The Rays’ depth at the left-handed reliever position has been a minefield of injuries, and chief among them was invisible-fastball guy Colin Poche, who suffered a UCL tear back in 2020. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the same year, and he has been recovering since then.
Typically, a rookie salary reliever with a long road to recovery does not last three years on the 40-man roster, but the Rays have been patiently waiting for Poche’s opportunity to return, and if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks he should soon be ready to make his first appearance on the mound since October of 2019.
The Rays have a lot of special players on the roster with peculiar repertoires and deliveries. However, Colin Poche is one of the most unique pitchers on the roster, because of the different assets of his game.
Poche in general is a better pitcher than what his ERA implies. In 2019 Poche posted a 4.70 ERA in 51.2 IP, along with 72 strikeouts. Where it gets interesting is the stats related to expected outcomes, where he was one of the best in the league. In 2019 he was top 8% in xERA and xwOBA with 2.99 and .260 respectively, top 9% in xSLG with .331, and top 1% in xBA with .169. Poche should have gotten better outcomes than what the standard results show. In the long run, these numbers should translate into finer results in the future, as they say, process over outcome, assuming a full recovery.
The main pitch
One the special aspects of Poche’s game is his fastball, which he throws 88.3% of the time. At first sight, nothing jumps off of the page, his fastball averages 92.9 mph and can get to 97. Also, his fastball has a fine spin rate with 2291 RPM, however, it is not close to the best in that category.
When you take a look into the deeper numbers Poche’s fastball turns to be more than an above-average pitch. In 2019 the opposition had a .172 BA, .361 SLG, and .271 wOBA against the rookie. Poche also ranked 8th in WHIFF% with 34.3% with a run value of -5. Here is a list of the top 8 pitchers in WHIFF% in 2019.
2019 4-Seamer Whiff%
|Player||Team||Run value||WHIFF %|
|Player||Team||Run value||WHIFF %|
|Darwinzon Hernandez||Red Sox||-2||37.2|
It can feel insane to believe that a pitcher is getting positive results by throwing the same pitch 9 out of 10 times. Here is a list of pitchers who threw fastballs 75% of the time or more in 2019 (min 250 pitches).
So the question is, how does Poche get tons of whiffs if the batter basically knows what is coming?
Colin Poche’s fastball has an astounding rising action, which makes hitters swing underneath the baseball; which gives him the advantage of inducing a 62.4 FB% and plenty of pop-ups.
What makes it most effective is the combination of great location and movement. The 4-seamer has a movement of 4.2 vertical inches vs avg, here is a graph that compares vertical and horizontal movement during the 2019 season.
The graph below, generated by Baseball Savant, plots four-seam fastballs thrown by qualified pitchers from 2019, where a pitcher needs to have thrown a four-seam 5% of the time relative to their arsenal. That circled red dot is Poche’s fastball, which had the most vertical movement overall in 2019.
4-Seamer + Location = Effectiveness
The location in Poche’s fastball is key for its success. Whenever he throws the fastball in the upper part of the zone he doesn’t get hit at all.
Out of 411 pitches thrown on the top of the zone, 10 of them were base hits, in other words, just 2.4% of the FB thrown by Poche on the upper part of the zone got past the defense. On the other hand, out of the 29 base hits that he allowed with his fastball, 62.1% were hit in the middle and bottom of the zone.
10.6% of Poche’s pitches are swings and misses by the opposition when the ball is thrown on top of the zone. Out of all swing and misses 67.6% come in the same location. The fastball in the upper part of the zone has effective results because of its rising action, and we can make an argument that is one of the premier pitches of its type when thrown correctly.
On This Day (2019): Colin Poche shut the door on the Red Sox, earning the save while keeping the Rays in possession of a wild card spot. pic.twitter.com/VHfq7LfjHv— DBU Baseball (@DBU_Baseball) September 23, 2020
Slider, Curveball, Slurve?
Colin Poche’s secondary pitch is kind of a sweeping curveball that can also be considered as a slider. The Rays likely just refer to this as a “breaking ball” and leave it at that.
This breaking pitch may only be used 10% of the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a notable pitch.
Poche’s curveball/slider had an xBA of.081, and a xSLG of .191 with a 50% WHIFF rate in 2019. Also, the curveball/slider doesn’t get hit hard very often, this pitch posted 33.3 hard hit%. Here is a video that shows how both pitches (fastball and curveball/slider) have similar release points and initial trajectories, but suddenly they take different directions.
TB #Rays relief pitcher Colin Poche is one to keep an eye out for. High spin efficiency four-seam fastball and close to ideal gyro orientation on his slider (slurve?), which could stand to be used a lot more (possible FG article). #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/1wXplhltdo— Michael Augustine (@DigitalOpticals) January 6, 2020
Colin Poche has the weapons to be one of the leaders of The Stable, which is why the Rays have held onto him since 2019. When it comes to roster building, he could be one of the sneaky additions that can help the Rays stay in contention. Provided he comes back healthy.