So shortly before Seth McClung went into the rotation I said this "If you take a peak at McClung it looks like his off speed pitches kind of suck. This makes me think that he wouldn't make it as a starter." Well at the time it was true. His fastball was grading out as a plus pitch and his curve and slider were grading out as a minus pitch and a minus minus pitch respectively. He hadn't even thrown enough splitters for me to check that pitch. There is no way he would be able to pitch as a starter I thought because his fastball was going to have to slow down when starting and that was the only thing keeping him afloat. Boy was I wrong. Let's take a look at how he turned it around.
So here is the crazy thing. McClung (or McNasty as I prefer) has lost just over two MPH on his fsatball like we expected. It went from a blazing 94.85 MPH as a reliever to 92.71 MPH as a starter. The other big change is he lost more than an inch of horizontal and vertical movement on his curveball. That sounds like a lot and it should, that is a nearly 20% decrease in movement. Yet not only is he still in the rotation he is pitching well. So what is going on?
The short answer is everything has changed. McClung has transformed everything about himself in mid season when entering the rotation. Let's start with his release point:
McClung as a reliever didn't have a very repeatable delivery. He would release the ball in a wide band from over the top to very close to three quarters. The fastballs were over the top mostly and the curves and sliders from three quarters. The result was a relatively straight fastball and a slurvy slider and curve. Not only might he have been tipping the off speed pitches with the release point but he also wasn't throwing them in the same vertical or horizontal plane. My look into curves and sliders seem to strongly indicate that you need to hide the off speed stuff in one of the two planes or the hitters will sniff it out and it looks like that was happening to McClung. He had so much movement on his curve and it came from such a different release point hitters would identify it and either let it go for a ball or crush it if it were a strike.
The new McClung has adopted even more of an over the top delivery than what he was throwing his fastball with before. He has also moved more to the third base side of the mound. You can see this by in increased height and horizontal shift in the new release point. He is now really hiding his pitches in his release point and his curve has become much more 12 to 6 which means it is hiding in the same vertical plane as his fastball for much longer. With this more consistent release point has come much better control (duh). Here is how this change has affected the movement of his pitches.
That large variation is his release point was causing a huge spread in movement as you would expect. Some pitchers can effectively control this but it doesn't look like McClung could. Now his fastball has calmed to a nice, repeatable, movement that he can consistently count on when locating his pitches. Notice now how his slider and curve kind of look line they have a horizontal and vertical band to them? This is due to the variation of the spin McClung is putting on the ball. His slider and curve's spin axis are almost completely at right angles to each other and as he adds or takes away spin the slider's movement goes up or down and the curve's movement goes right or left. This is very strange for a pitcher especially for one with a very over the top delivery like McClung now has. Again, as strange as it might seem, McClung probably is doing better with less spin on his curve as that makes the pitch more 12 to 6 which matches his fastball.
Ok so the real thing that jumps out at you is the increased use of his splitter. As a reliever he threw only 10 splitters, or less than 3% of the time. As a starter he is throwing the pitch just over 25% of the time mostly to lefties. This pitch has incredible horizontal movement and, compared to his fastball, has nice late break down as well. McClung is hiding this pitch incredibly well throwing it from the same release point at 90.19 MPH just two MPH slow than his fastball. This means hitters see fastball and then at the last instance it breaks down and a away from lefties. This is a huge weapon for him while facing lefties and he is taking full advantage of it throwing the pitch 42% of the time compared to 40% fastballs to lefties!
To right handed batters McClung uses his four seamer and his slider/curve but he uses them in a unique way. When he gets the count to 0-1 he almost never throws a fastball to a RHB. He opts for a curve low or a slider away. It is like his thinking is the batter doesn't want to get to 0-2 so if I throw him an off speed here he is likely to swing. He treats 0-2 similarly but when the count goes to 1-2 when the hitter might be expecting an off speed pitch he very often goes with the gas. He still has the ability to ramp it up to 94-95 MPH so if the hitter is thinking off speed and he throws a 95 MPH heater good things happen.
Now the scary thing is I think there might be more room for improvement. If he has get his curve to be more 12 to 6 like Sheets I think that would help a lot. Also, if he could get a little more horizontal movement on his slider by maybe throwing it faster he might get more swings and misses when he starts it in the zone and has it tail down and out of the zone. That said, with the results he has had don't expect too many more changes.
Here is an updated Runs100 breakdown of McClung only while pitching as a starter:
Seth_McClung Fastball -4.97404
Seth_McClung Curve -1.78667
Seth_McClung Slider -2.06
Seth_McClung Splitter -4.08814
Remember, lower is better with Runs100. That splitter has been down right untouchable. Long live McNasty.