Sunday afternoon, Drew Rasmussen had all the pieces working. For eight innings, his fastball/cutter mixture stored Orioles batters off steadiness, with intermittent sliders solely deepening their confusion. The primary 24 Orioles to return to the plate walked away empty-handed. It took Rasmussen simply 79 pitches to navigate these eight innings. He was heading in the right direction for each an ideal recreation and a Maddux, and the Orioles seemed unlikely to cease him.
They managed to interrupt by means of. Jorge Mateo led off the ninth inning by lacing a double down the third bottom line. He superior on a groundout, then scored on a wild pitch. Rasmussen didn’t even handle a whole recreation; after Brett Phillips reached on a dropped third strike, Kevin Money went to the bullpen for the final two outs of the sport. It wasn’t the crowning achievement for Rasmussen that it might need been, however this season has been successful nonetheless, and a near-perfecto presents a terrific excuse to look at what’s gone proper.
I final checked in on Rasmussen after his first start this season, when he adopted a brand new sweeping slider and threw it a ton. In 2021, he’d been a fastball-first pitcher with a slider that modified form as he labored on it all year long. In 2022, he got here out that includes the slider, with a brand new cutter besides. Would 2022 be the 12 months of the sweeper for Rasmussen?
Because it seems, not a lot. His first few begins represented an area excessive in slider utilization, and he’s been leaning on the pitch much less and fewer since. He’s stuffed in that hole by going again to his high-octane fastball and by trusting that new cutter:
Why isn’t he utilizing the slider as a lot? Put merely, it really works higher as an out pitch thrown out of the zone than as an all-purpose weapon. When Rasmussen throws it within the zone, batters each swing loads and make quite a lot of contact, a horrid mixture. Because the begin of July, he’s thrown it solely 8.5% of the time when behind within the depend, in comparison with 30% of the time when the depend reaches two strikes. He solely threw 15 sliders on Sunday, however he made them depend:
That slider works as dessert for Rasmussen’s pitch combine however it may not be as much as being the principle course. For that, he has his new cutter and naturally his trusty fastball. We’d as effectively speak in regards to the fastball first as a result of it’s a straightforward one to research. Do you know that throwing laser beams that hug the highest of the zone and defy gravity because of otherworldly spin typically results in strikeouts? Rasmussen is aware of:
I’m cherry choosing a bit there; regardless of its top-of-the-charts spin, Rasmussen’s fastball isn’t top-of-the-line bat-missers in baseball. The truth is, he’s within the backside half of the league in relation to whiff charge on four-seam fastballs. He’s extra late-career Madison Bumgarner (19.4% whiff charge on four-seamers, simply forward of Rasmussen’s 19.1%) than current-day Ryan Helsley (32%).
As a substitute, he makes use of that fastball as a mix get-ahead pitch and rescue internet. He throws it fairly a bit to start out batters off. Ought to he get behind within the depend, he leans on it much more, and it’s top-of-the-line pitches in baseball at that specific process. When he throws a fastball whereas down within the depend, it ends in both a swing or a known as strike 77.1% of the time. That’s Twenty eighth-best in baseball, within the prime 15% of all pitchers who’ve thrown 100 four-seamers this 12 months. It does roughly as effectively in case you develop the cohort to incorporate sinkers. In different phrases, if what you need out of your fastball is to hop again right into a plate look once you’re behind, Rasmussen has precisely what you need.
That explains Rasmussen’s wonderful stroll charge; in case your main pitch doesn’t miss many bats but in addition doesn’t produce many balls, you possibly can go from behind within the depend to ending the at-bat a technique or one other fairly shortly. As Rasmussen leans into his low-slider pitch combine, the fastball is now serving to him make longer outings. He’s confronted at the least 22 batters in 5 of his final six begins. The lone exception was a deliberate brief begin on August 8 for innings administration causes, as Rasmussen is quickly approaching his profession excessive in innings pitched regardless of lacking a number of begins in June.
For those who’ve been following intently, you would possibly discover that Rasmussen has a great pitch for two-strike counts and a great pitch for when he’s behind within the depend. The remainder of the time? That’s for cutters. His cutter is quickly changing into his workhorse pitch, one he can throw in each depend. It behaves extra like a tough slider than a cutter; per Alex Chamberlain’s pitch comp tool, it seems loads like sliders thrown by Sandy Alcantara, Gerrit Cole, and Dakota Hudson (hey, two out of three ain’t unhealthy).
Is Rasmussen’s cutter a great pitch? In my estimation, it’s his finest one. It does two issues that I contemplate important: it convinces hitters to chase, and it holds its personal when Rasmussen ventures into the strike zone with it. Pitching isn’t that simple, after all, however in case you do these two issues effectively, all the pieces else will get a lot simpler.
The important thing motive that Rasmussen’s cutter attracts chases is straightforward: he throws it laborious. It’s a 90 mph pitch that drops 14 inches greater than his fastball on its flight to dwelling plate. For those who’re on the lookout for a fastball up within the zone, which you ought to be, you don’t have quite a lot of time to acknowledge cutter earlier than beginning your swing. Loads of these swings find yourself being at marginal or out-of-zone pitches. Certain, the pitch doesn’t have a lot motion relative to a spin-less pitch following the precise arc of gravity. However, uh, a spin-less pitch following the precise arc of gravity doesn’t exist. The impartial pitch a batter is evaluating any breaking pitch to is a fastball, and the cutter results in a wildly completely different spot from the fastball, so it really works fairly effectively.
For that very same motive, the cutter generates its fair proportion of weak contact. A few of that’s deception-based, however a few of it additionally comes all the way down to location – batters do effectively on contact once they hit a cutter over the center of the plate, however fairly poorly when Rasmussen locates it towards the sides of the zone. And excellent news on that entrance: Rasmussen’s command of the pitch has been wonderful thus far. He’s dwelling across the edges with it, significantly the low-and-away nook to righties. That’s a pure location for a cutter; it each pairs effectively along with his fastball form and finally ends up as a troublesome pitch to hit. For what it’s value, Cameron Grove’s pitch model agrees, penciling within the cutter as Rasmussen’s finest pitch.
Cutters and sliders additionally naturally pair effectively, and in reality, you possibly can consider Rasmussen’s new slider and new cutter as merely separating his previous slider into two pitches, one laborious and one gentle. That’s not precisely what’s happening – he’s throwing the cutter more durable than he ever threw his slider and is releasing it in a different way – however it helps me to consider it that means. As a substitute of making an attempt to distinguish between two pitches, batters have to select and select between three, all of which find yourself fairly far aside from one another once they cross the plate.
It would sound like I believe Rasmussen is likely one of the finest starters in baseball proper now. I wouldn’t go that far; regardless of a strong run of latest outcomes, there’s nonetheless lots holding him again. The largest challenge, at the least for now, is that he’s nonetheless finest suited to brief stints. He’s confronted 56 batters for a 3rd time by means of the lineup this 12 months, and to place it mildly, they’re doing fairly effectively. He’s placing out a minuscule 12.5% of them, strolling 8.9%, and permitting a hard-hit charge double his total common.
The pattern measurement isn’t enormous, however the lack of strikeouts particularly is regarding. His chase charge dips meaningfully; it’s somewhat bit simpler to unravel the fastball/cutter/slider drawback once you’ve seen every of them a number of occasions. That is extra anecdotal than something, however his command appears to flag as he goes later into begins, too; the Mateo double that broke up Rasmussen’s good recreation got here on a cutter down the center of the plate, maybe not coincidentally one of many slowest he threw all recreation.
So yeah, Rasmussen in all probability wants somewhat extra within the tank, each when it comes to pitch selection and stamina, earlier than we anoint him a member of the pitching elite. He might use somewhat extra oomph on his fastball, too, both within the type of further velocity or barely extra experience. He’s misplaced a number of the overpowering kind he confirmed in shorter stints; his 7.4% swinging strike charge on fastballs represents an enormous drop from his earlier profession, probably the product of a 1.5 mph decline in common velocity and a one inch decline in induced vertical break.
However regardless of that weak spot, Rasmussen seems like a key a part of Tampa Bay’s pitching employees, each now and for years to return. For those who’re on the lookout for top-of-the-line stuff in medium bursts, Rasmussen can ship simply that. When you’ve got a bullpen that may choose up a number of the slack – lengthy the Rays’ specialty, they usually lead the majors in reduction innings pitched once more this 12 months – Rasmussen matches like a glove. Whether or not that interprets into an ideal recreation or not, the Rays are absolutely happy with the Rasmussen-as-starter experiment.