After what felt like two years of buildup, the number one overall prospect of the St. Louis Cardinals (finally) made his MLB debut on Tuesday night. While the team ended up losing the game 7-4, 21-year-old Alex Reyes, a future contributor out of the starting rotation, flashed potential for back-of-the-bullpen dominance, requiring only 11 pitches to retire the Reds in order during his one inning of work. With Michael Wacha now on the disabled list for an indefinite amount of time, the Cardinals determined that the future is now by calling up the organization's top two pitching prospects in Reyes and Luke Weaver (who had only one Triple-A start, though solid, prior to his MLB promotion).
PitchF/x Data (Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net)
Remember: Regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, whereas a positive value means glove-side movement.
|Dragless Horizontal Mov. (in.)
|Dragless Vertical Mov. + Gravity (in.)
|99.58 MPH (101.9)
|79.9 MPH (79.95)
Given the small sample size (11 pitches), I will only make note of two things in this table. First, as BrooksBaseball puts it, Reyes' fourseamer is "thrown at a speed that's borderline unfair." Second, Reyes' curveball has a great deal of sharp drop to it. Usually, harder-thrown curveballs experience less vertical drop than the typical Bug Bunny-style benders, but with two MLB curveballs under his belt, this just may not be the case for Reyes. In all honesty, though, two pitches defined Reyes' MLB debut, so let's take an closer look at each of them...
Strikeout of Adam Duvall
Strike Two: 79.9 MPH Curveball
There are three people, beyond Reyes, to consider in the slow-motion portion of this GIF (thank you, Fox Sports Midwest, for making this GIF even possible): 1) the batter (Duvall), 2) the catcher (Yadier Molina), and 3) the home-plate umpire (Lance Barksdale).
At the pitch's peak, probably 15-20 feet out of Reyes' hand, the ball climbed all the way up to eye level for Duvall. Figuring in five feet for Reyes' stride and extension on the pitch (Reyes strides short for a pitcher his height), this means the pitch had 35-40 feet left between the mound and home plate to drop back down in the strike zone. With this in mind, it is not surprising to see Duvall completely lock up in the batter's box because that is a long way for the ball to drop in such a short amount of time. That being said, from a vertical standpoint (horizontally, the pitch was a touch wide), the curveball did manage to drop back down into the zone. If you pay close attention to Molina's mitt as he receives the pitch, you can tell that even Molina was fooled by just how much downward movement the pitch possessed. He was ready to catch it at the level of Duvall's thigh only to drop his mitt all the way down to Duvall's knees.
Thanks to the slow-motion portion of the GIF, you can tell just how fooled Duvall was by focusing on his lower body as he takes his normal big stride (a timing mechanism used to help gear up for a triple-digit fastball) only to take two more jab-step-like strides as he waits for the ball to eventually reach Molina's mitt (no, you cannot see his feet, but you can see the movement in his quad muscles). Notice Duvall kicking the dirt with his back foot as strike two was called? I take that as a gesture to calmly signify defeat on the pitch. Thus, if both the catcher and the hitter were fooled by the pitch, it is hard to blame the home-plate umpire for calling a strike on a pitch that landed just wide of the strike zone. (Plus, Molina helped his rookie gain the strike with a quality post-catch frame job).
Strike Three: 101.9 (!) MPH Fourseamer
Pitch sequencing, pitch sequencing, and pitch sequencing. This is a term I tend to use consistently in my PitchF/x-centered posts, oftentimes without providing an example of what it really means (and that is my bad). Well, this set-up and put-away combination Reyes used to strike out 2016 All-Star Duvall is a GIF-perfect example of pitch sequencing. So perfect that I will probably link back to this post anytime I reference "pitch sequencing" in the future.
There are three main components of successful pitch sequencing: 1) location, 1a) eye level, and 2) velocity. The difference in location is clear: strike two was just off the inside corner while strike three was up, away, and seemingly breaking away from the hitter. Next, after already experiencing two different eye levels on strike two alone, Duvall was forced to deal with yet another eye level from the riding, high-and-outside strike three fastball. Finally, the difference in velocity: strike two registered at 79.9 MPH while strike three read 101.9 MPH.
Ignoring those who deploy an eephus-style pitch, I cannot think, off the top of my head at least, of a single pitcher who can consistently utilize a combination of pitches that differ up to 22 MPH in velocity. Such a difference renders an opposing hitter absolutely defenseless -- leaving the options of either guessing on what is coming next or digging into scouting video in hopes of finding a noticeable mechanical difference between the release of the two pitches.
You cannot get much of a smaller sample size than 11 pitches, so no need to hyperventilate just yet (don't use me as an example on how to react here). And no matter how good Reyes' repertoire is, he will almost certainly endure some big-league struggles in the near future, although the damage should be limited given that he will primarily be used out of the bullpen. Something to remember regarding Reyes' repertoire is that he didn't even throw what I consider his best pitch (his changeup) on Tuesday night. Once he introduces that pitch (it will be in the 88-92 MPH range on the radar gun), hitters will be forced to pick up on three very different above-average offerings. No easy task, to be sure.
P.S. Trust me, as Reyes begins to rack up MLB appearances, there will be many more posts regarding his repertoire. After all, I have waited at least two years for meaningful PitchF/x data on the 22-year-old flame-thrower.