Rowan Wick’s Elite Active Spin Rate Provides Blueprint for Cubs’ New Pitching Development Strategy

A former Rule 5 draft pick who had yet to translate talent into performance, Rowan Wick used a few tweaks from the Cubs’ pitch lab to optimize his impressive spin rate during a breakout campaign. Hard work and openness to change led to Wick ending 2019 among the league’s best “active spinners.”

The ~92% active spin rate (i.e., the amount of spin that contributes to movement) on Wick’s curveball ranked 15th of 399 qualified MLB pitchers in 2019. In other words, Wick was better than 96% of MLB pitchers in that regard. Let that sink in for a second.

The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma noted back in September that a change to Wick’s curveball grip added 7.4 inches of break. Going with a knuckle-curve that is thrown with a release more similar to his four-seam fastball enabled the former catcher to take a huge leap forward in his effectiveness on the mound.

“I feel like as athletes, we have a good feel for things when we go through our motion, repetition-wise and all that,” Wick told The Athletic. “Just being able to see it in slo-mo, how it comes out and what we can do with our grips, really slowing it down and seeing where the release is and all that has really helped me lock it in.”

The pitch lab was just the beginning, though. Craig Breslow was hired in January of 2019 to turn the concepts of the pitch lab into more than just complementary tools for player development. He was brought in and subsequently promoted to director of pitching to restructure the very core of the Cubs’ player development philosophies.

As such, we should expect to see more pitching prospects turning their latent talent into real-world value just like Wick did this past season. The same is true for veterans like Dan Winkler, who might be able to vastly improve his own active spin rate with a small change or two. This stuff may not be obvious to the casual observer, but the Cubs are counting on it to improve the organization at a lower cost than big-ticket free agents.

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