Written by: Josiah DeBoer
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So often, when we as analysts talk about pitching, we look at it from a reflective point of view. By that, I mean that we look at how a pitcher has pitched in the past, and evaluate that. We can mix and match the timelines, use the most cutting edge statistics, and still we miss part of the picture simply because we don’t know it.
Some major league players are generally too guarded to share their newest pitching secrets, others just don’t like to talk to the media at all. Some share, but that’s far from the norm. That’s why I looked to the minor leagues, and pitcher Michael Plassmeyer.
Josiah DeBoer: As far as I could find on the internet you have great command, and then a fastball with a lot of movement at about 91 MPH, a pretty great curveball and a changeup that’s probably your third pitch. Is that pretty accurate or would you disagree with that at all?
Michael Plassmeyer: Fastball is completely right. So in college that was pretty accurate but my changeup’s become a lot better since about probably, I’d say, the middle of last season. I got a lot of weak contact on it. But I’m comfortable going to either. As I said, I’m more of a command guy so comfortable with any pitch in any count.
And then I actually added a cutter this year so I haven’t gotten a chance to throw it in season or anything, but I have been working on it.
Josiah DeBoer: Could you tell me a bit more about that cutter? Does it have a lot of velocity, a lot of movement? What makes it special as compared to your other pitches?
Michael Plassmeyer: I would say for mine just kind of based on my fastball, my fastball gets a lot of horizontal movement for me. So Rapsodo for me, being a lefty, my fastball is around -14ish in horizontal movement and then the cutter on the best ones I would say, it gets all the way on the other side to a positive 4, somewhere around there. So that’s a completely different look for hitters, about 19 inches of movement, so that’s big for me. And then the velocity on it, I try and keep it as high as possible, obviously. It’s usually around, I’d say 81 – 85, somewhere like that. I’ve still got a little bit of velo around it. And from what the hitters and the catchers say, it’s pretty late, so it kind of catches them by surprise.
Josiah DeBoer: That kind of brings me into my next question, which is, a lot of pitchers and organizations are talking a lot about pitch tunneling. It sounds like one of the focuses of that cutter was to have it move pretty late and tunnel well with the fastball. Do you find that pitch tunneling is important to your pitching and what are you doing to continue to improve on it?
Michael Plassmeyer: For me, I’m not really a guy who’s going to throw 97, I don’t have the sharpest hammer curveball or anything like that, so I need to make all of my pitches out of my hand look the same. So that right away the hitter’s not like “okay, offspeed” and then see it, hit it. So I need the hitters to not be thinking, “this is a fastball,” but instead “I don’t know what it is” for as long as possible, so that’s kind of where tunneling comes in for me.
And then, I would say how I work on it generally, I talk to hitters, or catchers if there’s no hitters at my bullpens. And I’ll ask them, “Hey, did you see anything pop out?” Normally if there’s a breaking ball they can see it pop out of your hand a little bit, so they can recognize that right away.
And then in terms of looking on the Rapsodo, I would look at my release height. Mine is generally 4’10 to 5 foot, so making sure all those pitches are kind of within that area. From what I’ve heard, if it’s within 3 inches, the hitter’s not going to be able to tell a big difference or anything, since your arm is moving so fast.
And then I also look for, they call it release degree on there, so out of my hand does the ball go up. There’s a zero degree, and then a one degree and a negative one. So I look for everything out of my hand to be a zero to negative one so nothing’s popping up right away for them.
Josiah DeBoer: So another thing that goes with that release height that you said, that 4’10 to 5 foot height, that’s obviously not as high as an over the top release point, showing that your release is more of a three quarters delivery. Do you find that that helps with deception in pitching since batters aren’t used to seeing that delivery as often?
Michael Plassmeyer: I think it helps, since usually when you see a guy throwing from down here (At this point, Michael gets up from his couch and starts showing me his delivery. It is, indeed, about 4’10 to 5 feet) they get a lot of run and sink. While I do get a lot of run I get a little bit of carry on my fastball, so hitters aren’t used to seeing something from that low continue to appear to go up on them. It usually kind of hits and then flattens out like a sinker or something like that. It takes hitters an extra AB to figure out my fastball and it plays up for me that way, even though I don’t have the best velocity.
Josiah DeBoer: So that different pitch angle sometimes deceives hitters a bit because they’re not used to that angle. I know that can be a pretty big factor, even more for pitchers who go underneath. I haven’t, however, seen a lot of data on pitchers who throw from a ¾ arm slot and I was wondering if that makes a difference or if at some point that’s not significant.
Michael Plassmeyer: I would say another part that kind of helps me, that release degree that I was talking about, if I’m going to throw the ball up in the zone, or even up out of the zone, for me to throw it there I have to almost throw it up out of my hand. It’s not like the guys throwing up over the top where it’s just got to go down the entire way. I think that with tunneling, I like to throw a high fastball after a breaking ball that went for a strike or a breaking ball that will end up in the very bottom of the zone after that fastball that’s up in the zone because they look the same. They almost – I don’t want to say go up out of my hand, I never want to see that – but they keep that plane a lot longer and then it breaks. You can see that separation, kind of like on Pitching Ninja when he does those overlays that he has, so that’s what I’m thinking in my head when I’m setting up those pitches.
Josiah DeBoer: You mentioned sequencing a bit there. Are there certain sequences that you tend to use a bit more often than others just because the pitches play well off each other?
Michael Plassmeyer: Yeah, definitely, like the one I was just talking about. I’m not going to throw – unless the hitter seems to be struggling to see my breaking ball – I’m not going to throw a low fastball and then a breaking ball for a strike, just because he’s going to see that thing pop out of my hand right away. I like whenever I’m going outside to a righty, so outside for me, I love throwing that fastball that catches them. And you can see them go “I don’t know if that was a strike or not.” And then I like to throw a changeup off of that, because it has a little bit of horizontal movement so it’s going to look like it’s the exact same all the way to the plate until it takes that last little dive, I call it. And then it’s going to run away off their barrel and they have no chance to hit it but because that last ball was a strike for them in their head they’re like “I gotta swing at this” and it just runs out of the zone. Then they either beat it into the ground or just completely miss it.
Josiah DeBoer: You’ve talked about late movement on a lot of these pitches. A lot of what helps cause that are spin rates. I know that your fastball has consistently measured very highly in that spin rate, which helps in that movement. I wasn’t able to find data on spin rates for your other pitches. Are they significantly above average and if so do you think that’s a boon for you?
Michael Plassmeyer: For my breaking ball I would say I need more spin for that. That’s just going to make that sharper later. It’s not like jump off the charts crazy. Another thing going off that is the spin efficiency of that – so I need to tick that up a bit. But definitely on the breaking ball I want more spin.
And then for my changeup, because I get lateral movement really well, but you also want sink. So you have to find, depending on what you want your changeup to do, the middle ground between a high spin efficiency, which is what I have, to create more left to right movement, or I guess right to left for me, as opposed to the depth. But because there’s no backspin for it you can have a little bit more spin on it, so that you can get that drop there. I would say with my changeup I’m okay with where it is right now. I think that it plays pretty well for me and with my pitches.
But the breaking ball I would like to see a little bit more spin rate and spin efficiency for that.
Josiah DeBoer: And what have you been working on to try and improve that spin efficiency for that breaking ball?
Michael Plassmeyer: I’ve been trying an arm slot a little bit lower than that ¾ right there trying to find what’s most natural for me to let it rip, rather than trying too much to maneuver the ball or manipulate it. I’m just trying to find that right direction and axis on just how I can create the most spin but have a good movement profile on it in terms of vertical and horizontal break. We’ve been figuring out that for the spin direction 4 o’clock to 4:15 is best for me. From there it’s trying different finger pressures and anything you can think of, maybe gripping the seam differently or something like that. We’re still tinkering with it for me.
Josiah DeBoer: Alright. So you mentioned “we” there in your response, but obviously it was a really weird year where you’re not at the ballpark every day with your coaches. Can you walk me through the process of how you’re working with your coaches when you can’t be at the ballpark every day with them?
Michael Plassmeyer: So I have a really good setup here, its call Premier Pitching Performance, my brother is actually one of the pitching instructors out there and ever since this has been shut down – he used to live out here a couple of months ago – but since they’ve opened up again I’ve been out there pretty much everyday throwing. And they have all the high tech gear with the Rapsodo, the slow motion cameras and all of that kind of stuff. It’s really helpful for me, just because I can send them my Rapsodo numbers to the Rays and be like “Hey, am I on track for everything you guys want me to do” and they can immediately reply back.
P3 – that’s what Premier Pitching Performance is called, P3 – they’re really good at that stuff. They can talk the scientific language between them and the Rays, whenever they’re passing that stuff back and forth, and then both sides are really good at putting it into terms that I can kind of understand and work on. It’s really good communication having all that technology available.
Josiah DeBoer: Working with those coaches, you’ve been able to be part of two organizations that a lot of people are talking about as two of the best pitcher development organizations in baseball. Tampa Bay has had that reputation for a while, and then, not everybody agrees, but people like Eno Sarris have started to talk about Seattle as a great pitching organization as well. Have you found that they have generally tried to develop your pitches in a similar way or have they been fairly different since you got traded to Tampa Bay?
Michael Plassmeyer: I was only with the Mariners for a little bit there, and then coming out of college I was on a bit of an innings limit, since I threw a lot in college and so I only got to throw two at a time. But they were kind of focusing on tunneling with me and they wanted me to improve my changeup. My junior year it kind of got away from me a little bit and hitters could see it pop out of my hand, so they (The Mariners) were forcing me to throw it in game, even when I didn’t want to. But they were all on me from the changeup from the beginning. If you want to be a starter you need three pitches or more. They were very good about developing this pitch.
And then when I did get traded over to the Rays, they kind of continued that same thing. They saw that my changeup could be a better pitch for me, and that I needed to be more comfortable with it and throw it in whatever count like I did with my other two pitches, rather than just like, “Okay, this guy has fought off my fastball and breaking ball I need to show him something different.” And just try and flip it in, and rather be confident with it.
I would say yeah, they were both on the changeup from the get-go. And then the Rays, they were the ones who told me that they wanted me to have a cutter. I immediately tried a bunch of different grips and I was asking guys in the organization. I’d say that the reputation is correct.
Josiah DeBoer: You mentioned that cutter again and that brings me back to asking about pitch usage. A lot of pitches as pitchers start to develop them, they don’t use them more than a couple times a game just to throw a batter off balance. Do you think your cutter is going to be a pitch like that when you start using it in games or is going to be a pitch that you’ll be able to rely on, like your other three pitches?
Michael Plassmeyer: I think because of the weird offseason that we’ve had its given me a chance to feel way more comfortable and throw way more bullpens than I would have with it because it did take me a few months in the offseason, to be more comfortable and to get the movement that I wanted and then from there it was learning to control it. I think I still would have thrown it more than twice or anything like that. But now that I have all these extra bullpens and stuff like that, you wouldn’t know that it’s going to be a new pitch for me. I think I’m going to be comfortable with throwing it in whatever count.
I have actually gotten to play in a league up here for a few games. Mainly just college guys, some pro guys in there and I threw that in there a bunch. I’m pretty comfortable with working it both sides of the plate and it seemed like it did pretty well for me.
Josiah DeBoer: You mentioned staying a starter a minute ago. Is that something that’s important to you or one of the tendencies of the Rays in particular is at the major league level they’re not traditional in their usage of different pitchers and throwing pitchers in different roles. Is a non-traditional role something that you’d be open to down the line or is staying a starter pretty important to you?
Michael Plassmeyer: I’ll do whatever they want me to as long as it’s moving me up and everything. I would prefer to be a starter because that’s what I’ve always done and that’s what my routine has always been, I guess. You got your 40 minutes to get ready before the game and you know exactly when first pitch is but I’m open to whatever they want me to do, whether it’s out of the bullpen or that opener that they have or stuff like that. Whatever they do is completely fine, it might just take me a second to get ready quick and kind of at a moment’s notice. Or you got the guy or whatever it is. But I’ll do whatever they need me to.
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