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Javy Guerra, where did you get that fastball?

From unheralded minor league infielder to whiff-generating major league reliever

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Javy Guerra was acquired by the Rays from the Padres on April 16th, traded for cash considerations. This trade didn’t appear to be a big deal.

Guerra was an infielder in the Padres’ minor league system, however, in 2019 he flipped roles and he turned into a pitcher. He had never had success as a pitcher in the minors; he was not able to post an ERA below 4.91.

Coming to the Rays with limited expectations, Guerra initially took a mop-up role in the pen; he didn’t have any high leverage situations whatsoever. He pitched in a couple of blowouts, a few innings here and there, but nothing special. The Panamanian struggled and he put together awful numbers 11.05 ERA with .442 wOBA, and 3 homers in 7.1 innings pitched. Guerra was DFA’d on May 1st, then he cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Durham.

Guerra spent 4 months in the minors; he was used as a closer on several occasions. During his time in Durham he was able to put it together, he pitched 41.1 innings with a 1.74 ERA, and a 0.87 WHIP. He was awarded the honor of Rays minor league reliever of the year.

How did the Rays turn a DFA’d converted reliever with no command into a pitcher getting important outs? What changed? Let’s take a deep dive into what Guerra has done in the last couple of outings.

Javy Guerra got called up on September 12, since then he has been a solid bullpen weapon. He has pitched 8.2 innings, with a 0.92 WHIP and a .200 wOBA. His ERA? 0.0. This is not a big sample size, however, the coaching staff has seen several improvements in his game.

The Newest Weapon

One of the biggest upgrades is in his fastball. He is throwing it more often and more effectively. In the chart below, you can see how Guerra’s fastball use (the red line) has increased as his FIP has gone down. Take note that game 9 is when Guerra was recalled on September 12.

The fastball usage has taken a big jump since his September call-up, and for good reason: it’s become a great pitch. The 4-seamer averages around 98.4 MHP (95 percentile) and has a -2 run value, it also has an outstanding .091 SLG. Furthermore, batters cannot get on base by any means, they only record a .082 wOBA and a .165 xwOBA. The fastball is also the pitch that creates the most swing and miss in Guerra’s arsenal; batters against Guerra have a 30% WHIF. Guerra’s fastball has an 18% horizontal break vs avg (in 2021 he had 15), and the most impressive part is that he creates a 23% vertical break vs avg (in 2021 he had 11). Those numbers help Guerra’s fastball to get a ton of ride, and be one of the best pitches in active spin, which stands at 96%.

With this new improved fastball, Guerra has been able to reduce hard contact and increase soft contact. The poor quality of contact has led to improving his BABIP which stands at .136 since he was called up. The following graph shows how fastball usage has been able to limit hard contact, that’s the perfect equation to suppress BABIP. (Take note that game 9 is when Guerra was recalled on September 12; here the fastball usage is in blue).

Short and Explosive

There is something that makes Guerra so special. Something that challenges the pitching mechanics, and that’s the short extension in his delivery. He doesn’t have the big stride that most pitchers have, in fact he ranks in the 9th percentile regarding the extension on his delivery. Javy has a short stride, but when he winds up he makes an explosive delivery; that’s why he can carry the ball it up to a 100 MHP.

Player Comparison

Javy Guerra is very similar to Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Brusdar Gaterol. Both players have very similar repertoires, the only difference is that Gaterol throws a cut fastball. What makes them even more similar is that the fastball looks the same. the difference in velocity is just 1 MPH. The active spin is very effective in both fastballs, Guerra 96 and Gaterol 89. Furthermore, the fastball moves in the same direction, and both have very similar spin based-movement.

This pair of pitchers have amazing WHIFF rates on their fastballs. Guerra has a 30 WHIFF% and Gaterol a promising 25%. The last factor that makes them similar is that both have short and explosive strides. Gaterol ranks in the 13th percentile, while Guerra ranks 9th.

Fly Ball Perfectionist

Since September 12 Guerra’s fly ball percentage has taken a huge jump. In April the fly ball % stood at 36.7, as of now the percentage has increased to 52.4. The following graph shows that his performance has improved (regarding ERA-) when he has increased the fly ball%. (Take note that game 9 is when Guerra was recalled on September 12). Of course generating fly balls is good unless those balls leave the park, but Guerra has not given up a single home run since he was re-called.

Javy Guerra has overcome many difficulties this year, and indeed across his career, to where we wouldn’t be shocked to see him make the Wild Card roster. Not bad for a player who didn’t seem to have an upside just a few months ago.