(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Making the leap from thrower to pitcher may be the single most important step in the development of a young hurler.
The difference—between thrower and pitcher—may seem trivial, but the 2015 season for Arizona State baseball (and Ryan Burr, in particular) will be the perfect opportunity to showcase its importance.
Left-hander Ryan Kellogg is a pitcher.
His stuff may not be devastatingly nasty, but he finds success because he has pinpoint control and understands pitching sequences.
On the other hand, by the end of the 2014 season, it was safe to call closer Ryan Burr a thrower, with obvious pitcher potential.
Tim Esmay’s experiment of moving Burr to the rotation at the start of last season failed for two reasons: Burr had far too great of a reliance on his fastball, and his command of all of his pitches was volatile.
Burr’s transition back to the closer role was greatly beneficial, as he rebounded from a 6.57 ERA as a starter and posted a 1.99 ERA in relief.
In a sense, however, moving back to the bullpen was simply a better way to mask the fact that he was still a thrower and not a pitcher. Seven hit batters, 38 walks and an inability to throw secondary pitches for strikes in 31.2 relief innings last season can attest to this.
Ultimately, being a pitcher, rather than a thrower, is important even in the bullpen because it will shore up high walk and hit-batter totals like Burr posted last year.
But with the addition of a changeup, to complement his slider as a go-to secondary pitch, and improved command of all three of his pitches, 2015 figures to be a different story.
“Of the guys that are pretty consistent in every outing so far, he’s been one of them,” head coach Tracy Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s got a dominant fastball, everyone knows that, but his secondary stuff is coming along pretty nicely.”
The addition of a changeup is especially critical due to the fact that changeups serve as platoon-busters. In other words, because of the movement of a changeup thrown by a right-handed pitcher (down-and-in to right-handed hitters and down-and-away to left-handed-hitters), left-handed hitters fare worse against changeups than right-handed hitters do. The break of a changeup is essentially a less extreme version of a screwball, and because of this, the pitch has reverse platoon splits.
I was not able to access Ryan Burr’s 2014 splits against left-handed and right-handed hitters, but common sense tells me that lefties had somewhat more of a chance of getting a hit.
The whole point of Ryan Burr adding a changeup for this season is to create a situation in which it is not advisable to devise a lineup of three consecutive left-handed hitters in the ninth inning.
“Changeups are kind of hit or miss pitches with pitchers,” Burr said. “They’re a fine pitch and you really have to learn the right way to throw them where you’re going to be comfortable. For me, it was just learning to be comfortable with it during intrasquad games and scrimmages. The big thing for me was just throwing it. The more that I threw it, the more I felt comfortable with it. Right now, I’d say it’s one of my better pitches.”
As for his command, Burr expressed similar confidence going into the new season.
“For me to help the team, I need to throw strikes,” Burr said. “The main focus on everything that I’ve done personally with our new pitching coach has been centered on throwing strikes. That doesn’t only come with the fastball, it comes with all my other pitches. So I think that’s something that a lot of fans are going to see and it’s something I’m going to pride myself on this year.”
Ryan Burr adding a changeup and improving his command, essentially transforming from a thrower into a pitcher, is a scary thought.
After all, he has accumulated 12 saves in each of his two collegiate seasons and is only one save shy of tying the ASU record—a record that was set by Doug Nurnberg and happens to be the longest standing record in program history. He and Dustin Pedroia are also the only Sun Devils to ever be selected to play for Team USA in consecutive seasons. Not coincidentally, Burr is also the only Sun Devil in the past seven seasons to hold opponents under a .150 batting average in two straight years.
The point is, he’s a proven lockdown closer with filthy stuff. He reached into untapped potential in the offseason and fall workouts and just got a lot better.