If there’s a spring training trope that comes close to rivaling all the “best shape of his life” reports, it’s the talk of various tweaks and adjustments players have made in an effort to improve their respective games. Hell, our obsessive coverage of Jason Heyward’s work in the cage has occupied way more of our collective time than any normal person would consider healthy.
But while it’s usually easier at the outset of camp to discern changes in body types or swings, picking up on a pitcher’s changes aren’t always so simple. While much of that is the nature of bullpen sessions and the angle of the videos we have access to, more stems from the secretive nature of the weirdest characters in baseball.
Not that a guy should want to give up his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices or whatever, it’s just that pitchers are often loath to talk about exactly what they’re changing. At least not while they’re actually doing it. That’s part of why we were so surprised last season when, after our Brendan Miller had noted a mechanical issue that may have led to Kyle Hendricks’ decreased velocity, Hendricks actually confirmed soon thereafter that throwing less over-the-top had indeed hurt his velo.
So when we heard Saturday that Justin Wilson had made adjustments to his delivery in an effort to avoid a repeat of his disastrous Cubs campaign, it’s no surprise that there were no accompanying details.
Joe Maddon says Justin Wilson has made some adjustments to his delivery and is confident he will bounce back from a rough second half: "I'm telling you he's going to have a great year." https://t.co/wnnc7LbNpj
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) February 17, 2018
Sounds like an invitation to try and figure things out. Below are two videos of Wilson from last season, one with the Tigers and one with the Cubs. The varying camera angles provide challenges, but see if you notice anything different about the two deliveries. Don’t worry, we’ll have stills afterwards to help out a little.
Did you pick anything up? Maybe this next series of images will help. My process is admittedly far from perfect, though I think I did a fairly decent job of syncing them up to nearly the exact same points of his delivery. As such, it looks as if Wilson is pulling his hand from his glove just a wee bit earlier in both sets.
It’s pretty clear — and again, we need to allow for different camera angles and my own human error — that more of Wilson’s left hand is visible in that first set. This is the up at the high point of his leg kick, when he initiates a double-tap with the ball in his glove. You’ll see a similar difference in the next pair of shots, which is at the point that he releases his hand from the glove.
While it’s entirely possible that I simply clipped this screepcap from a later point in Wilson’s delivery, I actually took pains to move the Tigers video up a little bit. Besides, an earlier release is something others had noticed during the course of the season and that may have contributed to Wilson’s issues in Chicago.
A quick look at the heat maps below may lend a bit of credence to our theory as well. Notice how 27.23 percent of Wilson’s pitches in Detroit ended up in the left-most column (inside to righties), while 34.12 of his pitches with the Cubs were in that same column. That’s a 25 percent increase and could help to explain a marked increase in his walk rate following the trade.
This all makes sense when you think about it in very simple terms. If Wilson was releasing his hand from his glove just a bit early, it may have thrown off his overall timing enough that he was trying to compensate with his follow-through, pulling the ball wide. So could the change Maddon is referencing just be a return to his mechanics with Detroit, when Wilson kept the ball in his glove just a tad longer?
It stands to reason that such a reversion would pay big dividends for the lefty, whose acquisition was supposed to bolster the Cubs ‘pen down the stretch. Instead, Wilson wasn’t on the NLCS roster and probably only made the DS because of his success against Daniel Murphy. If he’s back on his game this season, he could give the Cubs the best back end in the game.
Or maybe I’m way off here and it’s something completely different, which I’m sure our newfound cadre of commenters will be happy to offer their thoughts on.
Whatever he does mechanically, I have no doubt just feeling more at ease with his team and his role will pay huge dividends for Wilson. And that may end up being the biggest change of all. Even though he surely welcomed the move to a contender, being traded can be really jarring for some players. So having the chance to go through spring training with the Cubs and establish real continuity may be as important as anything else.
Slo-mo video captured by Cubs Insider Monday from Mesa shows that Wilson has indeed altered his delivery. The angle makes it difficult to tell for sure, but he seems to be breaking his hands a little later than what we saw in the videos and pictures above. What is a little more apparent is that he’s no longer doing the little double-tap with the ball in his glove (h/t @CoxRyan89).
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) February 19, 2018
Apologies for going with tweet of the vid (that links back to this piece), but it’s much easier to load here on the site.