HomeTeamsGuardiansMeet Hunter Gaddis, the Guardians’ unsung hero in relief

Meet Hunter Gaddis, the Guardians’ unsung hero in relief

The Cleveland Guardians boast MLB’s best record at 13-6, tied with the New York Yankees, after Thursday’s games. They have had to overcome a slow start by José Ramírez (.658 OPS), a season-ending injury to ace Shane Bieber, and two additional starters currently hurt: Triston McKenzie and Gavin Williams.

It’s the first season of the post-Terry Francona era; and Stephen Vogt, a first-year manager, is doing an admirable job leading a young but talented club. The front office, and the player development staff to be more specific, also deserve a lot of credit for getting the very best out of the 26th-ranked payroll in MLB.

The Guardians have helped salvage Carlos Carrasco’s career (3.44 ERA after Thursday’s start), turned Tyler Freeman into a viable center fielder, developed Josh Naylor and Andrés Giménez into stars, and had the creativity to turn a former starter, Hunter Gaddis, into a top-notch relief pitcher.

Gaddis was a mediocre starter (4.50 ERA, 5.26 FIP) in 2023 whom the Guardians moved to the bullpen due to their impressive starting pitching depth. As it turns out, he has found his home there.

Sometimes, a move to the bullpen is all a pitcher needs to blossom: they can focus on one or two pitches instead of at least three, they can throw harder in shorter spurts, and the focus on command is not as pressing as it is when starting. A different skillset is required, for sure: control, swing-and-miss stuff, and nerves of steel.

Gaddis, with the help of his organization, has really embraced his new role and has been incredibly good in it. Not only he has been the best reliever on the team so far – which is high praise considering there is a guy named Emmanuel in Cleveland – but he has been one of the top setup men in the American League.

After another scoreless appearance on Thursday, he has an immaculate 0.00 ERA in 9.2 innings, with just four hits allowed, a couple of walks, and 13 strikeouts. His WHIP is a beautiful 0.62, and his FIP is an excellent 1.44.

His early-season success can be partially explained by a spike in fastball velocity and an overall improvement of his heater. Last year, in a swingman role, Gaddis’ four-seamer averaged 93.4 mph, but the pitch is up to 96.5 mph in 2024. That’s an increase of 3.1 mph, which is impressive to say the least.

But Gaddis’ fastball is more than just raw speed. The induced vertical break (IVB) of the pitch has gone from 16.3 inches in 2023 to 16.9 inches this year (before Thursday’s game), which might not seem like much but is very significant.

As defined by Prep Baseball Report, IVB means the pitch “is “breaking” upward from the average level a pitch falls from release to home plate.” The higher the IVB, the more “rise” effect the pitch has and, of course, the harder it is to hit.

Evidently, some mechanical work has been done on Gaddis’ much-improved heater, and the results have been marvelous. The pitch went from having a 15.5 percent whiff rate in 2023 to a 30 percent mark this season: it doubled!

His slider also increased a couple of miles per hour and its whiff rate went from 16.4 percent last year to 42.3 percent in 2024. It’s now a true bat-missing weapon.

Gaddis also throws a solid changeup, but as part of his move to the bullpen, he ditched his cutter and curveball. Now, he is keeping things simpler, and sometimes (most of the time, to be fair), simple is better.

With improved stuff and a full season of MLB experience under his belt, Gaddis has all the tools to succeed and is putting them to good use. He is looking fantastic, and has been Cleveland’s best-kept secret to this date.


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