Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Roansy Contreras could use a change of pace with his fastball
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Roansy Contreras was once considered a consensus top 100 prospect not too long ago. Going into 2022, most prospect aggregates ranked him as a top 100 name. While Contreras has certainly flashed his potential in the major leagues, he’s been more inconsistent than you like to see from a young starting pitcher.
Now sure, young players aren’t going to find their footing in the major leagues immediately. However, there are some worrying signs about Contreras so far that could mean he needs some sort of change of pace. Specifically, I am talking about a change in pitch arsenal.
Let’s first get the good news out of the way. Contreras has one of the most effective sliders in baseball. With -9 run value, he’s tied with Jon Gray for the second best slider in baseball. Opponents have managed just a .159 BA, .244 slugging percentage, and .192 wOBA against it. His slider ranks top ten in batting average and slugging percentage allowed, but top three in opponent wOBA (min. 50 PA).
However, his four-seam fastball is getting demolished, and that might be putting it lightly. Batters have managed a BA of .400 with a slugging % of .556 when Contreras throws his four-seamer. It’s the fifth least value four-seam fastball in baseball, per run value at -8 (min. 50 PA). Overall, opponents .450 wOBA and 46% hard hit rate.
Now it's not as if his fastball wasn't considered a good pitcher at one point. Heck, he still has both above average velocity and spin. However, some of its characteristics have changed since his Major League debut in 2021.
First is the loss of active spin. He went from a 93% active spin rate in 2021-2022 to 88 this year. Not only has he lost active spin on the pitch, but overall spin in general. In 2021, he was sitting around 2500 RPM in 2021, but now is below 2400. On top of that, after consistently sitting 95-97 in 2021-2022, he's now averaging out around 94-95 MPH.
Losing a little spin and velocity might not seem like a major difference, though it's very apparent it's led to a change in overall effectiveness. While he's maintained around 14 inches of vertical movement, he's slowly lost significant horizontal movement. In 2021-2022, he averaged out between 7-10 inches of horizontal movement. This year, he's been sitting around 5 inches of horizontal movement.
It's a pretty simple equation: Less movement+less velocity=a more hittable pitch
So what options do the Pirates and Contreras have moving forward regarding his four-seam fastball? First thing they could do is find what made his fastball in his first years so much more effective. Why has his spin and active spin rates both fallen by the wayside? Could a mechanical change fix this? Could a small tweak to his arm angle or four-seam grip and release help both move back upward?
The second option is to outright learn a new pitch. See if Contreras can learn an effective cutter or sinker/two-seamer. It worked extremely well for Mitch Keller. Post-sinker Keller was a night and day difference to pre-sinker Keller. While the sinker wasn't the only reason Keller was so effective, it was one of the major reasons for his turnaround. Of course, Roansy Contreras isn't Mitch Keller. What works for one pitcher might not always work for another. However, the two are similar pitchers, and this is an option you can't rule out.
Either way, the Pirates and Roansy Contreras need to figure out something. This isn't to say Contreras is a bust and won’t ever figure it out, but there’s enough evidence to support a change in his overall game.