The evolution of Jeffrey Springs as he has moved into a starting role has been one of the most fascinating stories to follow this season. In 2021, Springs logged a total of 44.2 innings of work across 43 appearances out of the Rays pen. With nearly two thirds of this season remaining, Springs already has thrown 44.1 innings across 8 relief appearances and 7 starts.
To find the last time that Springs started on a regular basis, you have to go back to 2017 during his time in high-A with the Texas Rangers. That season, he made 31 appearances, 17 of which were starts.
Clearly the Rays were confident in his ability to start once again. What wasn't clear at first, was why. After 7 effective and efficient starts, and an innings load nearly identical to his 2021 load, the answers are now clear.
Through 44.1 innings this season, Springs has pitched to a 1.62 ERA. He has struck out 45 batters and only walked 10. He has kept batters off balance all season long,
Of his 7 starts this season, 6 have been traditional starts (not an opener). Across those 6 starts, Springs has thrown 31.1 innings, struck out 37 batters, and has only surrendered 7 runs.
While he was good in 2021, he wasn’t this good. What changed? A few things:
- Springs has tweaked the shape of both his changeup and slider.
- He has adjusted his in-count tendencies.
- He has adjusted how he attacks LHH vs RHH.
When you combine all three adjustments, you get the results that have followed this season. Thus far, he is missing more barrels and inducing weaker contact, and the upshot it fewer runs crossing the plate. Let’s look at these tweaks in great detail.
1. The slider is sliding, and the changeup is disappearing.
For a time in 2019, Springs flirted with a sinker, but for the majority of his career he has been primarily a fastball, changeup, slider pitcher. This season, he made adjustments to the shape of both his slider and changeup.
The vertical drop on his changeup has drastically increased this season while it has regressed with his slider. Furthermore, both his changeup and slider now have increased horizontal movement.
In layman’s terms, his slider now has more run and less depth, and his changeup has more depth and slightly more fading action.
2021 Slider Vertical/Horizontal Movement:
- 42.5 in. // 3.8 in.
2022 Slider Vertical/Horizontal Movement:
- 36 in. // 5.1 in.
2021 Changeup Vertical/Horizontal Movement:
- 27.8 in. // 12.6 in.
2022 Changeup Vertical/Horizontal Movement:
- 33.6 in. // 13.9 in.
As Jeffrey Springs tunnels well, these pitches essentially act as polar opposites out of the hand. Furthermore, he utilizes the inside of the plate for sliders and the outside of the plate for changeups, effectively splitting the plate regardless of the handedness of the batter and forcing them to cover both sides.
2. With a wipeout changeup comes a new putaway pitch.
With the advent of a new, more devastating changeup, Jeffrey Springs has emphasized a new putaway pitch. In 2021, it was a tossup with regards to what pitch Springs would use to put away both right-handed and left-handed batters.
2021 Putaway Pitch % (Strikeout pitch):
His go to pitches were primarily his fastball and changeup, but the slider still accounted for a decent percentage of his putaway pitches. However, in 2022 his mode of attack against right-handed hitters has completely changed as has his approach against left-handed hitters.
2022 Putaway Pitch %:
In 2022, he is attacking hitters in a completely different manner. He has yet to strike out a RHH with a slider in 2022 whereas in 2021, 15.4% of his strikeouts came via the slider. This is not to say that he does not throw two strike sliders, but it does mean that the new shape of the slider has likely resulted in less swing and miss with two strikes. He could also be using the slider as a setup pitch for the changeup, which is now the primary putaway pitch against both RHH and LHH.
3. With new pitch shapes comes greater success against both LHH and RHH.
One thing that Springs has not changed is the repeated placement of his three pitches. Over the past two seasons, he has consistently attacked the strike zone in 3 distinct ways:
- Fastball: up and out
- Changeup: down and away
- Slider: low and in
- Fastball: up and in
- Changeup: down and in
- Slider: low and out
Regardless of the batter, Jeffrey Springs utilizes three separate zones within the strike zone. He attacks hitters with an elevated fastball, and then splits the plate with his slider and changeup down.
He establishes a north-south dilemma for hitters while simultaneously creating an east-west dilemma in the bottom half of the zone. Where most pitchers would work north-south or east-west depending on their repertoire, Springs does both, and he does so in dominating fashion.
When you pair the changes that Springs has made to both his changeup and slider with the maturation of his tendencies, the breakout season for the southpaw comes into focus.
Furthermore, when you combine the above changes with his ability to attack the strike zone in three distinct ways, facing Springs becomes a tall task for opposing batters.
One final thought regarding Springs newfound success: His 36.7% chase rate is up nearly 5% this year and speaks to his pitch-ability and the discomfort batters deal with while facing him. He knows how to pitch and attack batters, and he does so with surgical precision.
It seems as though the Rays have worked their magic once again.
*All stats mentioned in the article were gathered prior to his most recent start against the Twins.