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Trevor Rosenthal isn’t fair to opposing hitters

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Rosenthal appears to have added another pitch to his already plus repertoire, making his matchup even tougher for opponents.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Back in January, I made the affirmation that former closer Trevor Rosenthalreturned to form” upon his activation from the disabled list late last season. Of course, the sample size was incredibly small (seven innings pitched over five appearances), but given just how bad Rosenthal was prior to being placed on the disabled list (5.13 ERA, 16.2% walk rate over 33.1 IP), even the slightest sign of improvement was going to serve as a welcome development for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals. And as spring came to a close, you may recall that I wrote a little bit about Rosenthal’s role and ability to tunnel his repertoire, utilizing two GIFs created by @cardinalsgifs.

Unfortunately, after suffering a latissimus dorsi-related setback, Rosenthal began the 2017 season on the disabled list. Fortunately, Rosenthal’s absence from the 25-man roster lasted only six team games, and he flashed brilliance on Monday night — his first appearance of the season — striking out all three Nationals batters he faced (without having to reach back for his plus changeup). Sure, yesterday’s outing was considerably less successful (0.1 IP, 3 H, 1 K, 1 ER), but it’s hard to complain too much about three singles, of which possessed relatively harmless exit velocities of 75.1 MPH, 82.5 MPH, and 62.0 MPH.

For whatever reason, Rosenthal appears stricken by the unluckiness of the BABIP bug. As you may recall, last season, Rosenthal dealt with the highest BABIP among all MLB relievers (with at least 40 IP) at .425. And if last night is any indication of things to come (statistically, it’s not, but hypothetically, let’s say it is), Rosenthal hasn’t yet shaken the bug. Sure, according to Statcast, the 75.1 MPH single by Wilmer Difo possessed a hit probability of 95%, but again, it’s hard to get upset about a pitcher inducing weak contact because at worst, this type of contact leads to a single (just as we saw last night). That being said, instead of focusing on the things Rosenthal cannot really control (i.e. BABIP-related events), let’s take a closer look at two of his strikeouts from Monday night.

Three-pitch strikeout of Adam Eaton (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

Versus right-handed pitchers (2,879 pitches seen), the left-handed-hitting Eaton has batted .307 and slugged .469 against fourseam fastballs, arguably the most fruitful pitch for the career 114 wRC+ hitter. Well, 97.77 MPH, 98.93 MPH, and 99.48 MPH borderline paint jobs are each far from your average fastball. Given the quality of the three pitches, it isn’t surprising that Rosenthal recorded a strikeout in this at bat, but in a vacuum, it is mildly intriguing that a fourseam fastball hitter watched three straight fourseam fastballs cross home plate without even one swing of the bat.

As you will see below, Eaton looked dialed up to swing at strike number two, only to hold up as he realized he had started his swing far too late — the 1.16 MPH increase from the pitch prior likely played a small role here. As we all already know, there are multiple ways to attack hitters. Among many others, pitch tunneling is one way and changing the hitter’s eye level is another. Now, these are not always independent of each other, but in the case of the Eaton strikeout (seen below), they are, as Rosenthal’s put-away pitch didn’t exhibit tunneling (when compared to the set-up pitch), but it absolutely changed Eaton’s eye level.

From Eaton’s perspective (who was standing in the on deck circle for the first at bat of the inning), Rosenthal had thrown seven straight fourseam fastballs — five in the strikeout of Difo and two in this particular at bat — all of which had been up in the zone. Thus, he was likely expecting some sort of offspeed pitch with two strikes. As you can see, Rosenthal (and Yadier Molina; look at where had placed his target), had no plans of throwing an offspeed pitch. However, they did change Eaton’s eye level dramatically with his first pitch thrown down in the zone — a full foot and a half lower than the pitch prior. Frankly, by the time Eaton was able to read the pitch (a 99.48 MPH fourseamer), it was already in Molina’s mitt for strike three.

Six-pitch strikeout of Anthony Rendon (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

As you can see in the GIF below, the mirroring of Rosenthal’s release points on pitches four, five, and six isn’t perfect, but it is oh so very close. Plus, when a pitcher possesses the ability to reach triple digits, there simply isn’t enough time to adequately distinguish and subsequently react to such a slight difference anyway, especially if you are guessing on the velocity coming to the plate.

Well, after Rosenthal blew a 99.12 MPH fourseamer by Rendon for strike two (for your reference, the full strike zone plot of the at bat is embedded above), Rendon dialed up just enough to foul off a 98.83 MPH fourseamer, one that rode even higher in the zone than the pitch prior. With two strikes in the at bat and 12 of the 13 pitches thrown by Rosenthal being fourseamers, it’s safe to say Rendon revved himself up for yet another high-90’s fourseamer. Out of the hand, and for the first segment of the pitch’s flight home, it looked like it could be yet another fourseamer. It wasn’t, though. Instead, Rosenthal dropped in a downright filthy 86.32 MPH slider on the outside corner. To top it all off, Rendon’s frustrated bat toss (with a never-before-seen bat trail) represent the futility of trying to hit against the quality of this 4-5-6 pitch sequence.

As always, please make sure to follow @cardinalsgifs on Twitter as he is the unheralded mastermind behind the GIFs used in this post. Honestly, the work he does on a daily basis is not recognized enough. Also, credit to BrooksBaseball.net for being such an amazing site for readily-available PitchF/x data.