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Seth Elledge Could Be a Strong Reliever in 2021

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Seth Elledge made his MLB debut in 2020 and he did not pitch particularly well as the right hander posted a 4.63 ERA and 5.33 FIP in just 11 23 innings. However, Elledge still has plenty of promise as a reliever, and that promise comes in the form of his slider. Additionally, there are reasons to believe that Elledge can perform better next season, especially given his minor league track record.

Seth Elledge is a strikeout pitcher. He posted a strikeout rate near 30% or above at every minor league level before Triple-A. Even despite his struggles in 2020, he still posted a 26.9% strikeout rate in his small sample size. However, his problem last year was twofold. First, he walked too many batters (6.17 BB/9); and secondly, he allowed too many home runs (1.54 HR/9). However, if he can fix these two issues, then he could develop into a high leverage reliever in St. Louis.

There are reasons to expect him to improve his walk rate. To begin with, Elledge has never posted a BB/9 above 4.26 over the course of a minor league season. This is significantly lower than his walk rate last season, and it seems unlikely that his walk rate will stay as high as it was in 2020. In his brief MLB stint, Elledge threw (unsurprisingly) a majority of pitches outside of the strike zone (55.4%). While it is clear that Elledge struggled with control, this lack of control was most evident with his slider as 53% of Elledge’s sinkers finished in the strike zone while just 28% of his sliders landed in the zone.

Elledge’s inability to control his slider last season led to a severely increased walk rate, but his slider is also the reason why he generates so many strikeouts. Therefore, even a small improvement in his command of his slider could lead to an increase in strikeouts and a decrease in walks, thus making him a much more effective pitcher.

Elledge’s slider is going to be the pitch that determines his career. He only throws two pitches: a sinker and a slider, but it is his slider that truly has the potential to be an elite pitch. The 24-year-old generated a strong 46.2% whiff rate with the pitch as well as 46.8 inches of drop (with gravity). The pitch dropped 20% more than the average MLB slider and his whiff rate with the pitch is slightly lower than Robbie Ray’s (47.1%), Dinelson Lamet’s (47.4%), and Jack Flaherty’s (49.5%). Additionally, he allowed a .303 wOBA and .254 xwOBA with the pitch despite his lack of control.

With the dominance of the pitch, if he could control it better, then it would be a much greater weapon. Surely, a good amount of the whiffs that Elledge generated with the pitch came as a result of the pitch starting in the strike zone and dropping out of it. However, if he could get the pitch to start out of the strike zone and move into it, then he would have two different approaches with the pitch: one that allows him to throw it for strikes and one that causes hitters to chase it out of the zone. If he could develop an ability to do this, then he would still be able to generate whiffs while also reducing the amount of walks that he allows. This would allow Elledge to take the next step and turn from a pitcher with plenty of upside into a truly solid reliever.