How is Statcast 10 years old already? Plus, a draft name to watch and the Braves' latest pitching prodigy


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Statcast hits double digits. It somehow feels too long and too short at the same time. Plus: Ken on a Braves pitching phenom, an Australian tries to make history and the Yankees rotation is in shambles. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!


Milestones: Statcast turns 10 years old

I don’t know how it’s possible for something to simultaneously feel just a couple years old and like it has been around for most of my adult life, but such is the case for the high-tech player movement tracking system Statcast, which turns 10 years old this week. 

My whole life, my brain’s dumb hobby has been “asking questions for which answers technically do exist, but not really.”

How many breaths have I taken in my life? How many people have I ever met? What is the spin rate on that slider? 

In recent years, my cache of impossible questions has more or less lost its modern baseball division. Want to know how fast Elly De La Cruz is running? No problem, it’s 30.1 feet per second. How hard does Aaron Judge swing the bat? Easy: 76.8 mph, on average. Could you give up a hit and still “strike out the side”? OK, so a few questions aren’t quite settled.

How did we — at lightning speed — go from the 2014 Home Run Derby debut of this technology to ubiquitous statistical omnipotence?

Stephen J. Nesbitt, Rustin Dodd and Eno Sarris can answer that question too. Today, they give us the full history of how Statcast came to be. From a data science professor who didn’t know anything about baseball to extremely high-speed cameras and billions of data points, they have it all.

It’s a truly fascinating dive into a concept that went from “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” to a technological revolution that resulted in — among other things — the league banning the shift once teams were able to quantify how truly beneficial it was in preventing hits.

The roll-out has been gradual, which means there’s more to come. Are you ready for “limb tracking”? I am not ready for limb tracking.

But if they ever figure out precisely how many sunflower seeds have been eaten by big-league players over the years, I’m all ears.


Ken’s Notebook: Schwellenbach’s astounding rise

Want to see something stunning? Check out Braves rookie Spencer Schwellenbach’s pitch breakdown Saturday night, when he allowed only one run in six innings against the Phillies. His mix was all the more impressive, considering it was only his seventh major-league start:

  • Four-seam fastball: 17
  • Splitter: 16
  • Slider: 14
  • Curveball: 14
  • Sinker: 13
  • Cutter: 7

Schwellenbach, 24, has shown remarkable aptitude since joining the Braves on May 29, adding a sinker, tweaking grips on all three of his fastballs and moving from the third-base side to the middle of the rubber. He has had no choice but to learn on the job after throwing only 110 innings in the minors and 31 2/3 at Nebraska.

Entering 2020, Schwellenbach thought his days as a pitcher were over. He was playing shortstop at Nebraska. He hadn’t pitched since high school. And he had undergone elbow surgery the year before. But his arm got healthy during COVID-19, prompting him to call Nebraska coach Will Bolt with the idea of returning to the mound.

“I remember it being a conversation of mutual excitement,” Bolt said. “He was cautiously optimistic that he could do it. I didn’t want to push too much because of his injury past, but knew he was getting healthy. He was determined to be a shortstop and he was a really good one. We certainly wanted to see him on the mound as well.”

Bolt and his coaching staff came up with a plan for Schwellenbach to both pitch and continue at shortstop. Schwellenbach became the team’s closer, and his 0.57 ERA in 31 2/3 innings was enough to persuade the Braves to select him in the second round of the 2021 draft, even though he needed Tommy John surgery.

“There were days in the fall of 2020 where he did some things that were pretty incredible,” Schwellenbach said. “I still think he saw pitching as a hobby. We were pretty giddy with excitement over his stuff and command. It was effortless. He looked like a big leaguer right away, honestly.

“Some clubs still loved him as a shortstop and hitter. He was a truly plus defender with a 70 arm (on the 20 to 80 scouting scale). What he’s done is incredible with so little experience as a pitcher for us and in minor leagues. His mindset is a separator.”

Schwellenbach, who is next scheduled to pitch Friday in San Diego, has solidified the fifth starter’s job for the Braves. The team will spend the rest of the month monitoring his progress, the rehabilitation assignments of AJ Smith-Shawver and Ian Anderson and the performances of Bryce Elder and others at Triple A.


MLB Draft Intrique: Meet Travis Bazzana

When the MLB Draft begins in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, something unprecedented is going to happen: A kid from Australia is going to be selected somewhere in the top handful of picks — maybe even as high as the first pick.

That’s a remarkable enough story on its own. But Brian Hamilton dug a lot deeper for this profile on second baseman Travis Bazzana, giving us some insight into how a kid who grew up playing cricket and baseball (in a country where the latter is a fringe sport) has worked his way into such prominence.

  • Bazzana, when he finally makes the big leagues, will not be the sport’s first player from his country. Thirty-five Australian-born players grace the pages of Baseball Reference, and three — Grant Balfour, Liam Hendriks and Dave Nillson — became All-Stars.
  • But a top-of-the-draft potential superstar? Not yet. The all-time leader in bWAR among Australians is Nillson, who was worth 10.6 wins above replacement over eight years as a catcher/outfielder/first baseman with the Brewers in the 1990s.

While Bazzana’s birthplace is a novelty, the real story is one of obsession. From nutrition and sleep to a relentless pursuit of improvements in every corner of his development, the kid has put in the work. And then some more work. And then a little extra work, just in case.

Hamilton does a great job chronicling Bazzana’s journey from Sydney — where he played for the Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League (the country’s top level of pro baseball) at just 15 years old — through his time at Oregon State, to the brink of hearing his name called on the first day of the draft.

More draft: Santa Clara infielder Robert Hipwell learned a tough lesson through his suspension, but is now focused on the draft.


Funks: Yankees pitchers are a total mess

From Opening Day through June 12, the New York Yankees rotation was sailing. Yankees starting pitchers had a collective ERA of 2.79, second only to the Philadelphia Phillies (2.69), all while New York ace Gerrit Cole was on the injured list.

It was about to get so good, right?

No, it turns out. Not at all. From June 13 to present, Yankees starters have an ERA of 6.44 — worst in baseball, well ahead of the second-worst Blue Jays (5.27).

Perhaps chief among the offenders has been Carlos Rodón, who had another rough first inning last night in Tampa, allowing four first-frame runs en route to a 5-3 loss. The Yankees have now lost 17 of their last 23 games.

But Rodón is not alone.

Yankees Wilting

Player Pre June 13 Post June 13

N/A

6.75

3.68

2.67

2.04

7.59

2.93

10.89

2.82

6.43

2.52

N/A

Only Nestor Cortes has been better — or even good, really — since the team’s slump began. To make matters worse: The Yankees are just 1-4 in Cortes’ starts over this stretch.

I still think the Yankees are better than this, but it’s certainly not the result anyone expected upon Cole’s return to the rotation. They trail the Orioles by three games in the AL East, and things have gotten bad enough that Brian Cashman is doing media availabilities on the road trip.


Handshakes and High Fives

We have a trade! Reliever Phil Maton has been dealt from the Rays to the Mets.

All-Star additions: José Ramirez will participate in the Home Run Derby, joining Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Alec Bohm, Marcell Ozuna and Pete Alonso. Two more spots are yet to be announced.

Wander Franco has been officially charged with sexual abuse of a minor in the Dominican Republic, the latest development in a case that began last summer.

The Dodgers/Phillies series was supposed to be a postseason preview, particularly with the returns of Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. By the end, it felt more like spring training, as Zack Wheeler and the Phillies smoked Bobby Miller and the Dodgers last night, 10-1.

Once a top prospect with the Angels, pitcher José Suarez was DFA’d and went unclaimed earlier this year. Sam Blum caught up with him to talk about his journey.

Lance McCullers has had a setback, and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Astros have a starting pitching depth problem.

There has been a baseball card heist: Approximately $2 million in cards were allegedly stolen at a convention in Dallas this week.


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(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski / USA Today)



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