Lance’s Pitcher Notes: Aaron Nola’s Location Change, Edward Cabrera Returns

Pitcher notes on the trends we saw from starters yesterday, including Aaron Nola and Edward Cabrera in his return to the Marlins rotation.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 28: Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after giving up a run in the second inning against the Houston Astros in Game One of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This post is part of a content share with Just Baseball. I run a Substack called Lance’s Pitcher Notes, where I spot trends in shape, location, and usage for the prior day’s starting pitchers.

Phillies Aaron Nola is playing around with locations. He’s throwing more sinkers to righties and they’re primarily backdoor as opposed to down/down-in as they were last year. He’s also flip-flopped his four-seam and sinker to lefties. Four-seam is now up-in as opposed to away, while his sinker is now away as opposed to front-hipping lefties. Heatmaps below illustrate this change.

The small note here is that Nola can go to multiple locations with one pitch to one handedness, it just appears that his primary intent with each fastball has changed to lefties. The result so far… isn’t great? Swing-miss is down, contact quality is worse, more fly balls and harder contact. Curious to see if he abandons the tweaks. 🎯

Marlins Edward Cabrera threw a ton of secondaries in his 2024 debut. He threw 29% four-seam and 11% sinker last year. No sinker, four-seam down to 20%. Zone rates on his slider, curveball, and changeup were all up about 5 percentage points. Four-seam location was messy. I’m very in here if he’s able to strike all his secondaries above 60% and he’s backing off fastball usage. 📈

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Giants Kyle Harrison has backed off his slurve. Usage is down from 23% last year to 7% this year. His changeup has become his main secondary, usage up from 6% last year to 19% this year and he’s throwing more fastballs, especially with two strikes where he’s throwing it 72%.

Driveline Stuff+ likes the slurve better, but the pitch has continually underperformed its stuff. He seems to have a new, harder bullet slider compared to last year, he’s just not throwing it much (8 in 3 starts, 1 yesterday). It’s only a 93 Driveline Stuff+, averaging 87 mph with 3” vertical break and 0” horizontal. Head-scratcher as to how he hasn’t been able to manifest a breaking ball with above-average results. It’s the missing piece given the changeup is more below average than plus. 🤔

Cubs Ben Brown threw 72% four-seam fastballs across 80+ pitches, the second-highest four-seam usage in a single start of >80 pitches this season (Triston McKenzie 1st by .2%). Driveline sees the four-seam as a 105 with average command and the curveball (”death ball” shape) as a 125, plus pitch, with below-average command.

Feels difficult to assume the four-seam usage can stay this high, but for now it’s working. I guess that he eventually adds a sinker for right-handed hitters. Four-seam xwOBA to righties on 16 balls in play is above .450 (tiny sample), but we saw a similarly high xwOBA versus righties last season. Would give him something inner-third to righties. 🔥

Rangers Michael Lorenzen leaned on his sinker in his Rangers debut. Righty sinker usage up from 26% last year to 40% in this outing. Four-seam to righties got crushed last year (.488 xSLG), but Driveline Stuff+ did like the four-seam more than the sinker last season—106 vs 97 Stuff+. Four-seam shape yesterday looked off, down 2” vertical break, so the four-seam graded out below the sinker. We’ll see if the four-seam shape bounces back. 🤠