Studying a reliever in this series feels a little like smashing a handful of jelly beans. It’s a pure sugar high. Breaking down a starter is a different experience because relievers can come in and let loose in a way most starters can’t. Relievers need not worry about setting up hitters for later innings or conserving energy to go deep into a game. No, relievers can come in with both barrels blazing.
So, what the heck. Let’s embrace this sugar high for all its worth and enjoy some Blake Treinen.
Relievers are notoriously fickle. They come and they go. One day you’re dominant, lighting up the radar gun and punching out fools. The next, you get hurt and the switch has flipped. Baseball can be cruel to the short-inning guys. Who knows how long Treinen will be embarrassing guys, but for now he is. Let’s enjoy it.
Treinen had been a good reliever before 2018; 129 ERA+ spread across 261 innings since 2014. He struck out a healthy amount and limited the home runs, but walked more than would be comfortable. Then 2018 happened.
In 80.1 innings, he produced an absurd 531 ERA+ with 100 strikeouts to 21 walks and 2 (2!) homers. He went from good to Kryptonian and was in gifs all over Baseball Twitter, unleashing that crazy sinker. Filthy? Not a strong enough word. This might be the nastiest pitch we’d studied so far; I realize I am liable to say that every week. But, in my defense, have you see these guys?
Treinen’s sinker averaged 97.3 MPH last season. It ate hitters alive; .221 batting average against, .267 slugging percentage against, slightly north of 30 percent whiff rate. This is a sinker. If you want to study just how much this sucker moves, go here. Needless to say, the combination of movement and velocity make it nearly untouchable. Against a lot of these elite relievers — the Haders and Diazes of the world — sometimes the best you can do is hope they make a mistake. If someone like Dellin Betances is on his game, good luck.
Today’s victims are the Texas Rangers, and I’ll be honest with you … it’s not a fair fight. Treinen rips through these guys like Thor when he landed in Wakanda. Remember that these are Major League hitters, the best in the world. It’s a small group.
But at least in this specific inning, they were just overmatched.
Treinen threw the sinker 50.2% of the time last year, pounding the zone with it over and over. Even if he leaves one over the plate, driving a pitch with this heat and movement is no picnic. It’s an obvious choice.
Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (97 OPS+) is up first and watches a sinker miss high and away. However — look how it moves!
Down 1-0 in the count, Treinen brings the next sinker back into the strike zone and Chirinos fouls it away.
Look, I’m going to say this about a thousand times in today’s breakdown, but … my God look how this thing moves! That baseball is flying so fast and dropping so hard that Chirinos making contact at all legitimately feels miraculous. It’s just absurd.
With the count even, Treinen moves up in the strike zone. If there is a pitch in this exchange to do something with, I guess it would be this one. Treinen would probably prefer this sinker run a few inches lower; that difference could mean something.
But not on this day.
What is it we always say? You don’t want to be 0-2 or 1-2 against these guys. Treinen has an excellent slider; it tunnels neatly within the sinker and is about 7-8 MPH slower with a deeper break. So yeah, it’s a real treat for the batter.
In football terms, the playbook is wide open and the baseball equivalent of throwing a deep route is burying a breaking ball off the plate. Treinen just went deep. Chirinos is helpless.
One down and up steps pinch hitter Ryan Rua (48 OPS+). It seems cruel to make someone struggling at the plate this way face Blake Treinen, but hey, I don’t make the rules. I just survey the damage.
Rua is greeted with a sinker. Note the horizontal movement back toward the zone.
Treinen goes offspeed with the count 0-1, missing just below the zone with a slider. Even with this kind of powerful stuff, the tactics of manipulating the batter’s eye level and changing speeds remain useful.
Credit to Rua for holding up here.
Treinen comes with another slider, this time letting it catch much more of the plate. Rua unleashes a hearty hack but fouls it away. This isn’t a great pitch, even despite the movement. Leaving a breaking ball in that part of the zone is rarely ideal. But, and this is true especially for most of the game’s great relievers, the threat of the fastball is omnipresent. It helps.
Rua is down 1-2. Treinen showed him a sinker then two sliders. It’s time to go back to the moneymaker.
This pitch is unreal. Just absolutely unreal.
Carlos Tocci (46 OPS+) is the last gasp for the Rangers. If you were the last hope against Treinen, you’d really want to open the count with a ball, right? Tilt the count your direction.
Yes. Treinen misses badly away.
Alright, you’ve got that going for you. Maybe Treinen misses again? If he does, you’re probably getting a pitch in the zone! Hey, you can hit that! (Maybe.) Sure, it’ll drop a foot in a matter of milliseconds but still. (Yeah …)
Good idea not swinging at this. What are you going to do other than foul it away or gently ground out? Take it and maybe you get a favorable call. Who knows. There’s just not much good that can come from flailing at this sinker. It’s absolutely filthy.
Alright, Carlos. You can do this. Just don’t chase anything out of the zone and you’ll be fine —
Ugh. How can I fault you, though? I’m sure it looked tempting out of the hand, but alas, there’s a reason Treinen allowed less than ten earned runs all year.
Now Carlos is in real trouble. The count is 1-2.
If it worked once, why not throw it twice?
Treinen made his 2019 debut this week when the Athletics faced off with the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan. The stuff clearly hasn’t vanished:
Treinen and the other elite relievers in today’s game boggle the mind. I’d love to ask a big league hitter what the tactics are against, say, Josh Hader or Treinen. What do you do? I’m sure there’s something, but to my untrained eye, it seems simple.
Just hope for a mistake.
This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.
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