Did Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Quinn Priester make adjustments to his sinker and curveball? Could these changes improve his long-term outlook?
The Pittsburgh Pirates promoted Quinn Priester earlier this year, and his first few games in the big leagues were pretty disappointing. In 28.1 innings and six starts, Priester allowed 29 earned runs, and walked 18 while striking out just 23. While Priester had a 45.9% ground ball rate, he also allowed seven home runs.
Priester was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, and his numbers have been much better since getting to Indy. He only pitched in four games logging just 20.1 innings, but allowed just 6 earned runs, struck out 32 batters, and went over 20 innings without allowing a home run. The downside is he’s also walked a dozen. But there are some notable changes in his pitch statistics that need to be pointed out.
The first thing is that he’s thrown his sinker harder over his last two games. In the Majors, he was averaging just 92.7 MPH with his sinkerball. In two of his last four outings, he’s averaging around 94 MPH and topping out around 97 MPH. In both instances, he came out of the bullpen, but pitched five innings in the one outing, and 5.2 innings in the second outing, so it’s not as if he’s only being used for one inning and just going all out for a short stint. Priester hit 94+ 14 times in his most recent outing. In comparrison, he hit 94+ just 11 times in his six big league outings.
The second change is in his curveball. In Priester’s two extended bullpen outings, is curve was hitting over 2700 RPM of spin on average. In his outing on August 25th, he nearly topped out at 3000 RPM (2954 to be exact). He threw his curveball harder in this outing on the 25th, 1.2 MPH faster, but on September 7th, he still added about 140 RPM to his curveball spin rate despite only gaining .3 MPH of velocity.
The interesting thing is that in the outings where he was used out of the starting rotation, there was little change in both his sinker velocity and curveball spin rate. On August 19th, he averaged 93.3 MPH, and then on August 31st, he averaged 92.6 MPH. The former saw the larger velocity spike of the two games, though by less than one MPH. According to Baseball Savant, it was just a 0.6 MPH increase.
Even though Priester has worked out of the bullpen two of his four outings, he has still been on a normal starting pitcher’s workload and schedule. He is still receiving 5-7 days of rest in between outings. When he is coming out of the pen, his workload is similar to that of a normal starting pitcher as well. Ironically, his shortest outing of the four since his demotion was one of the games he started.
This could very well be the Pirates experimenting with Priester, seeing what range of velocity and spin he works best in, and hopefully helping him develop into a better pitcher. For what it’s worth, Priester’s two games where he has come out of the bullpen have amounted to 10.2 innings, two earned runs, and 19 strikeouts with five walks to 42 total batters faced. In his other two games, where is velocity was lower, he allowed four earned runs in 9.2 innings, walked seven, and struck out 14 of the 42 opponents he faced.
So what does any of this mean in the long term? Well, throwing harder with more spin should help both Priester’s sinker and curveball be more effective. Priester averages out with around 25 inches of vertical break and 12 inches of horizontal movement with his sinker. Plus sitting 93-95 rather than 91-93 is much more impressive as a starting pitcher. Hopefully, Priester can make another start or two later this year, and show off improved velocity on his sinker, and be more effective.
With Priester set to return to the majors against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, it may not take long to find out if any of these changes will make a differnece or not.