HomeTrending MLB NewsKeaton Winn Is a Small Town Kid With a Big Time Splitter

Keaton Winn Is a Small Town Kid With a Big Time Splitter

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Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Keaton Winn is a rare big league pitcher, and not just because he’s the only one who grew up in Ollie, Iowa, with a population of 201 in the 2020 census. The 26-year-old San Francisco Giants right-hander’s primary pitch is a splitter, and by a significant margin. Through seven starts this season, Winn’s usage breakdown is 42.2% splitters, 23.3% four-seamers, 20.4% sinkers, and 14.1% sliders. No starter in baseball has thrown a higher percentage of splits this season.

With one notable exception, his atypical approach has yielded good results. Winn failed to get out of the first inning when he faced the Phillies in his most recent start, on May 4, but even with that turbulent outing — five runs in 2/3 frames — he has a respectable 4.41 ERA and a 3.97 FIP. In each of the three starts that preceded the debacle, he went six innings and allowed just one run. His next start is scheduled for this afternoon against the Rockies in Colorado, at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Winn’s mix was even more splitter heavy a year ago. He made his MLB debut last June and proceeded to throw his signature offering an eye-opening 55.1% of the time in 42 1/3 innings. It’s understandable that he would prioritize the pitch — last month, our prospect writers Eric Longenhagen and Travis Ice called Winn’s splitter “devastating… one of the nastier ones in pro ball” — even if such an approach is unprecedented among starters. San Francisco’s fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Iowa Western Community College is anything but ordinary in the way he attacks hitters.

Winn discussed his splitter when the Giants played the Red Sox at Fenway Park earlier this month.

———

David Laurila: Let’s start with your full repertoire. What was it at the time you signed your first professional contract, and what is it now?

Keaton Winn: “When I signed it was four-seam, curveball, slider, and I maybe threw like five sinkers. No changeup. Now it is four-seamer, sinker, splitter, slider.”

Laurila: You obviously throw a ton of splitters. Given how much you rely on it, would it be fair to say that you’re probably not in the big leagues right now had you never developed a splitter?

Winn: “Yeah. That’s definitely crossed my mind before. I mean, I think I ultimately could have competed to get a role, but having the splitter made it so much easier.”

Laurila: What’s the story behind it?

Winn: “I kind of copied the grip from Kevin Gausman — he was with us for awhile — but I made a little bit of alteration to it. His split is a little slower, and he’s also more of a supinated guy while I’m a pronated guy. I pronate hard with just about everything. That’s why I’d make the grip change and try to make it look like a sinker at first — try to spin it like a sinker — and then have the bottom drop out.”

Laurila: I believe you learned a splitter after you had Tommy John surgery?

Winn: “I actually learned it right before, worked on it over COVID, and then went to an instructs and blew out my elbow there. I didn’t really tap into it and focus on it until my TJ rehab.”

Laurila: Why do you throw so many splitters?

Winn: “It’s the pitch that I have probably the most confidence in, whether I’m throwing it for a strike or for a ball. And it’s my best pitch, so why not throw your best pitch more? That’s my thought process on it. We also haven’t run into anything where it’s, ‘Hey, you need to slow your usage down.’ It’s been more like, ‘It’s working, so let’s try to stay where it’s at.’”

Laurila: Is it basically always the same pitch, or do you vary it in any way?

Winn: “It depends on the location. I always think the same thing, but if I’m throwing it glove side, it’s usually more straight down. If I’m throwing it arm side, it usually runs more. I can’t control it, but that’s usually what happens.”

Laurila: Splitters are most often thrown as a swing-and-miss pitch, but that’s not really the case for you…

Winn: “I use it early, trying to get groundballs. I like groundballs just as much as strikeouts, honestly. For me, it’s kind of ‘Why not get them out earlier?’”

Laurila: Roughly half of your fastballs are sinkers. How does your sinker differ in movement from your splitter?

Winn: “It has more carry and usually has more horizontal run. Profile-wise, I think it’s more like 6 to 8 [inches] vertical and 16 to 18 horizontal. The split is usually -3 to 1, and probably 12 to 14 horizontal. In terms of velocity, I like to have the split around the 88-90 [mph] range, and then the sinker is usually 94-96.

“I also don’t really try to run the sinker down-and-in when I’m facing a righty. I try to get it more in on the hands. That way I have a little more room to work with the split, down.”

Laurila: How does your four-seam profile?

Winn: “It’s probably 15 [vertical], -10 [horizontal], so it’s not overly great. I think that’s enough when I throw it hard, though.”

Laurila: Why is your breaking ball a slider and not a curveball?

Winn: “I used to throw a curveball, but not anymore. They scrapped that a long time ago. It just didn’t really work in my mix. A slider works better, because it’s sharper. I also throw it harder, around 88-90.

“I’m trying to be more of a swing-decision pitcher. I want everything to look the same and then either fall out or stay true. Like, I don’t want to land a curveball at 78 or 80, I’d rather just have them make up their mind to swing or not.”

Laurila: That approach has been working OK for you…

Winn: “So far. Knock on some wood.”

Laurila: You mentioned copying your splitter grip from Kevin Gausman. Is there anyone you’ve modeled your overall pitching approach on?

Winn: “I don’t really know of anyone that throws a split as much. I guess I’d probably say Gausman, if anyone. I used to go back and watch his outings — this last offseason I went back and watched them all — kind of thinking about what he was trying to do.”

Laurila: He’s obviously a reliever, but do you see any similarities between yourself and Jhoan Duran?

Winn: “Ha. He’s pretty unique. I can’t throw 100 with that splinker thing he has.”

Laurila: What’s the highest you’ve been clocked at?

Winn: “I hit 100 a couple of times, but I think 99 is the hardest it’s been in the big leagues. I’d like to think that if I was in the ’pen I could get it up there more often, but that’s not super sustainable as a starter. I’m fine being 95-97, and throwing a lot of splitters.”

Laurila: Splitters aren’t as rare as splinkers, but at the same time, you are pretty unique. Do you like being unique?

Winn: “Definitely. That’s a good thing, right?”

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