Zack Wheeler Is Tipping His Pitches

Apparently, Zack Wheeler is tipping his pitches, and it’s so obvious that the Mets manager Terry Collins got ten text messages on the subject during the game in Chicago on Tuesday. Is it obvious enough that we can tell?

First, what are we looking for? According to these quotes in the AP Press article on the subject, it’s a difference in speed. And it might be in the glove area, at least according to Terry Collins:

”Guys look for it all the time. It starts with the glove,” said Collins. ”Moving the glove there’s different things to look for and then all of sudden you start to look when he speeds up, when he slows down, what the pitches are. You start to get a read on it.”

The article goes on to suggest that the team was already working on it during the start in Chicago once they noticed. So what we need are some side-by-side deliveries for each kind of pitch Wheeler throws, and hopefully from the first inning. Hey look at that: Wheeler threw a curveball, a two-seam fastball, and a slider, in succession, in the first inning, to the same batter (Alexei Ramirez). Let’s see what we can see, with the pitches in succession left-to-right.

WheelerCurveWheelerFastballWheelerSlider

I don’t know about you, but I see three different pitches, three distinctly different resting spots for his glove. The curveball is close and at the letters, the fastball shows more separation from his body at about the same height, and the slider comes to a rest close and a little bit lower than the curve. Each of these GIFs is roughly the same amount of frames, too, so there’s some difference in how quickly he moves through these parts of his delivery — although that is complicated by the runner on second base.

This is the sort of thing that young starters deal with from time to time, and the Mets’ staff is sure that they can fix this quickly. It’s probably just as easy as identifying the one, most comfortable resting spot at each point in his delivery, and repeating this. As long as this is actually where the tipping is happening (and his release point seems fine), then it’s more easily fixed than most other mechanical issues. He’s at rest. Just find a good resting spot. Rinse and repeat.

So Zack Wheeler is tipping his pitches. But it’s probably not that big of a deal. The control? That’s the more difficult problem.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


32 Responses to “Zack Wheeler Is Tipping His Pitches”

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  1. snoop LION says:

    nice!

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  2. SiddFinch says:

    There doesn’t seem to be a big difference at all between the left and right gifs. I would assume that the batters were making judgement calls on fastball vs “breaking ball” instead of differentiating between which type of breaking ball. We can sit here and watch the gif over and over and may notice slight differences on the left/right clips, but during an at-bat I would wager they were picking up on the spacial difference on the resting location of the fastball.

    Thanks for putting this piece together — well done!

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  3. Schuxu says:

    Why would one try to fix this right away. The moment you figure out that the opposition has figured it out you can use it as an advantage.

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    • Dave S (the original) says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. Next time you really need a strikeout… just hold the glove away from the body (fastball pose), and throw him a breaking ball (or vice versa).

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      A lot of this is habitual, and it’s NOT what you want him thinking about in a game. You want him thinking about delivering a good pitch, and that means getting the habitual motions to be as similar as possible between various pitch types.

      Because otherwise he’s either tipping or he’s thinking about where to put his glove to fool the batter, rather than thinking about where he wants the pitch to go. And where the pitch actually goes is more important.

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      • Dave S (the original) says:

        Yeah, I’m sure its a bad idea for a young starting pitcher to have different deliveries. Especially a pitcher with apparent control issues. And, yeah, you don’t want him thinking about too much extraneous stuff before he’s thoroughly mastered his craft.

        Fun to think about though.

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    • Seth says:

      Because then you start getting into game theory, and that can easily throw anyone off their mental game. Better to just fix the problem and keep them guessing.

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  4. dirtbag says:

    Isn’t basing a conclusion on 1 gif per pitch pretty much the epitome of the fallacy of small sample size?

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    • AB says:

      I know, Eno is so dumb. He probably didn’t even watch the game. He just saw these 3 gifs on the internets and formed a conclusion about pitch tipping. Probably the biggest problem with the conclusion is that you don’t even get to see what pitch he throws; they might all be the same pitch! It would have been much more effective to line up 30 of each gif, extended so to show what pitch he actually threw, and then compare them all and use that analysis to form a conclusion. MUCH more effective…

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      • dirtbag says:

        “So what we need are some side-by-side deliveries for each kind of pitch Wheeler throws, and hopefully from the first inning. Hey look at that: Wheeler threw a curveball, a two-seam fastball, and a slider, in succession, in the first inning, to the same batter.”

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        • Sparkles Peterson says:

          But you also need some verification that he did the same thing with the next fastball, the next breaking ball, etc.

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    • Terry says:

      yeah lately it seems like fangraphs is more concerned with cute .gifs than hard stats.

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    • steex says:

      Why would you assume that the conclusion is based solely on the three gifs in the piece? If Eno hadn’t included any gifs, would you assume the conclusion was based on nothing at all?

      It seemed pretty clear to me that the combination of the articles mentioned at the top of this piece and having watched much of Wheeler’s start led Eno to conclude that he was indeed tipping. Rather than leaving us to imagine what was being described, he found gifs of the motions as a representative example for us to view.

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      • Cidron says:

        it has to be based on three .gifs, as he didnt include over a 100 ore more to make a proper sample size, huh? (pls note, there was sarcasm there).

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        • AB says:

          I’m starting to think I should have put one of those parentheticals on mine, too

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        • David says:

          No AB, it sparked some of the most hilariously entertaining Fangraphs commenting that I have seen lately… And for the record, I think the suggestion of lining up 30 long Gifs was sufficient for anyone actually reading.

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    • TangoAlphaLima says:

      Sample size has nothing to do with it. Numerous people saw Wheeler tipping his pitches, and there’s video/Gif evidence to prove it. It’s not like this is some wild theory thrown out there.

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  5. Mike says:

    For whatever it’s worth, during Alexei Ramirez’s first-inning at-bat (the one, apparently, from which the GIFs were taken), Mets analyst Ron Darling made the following observation:

    “Now, my job is to critique here. So the one thing I see is that he slows his motion down on his breaking pitches. Not on his slider; but on his curveball, he just slows it down, just a little bit, which, at this level, these hitters will see.”

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  6. Ender says:

    Is it safe to say the Mets coaches will fix this before his start vs the Nationals? At which point we can really start to evaluate him?

    Also, those walks will be affected by the lack of pitch tipping.

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  7. Brian says:

    I think Ron Darling mentioned on SNY that Wheeler was really slowing down his delivery when he threw his breaking ball in the first inning. I actually thought it was obvious even from my couch that he would slow down for breaking balls.

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  8. 65Kyle08 says:

    Gay rights!!!!

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  9. longacre1013 says:

    It would be interesting to see this is a quiz. Show several unlabeled gifs side by side and ask readers to group them into delivery A/B/C. We wouldn’t necessarily know which one is fastball/curve/slider, but it would be cool if the crowd could identify distinct motions.

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  10. Matt says:

    The more troubling thing for me was that they wouldn’t let Wheeler use his fastball as a put-out pitch. It seems like every time he got to a 2 strike count, Buck called for a breaking ball and the Sox hitters laid off of it every time. Buck is usually a pretty decent game caller, but I thought this was quite strange. Let the kid get by on his electric fastball and only go to the breaking pitches when absolutely necessary. He’ll have more confidence in all of his pitches that way, and will eventually be able to throw the slider more effectively.

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  11. Dugmet says:

    This is only relevant if he uses the same glove position for each pitch type with consistency. Otherwise, random is random and without a pattern, he would not tip the pitches. 1 and 3 look similar enough to me.

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  12. chief00 says:

    I wonder if he was tipping them today. He sure got knocked around by the Nats.

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