McCullers looks from the dugout


McCullers Weighs In On Bauer Spin Rate Comments

Some controversy about the Astros starting pitchers' success was stirred up by Cleveland Indians starter Trevor Bauer.

May 02, 2018 - 4:18 pm

Houston (SPORTSRADIO 610) - Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. joined Mad Radio Wednesday morning for his weekly visit with SportsRadio 610. He addressed what Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer had to say on Twitter about the Astros possibly doctoring baseballs to increase spin rates of their pitches, consequently making them more difficult to hit. McCullers suggested a possible reasoning as to why Bauer would make such accusations.

"I think what happened is, when Trevor cut his finger in the World Series incident with the drone he asked for permission to put on a surgical sticky glue to seal the wound so he didn't have to get stitches so he could pitch, and I think his request was denied, and I think ever since then he's been on a little bit of a conquest with his theories," Lance said. 

McCullers also made it known that Astros pitchers are not the only ones increasing their fastball spin rates. Bauer himself is noted as a baseball science and analysis savant. He too has made gains with his four-seam fastball.

"Trevor Bauer's fastball has also increased about 200 RPMs since about 2015," Lance said.

Another interesting aspect to this argument is that Bauer has worked with current Astros pitching coach Brent Strom previously in his career. Strom has been credited with a lot of the success coming from the Astros starting rotation. Players like Charlie Morton and Justin Verlander have gotten significantly better despite being in the later parts of their careers. 

"I know that Brent Strom has been a big believer in spin data and analytical data on that side, as far as taking scientific numbers from a machine, and trying to correlate them to how you get success," Lance said. "Even Bauer said he's been working with Strom since he was 14... Let me correct myself, he had worked with Strom before and I think the earliest time was when he was 14. He doesnt any longer."

While substances like pine tar have been proven to increase spin rates, there is no evidence that Astros pitchers have added anything to baseballs. Doing so is against the rules and also not what the Astros do to help develop their pitches according to McCullers. They have found that there are mechanical changes that can be made to progress the spin on the ball.

"My arm swing in 2015 is drastically different than my arm swing now," Lance said. "Arm swing can effect it. How well you can manipulate your two fingers by staying behind the baseball. If you can really make a mechanical adjustment with your hand in how you release the ball, and you can keep your two fingers on that ball as long as possible and really spin those fingers off the ball, it's going to increase your spin rate."

How this applies to the Astros' pitching approach is where things can get tricky. Hitters have recently become much better at hitting low pitches with a more upper-cut style of swing to produce higher launch angles for batted balls to create more home runs as a result. This makes pitchers want to throw four-seam fastballs in the top part of the strike zone to entice batters with a pitch that is already elevated and theoretically easier to drive out of the ballpark, but with higher spin rates it only appears to be so.

"If you can release the ball out of your hand around the belt area, and it doesn't rise, it just stays on plane out of your hand. It stays on plane, but it has a rising effect because pitchers are taught, 'create angle, create angle, create angle into the zone.' So if you are a guy who can have the optical illusion of your ball out of your hand is going to go down in the zone like everyone has been taught, but it can stay on plane, that's where four-seam spin rate comes into effect. And the better it is, the more on plane it will stay," Lance said.

One of the Astros starters found to have the most success with this strategy has been newcomer Gerrit Cole. In one of the many tweets from Bauer, he found it peculiar that Cole suddenly had a better spin rate and more fastball success after coming from a different team. McCullers explained how this was possible.

"When he came over, there were things told to him and shown to him from our analytical department," Lance said. "Bring that four-seamer up in the zone which gives you the ability to keep your fingers on the ball longer, because you're throwing it higher, you're not trying to get so far down. You're actually, in a sense, you're kind of pushing it from the tips of your fingers in a straight line, and I think that has made the world of difference."

While it seems that the Astros organization has leverage over other teams, that is simply not the case. All teams have access to the same technology, but the difference seems to be in a team's ability to apply the information succesfully. For McCullers, this is what sets the Astros apart.

"I think that we have a way of analyzing the data that is free to everyone but I think the difference is, and I'm not saying every organization doesn't do it, or doesn't have the ability to do it, or doesn't do it at all, but I think the people who are taking that information, the coaches who are looking at it and then us as players who are intrigued by it, and want to learn about it and want to know about it, are given a better opportunity to use those numbers and use those scientific backings to apply to our pitching."

Other intangible factors could be contributing to the Astros pitching dominance that McCullers believes Bauer is not accounting for. One of them being a Cy Young and Most Valuable Player winner in Justin Verlander. Knowledge of the game of baseball does not just come from its statistics and newly found sciences.

"Verlander being here and kind of passing along his knowledge, plus the tools that we have from the front office and our coaching staff, you can better yourself... It's just weird to me," Lance said.

Trevor Bauer released a statement regarding his claims early Wednesday.

To hear everything Lance had to say Wednesday morning, follow the link below:

Lance McCullers Jr. on MaD Radio 5-2-18