for the remainder of the season?

What Makes McClanahan’s Stuff so Good?

McClanahan throws four pitches. He relies mostly on his fourseam and slider, but also mixes in a curveball and change-up. In this section we’ll consider the movement of the pitch, spin efficiency, and command to determine which of his pitches are above average.

His fourseam is his best pitch because of its elite velocity and armside run, but both the fourseam and the change-up have plus horizontal movement and spin efficiency. Spin efficiency is the amount of the raw spin rate that contributes to the movement of the pitch.

McClanahan’s slider has plus vertical and horizontal movement, and also has a spin efficiency that falls in the ideal range for sliders.

The curveball is McClanahan’s worst pitch, as it has the worst spin efficiency and below average movement. However, it plays well with his other stuff. The curveball exhibits similar movement to his slider except 6 mph slower, which leads to increased deception.

All of McClanahan’s pitches have plus command. Looking at the pitch heat maps, we see each pitch falls in a concentrated and deliberate part of the zone. the variation shown is mostly due to differing pitch locations for right and left handed batters.

McClanahan Heat Maps
McClanahan Heat Maps
Baseball Savant

There is a significant number of curveballs that are falling out of the zone, but I believe this is done by design to generate more chase. This strategy seems to be working, as his curveball has above average swing and miss. In general, McClanahan gets more chase on all his pitches than the league average pitcher. He also gets significantly less contact on pitches out of zone than the average pitcher. This allows him more leeway to throw pitches with deceptive movement on the edge of the zone.

A Potential Concern: Losing Velocity

Not only does McClanahan have quality stuff and plus command, he also gets plus velocity. All four of his pitches have above average velocity, making it even hard for opponents.

One concerning thing about McClanahan moving forward is the decrease in his fourseam velocity. It remained around a 97 mph average for the first three months of the season, but from June to August it has decreased by almost 2 mph.

Shane McClanahan Fourseam Velocity

Month Fourseam Velocity
Month Fourseam Velocity
April 97.1
May 97.5
June 97.5
July 96.5
August 95.7
Shane McClanahan Fourseam Velocity Data from Brooks Baseball

While 2 mph does not sound like a significant drop, it brings the velocity of his fourseam from elite to closer to that of the average fourseam (approximately 93 mph). McClanahan has experienced a similar velocity drop in his other pitches as well, but with his fourseam being his best pitch, its velocity drop has the biggest impact on him moving forward.

Looking to the End of the Season

McClanahan is all set up to finish the season strong. He is a great pitcher with quality stuff and command, but the decreased velocity is definitely something to keep an eye on. This is McClanahan’s first full season in the majors, so highs and lows are expected. But as we approach playoffs, the Rays are going to be relying heavily on McClanahan to perform his best.