Matt Belisle Is Good … Really

Of all the surprising stories this season, Matt Belisle’s rise to prominence takes the cake for least expected. The 30 year old reliever for Colorado has thrown 47 innings this season. That’s nothing extravagant; he did throw 31 innings for the Rockies last season after all. What is alarming is that he’s striking out more than one batter per inning; this from a guy who split duties between starting and relieving through most of his career and still has a career K/9 under 6.5.

Looking for a change in his pitch usage is futile. He’s throwing the same pitches at about the same rate as before, the results are just drastically improved with a heaping of added swinging strikes. Here are Belisle’s swinging strike rates this season on pitches he’s thrown more than 50 times:

FF: 9%
SL: 12.2%
CU: 16.3%

Here are the whiff rates for the same three pitches last season:

FF: 6.5%
SL: 7.7%
CU: 19.6%

Since it’s only his fastball and slider that have been affected this season, my guess, and this is clearly only a guess, is that it has something to do with sequencing. Luckily, we have the ability to easily check his pitch selection by count on his splits page. Sure enough, it seems Belisle is being far less aggressive with his fastball after getting ahead in the count.

That would seemingly be a common trend amongst pitches; after all, the mantra about establishing the fastball and all that jazz is still mentioned across quite a few telecasts on any given night; but it’s especially true for Belisle. When he gets to two strikes on a batter it’s time for the breaking stuff. On 1-2 counts he’s using his curveball nearly 50% of the time as opposed to using it only 22% last year.

Who knows whether the continued usage shakeup is the only reason or will continue to mystify hitters that oppose Belisle, but through this point in the season, he’s been pretty impressive.

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17 Responses to “Matt Belisle Is Good … Really”

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  1. Dan says:

    I wrote basically the exact same post a few weeks ago:

    Nice work, he deserves the ink.

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  2. danisallthat says:

    When you say “nice work” are you referring to Mr. Anderson’s or your own?

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    • Dan says:

      I’m telling him nice job. I think it’s good that a guy like Matt Belisle gets some well-deserved positive attention from a respected site like FG.

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  3. Shaggychild says:

    Is this a case where the catcher should get some of the credit?

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  4. “Matt Belisle’s rise to prominence takes the cake for least expected”
    Depends on who you ask :) I pegged Matt Belisle as the Rockies’ surprise candidate along with Jason Hammel in March:

    He resurfaced in the majors last September a completely different pitcher, attacking the strike zone, locating on corners, attacking hitters with confidence. In the one game the Rockies won in the NLDS vs the Phillies, he was the reliever used in the 7th inning to bridge to Betancourt and Street. A lot of Rockies fans even forget he had that much confidence from Tracy at the end of the year. I didn’t expect him to be this effective this long, but there was writing on the wall…if you chose to believe it.

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    • Dan says:

      @Andrew It’s obvious that there has been a change in approach as it pertains to pitch selection. Are you saying you don’t think that has anything to do with it? Having confidence and attacking the zone seem to me to be more symptoms of the change in approach, not the reason for the success. Not being snarky, just curious what your opinion on that is.

      I also think Bob Apodaca deserves some credit here.

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      • Apodaca absolutely deserves some credit. His ability of harnessing the ability of pitchers who were punchlines for their former teams (Belisle, Jason Hammel, Jason Marquis, Jorge de la Rosa, even Huston Street to a degree) really deserves some major attention. His pitch selection has been different this year, as he’s using his fastball less, though it seems to me that is in part due to working ahead in the count, though he has never had an issue with walks in his career. I’m not sure confidence/approach are necessarily separated as cause and effects as much as being combined. I know this is borderline blasphemy on a statistics site, but I think he has benefited most from confidence instilled from Apodaca. He has always had pretty good stuff. He just never seemed to own it. He has a tendency to hang breaking balls too often for a late inning reliever though

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  5. I’m so glad he’s catching people’s eyes, because he’s awesome. Not ready for High Leverage if those splits mean anything, but go Matt, prove the haters wrong.

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  6. biondino says:

    I’m intrigued by the use of the word “impressive” to describe Belisle. I agree, of course, but wonder if there are any other Rockies pitchers who might also qualify for that description?

    No. No, I can’t think of any.

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  7. 2nd among MLB relievers in IP, 3rd in K’s, 12th in K/BB, 14th in FIP (30+IP)

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  8. fanofdefenseagain says:

    It’s funny, I always assumed that he massively sucked. Not this year of course, but years prior.

    Looking at his xFIPs, however, during his starter years with the Reds, he was solid at times.

    I’d look to trade for him and convert him back to a starting pitcher at some point.

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  9. fanofdefenseagain says:

    though frankly, he may be a better option at this point than Aaron Cook anway

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    • I wouldn’t mess with his bullpen success. He seems to have found his niche in the pen, and the Rockies frankly have too many good starting pitchers. Jhoulys Chacin is going to get bumped from the pen despite having the 3rd best FIP and 2nd best xFIP (and a solid ERA) just because he is a rookie when Jorge de la Rosa comes back. They’ll have to get rid of Francis, Cook, Hammel or DLR to make room for him next year, and Christian Friedrich could show up next year too.

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  10. jirish says:

    Belisle has also battled injuries along the way too. Change in approach, confidence, pitching coach compatibility, and a lack of injures, and he’s turning into a solid relief pitcher. He always had good stuff and flashes of brilliance within the bad outings when he was with the Reds. I don’t find it all strange that he’s put it together.

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