HomeTrending MLB NewsSunday Notes: Kyle Harrison’s Repertoire is Coming Along Well

Sunday Notes: Kyle Harrison’s Repertoire is Coming Along Well

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Kyle Harrison was pitching for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels when he was first featured here at FanGraphs in August 2022. Then a fast-rising prospect in the San Francisco Giants system, the now-22-year-old southpaw had broken down the early evolution of his arsenal for me prior to a game at Portland, Maine’s Hadlock Field. Fast forward to this past week, and we were reacquainting at a far-more-fabled venue. Harrison was preparing to take the mound at Fenway Park for his 14th big-league start, his seventh this season.

As I’m wont to do in such scenarios, I asked the dark-horse rookie-of-the-year candidate what’s changed since our 20-months-ago conversation. Not surprisingly, he’s continued to evolve.

“I’ve added a cutter, although I haven’t thrown it as much as I’d like to,” Harrison told me. “Other than that, it’s the same pitches. The slider has been feeling great, and the changeup is something that’s really come along for me; it’s a pitch I’ve been relying on a lot. I really hadn’t thrown it that much in the minors — it felt like I didn’t really have the control for it — but then all of a sudden it clicked. Now I’ve got three weapons, plus the cutter.”

Including his Thursday effort in Boston, Harrison has thrown his new cutter — Baseball Savant categorizes it as a slider — just six times all season. Which brings us to his other breaking ball. When we’d talked in Portland, the lefty called the pitch a sweepy slider. Savant categorizes it as a slurve.

What is it?

“It’s got a two-plane break, so I think slurve is probably the best way to describe it,” Harrison replied to my question. “That’s why I added the cutter, to get more strikes. In Triple-A, I wasn’t able to land that big slurve as much on the ABS [automated ball-strike system] strike zone.”

The movement profile of his breaker differs from his Double-A days, an evolution that was more organic than by design. The bottom line is that two-plane is now the norm.

“I’m getting anywhere from negative-five to probably negative-eight vert on it,” explained Harrison. “It’s kind of getting that depth point, like a curveball, but it’s also keeping the horizontal, anywhere from eight to 16. I haven’t lost any horizontal overall, although I have lost some in a couple of starts. We’ve been talking about it, arm angle and all that. Having ways to fix it in between starts is huge for me. I need to get it more dialed in, get that consistent 13-to-16 sweep.”

His changeup also differs from the one he was throwing in the Eastern League. Harrison still holds the ball with a modified Vulcan grip, but he’s now spreading his fingers wider in order to take off more velocity. Instead of 88-90 mph, the pitch is now coming in 86-87.

“Having a little more split with the fingers allows me to kill a little more speed,” explained Harrison. “In the minors, I was throwing it too hard and not seeing the speed differential. I also wasn’t seeing enough movement differential. Now I have more of a split-finger feel, in a sense, and am able to kill more spin.”

As chance would have it, only 14% of the 95 pitches he threw in Boston were changeups, while 20% were slurves — essentially a flip-flop of his seasonal averages (28.9% changeups and 12.6% slurves). When I asked him about that following the game, he said that he didn’t feel his changeup was as good as usual, in part because the Fenway Park mound felt “a little flatter, per se.” Conversely, he felt that his slurve and fastball were playing well.

Harrison’s heater — the one pitch in his repertoire that has remained unchanged — was indeed good in his five-inning, one-run-allowed effort. Only five of his fastballs were put into play, while 10 elicited a whiff, 11 went for a called strike, and 13 were fouled off. Movement and deception are keys to the 93-mph offering’s effectiveness, as is consistency of arm action.

“I wouldn’t say ride,” Harrison said of his fastball’s movement profile. “I don’t think that’s the right term, because that calls for induced vert, and if my induced vert gets too high, that means my arm slot is creeping up too high and I lose my vertical approach angle. It’s crazy how much I’m learning about all this. In a couple of starts, my heater wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, because my arm slot was a little lower and I was up-shooting the ball a little. It’s a fine line. You’ve got to stay consistent to get results up here.”

Harrison has a 3.79 ERA, a 3.87 FIP, and a 23.9% strikeout rate in 38 innings this season. Three months shy of his 23rd birthday, he’s one of the youngest pitchers in MLB. The results, and his continuing evolution, are coming along quite well.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Pedro Guerrero went 11 for 15 against Dennis Rasmussen.

Vladimir Guerrero went 11 for 19 against Chris Young.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is 8 for 10 against Shawn Armstrong.

Wilton Guerrero went 8 for 11 against Mark Clark.

Mario Guerrero went 9 for 13 against Rick Honeycutt.

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I had a fun exchange with Craig Counsell prior to last Sunday’s game at Fenway Park. The Chicago Cubs manager told reporters that Hayden Wesneski, upon being informed that he was getting the start — Jordan Wicks was scratched due to a forearm strain — responded by saying “My job is to get the first guy out.” Counsell liked Wesneski’s mindset, in part because the young right-hander had faced seven batters in a relief outing three days prior. How long he could be expected to go was an open question.

What prompted my exchange with Counsell was his stating that “Starting provides a different challenge. With relieving, we pick the hitters you face. With starting, they pick the hitters you face.”

I suggested that a caveat was in order. If the starter is an opener, a manager does get to pick the hitters.

“That’s accurate,” said Counsell. “Thanks for that clarification.

“Not really, though,” he then added. “When I name the pitcher, [the opposing manager] gets to react with who he wants the hitters to be. So, that’s actually false, David. Unless I would not tell them who is pitching until I took the lineup card up.”

Point well taken, I proceeded to ask what the normal procedure is.

“That you tell the other team who is pitching,” Counsell replied.

Which brings us to the how and when. This past Wednesday, I asked Bob Melvin about his alerting the Red Sox that Erik Miller would be serving as an opener that evening. The San Francisco manager told me that he’d texted Alex Cora in the morning. Could he have waited until closer to game time? Apparently there is no rule stipulating when the information has to be shared with your opponent.

There is a related rule in place, thanks to Earl Weaver. In 1980, the legendary Baltimore manager began filling out his lineup card with a pitcher he wasn’t planning to use in the DH spot, most often in the six-hole (Steve Stone, who won the Cy Young award that year, had 12 such appearances). Weaver would then pinch-hit for his pitcher/DH at the first opportunity, matching up accordingly. MLB proceeded to ban the phantom DH.

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A quiz:

Two pitchers in San Diego Padres franchise history have won 20 or more games in a single season. One of them is Randy Jones, who did so twice. Who is the Padres’ other 20-game-winner? (A hint: he was a five-time All-Star who played only two seasons in San Diego.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Baltimore Orioles announced on Friday that Terry Crowley and Nick Markakis have been inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. Crowley played parts of 12 seasons with the Orioles, primarily as a DH and a PH, and later spent 16 seasons as the hitting coach. Markakis played nine seasons with the Orioles and ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in hits, doubles, and total bases.

Benjamin Cowles was named Eastern League Player of the Month for April after slashing .351/.433/.623 with the Double-A Somerset Patriots. The 24-year-old infield prospect out of the University of Maryland was referred to as “a sleeper in the New York Yankees system” in my February 18, 2024 Sunday Notes column.

Tara Krieger, Todd Lebowitz, Allison Levin, and Roberta J. Newman were elected to serve as SABR’s Board of Directors. More information can be found here.

Joe Shipley, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 21 games for the San Francisco Giants from 1958-1960, and in three games for the Chicago White Sox in 1963, died earlier this week at age 88. The Morristown, Tennessee native retired Hall of Famers Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews in his first big-league inning.

A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game will take place at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York on May 25. A number of Hall of Famers will participate, including Ken Griffey Jr., Fergie Jenkins, Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith, and Dave Winfield. More information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Gaylord Perry, who went 21-6 with the Padres in his 1978 Cy Young season. If you guessed Kevin Brown, he was a six-time All-Star who went 18-7 in 1998, his only season with the Padres.

———

A small plaque on the riverwalk inside PNC Park commemorates the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, who won that year’s Negro National League’s championship series with a dramatic Game 7 come-from-behind win over the New York Cubans. The plaque states the Crawfords are often compared to the 1927 Yankees, and might have been baseball’s best team ever. That statement isn’t a stretch.

Making the quality of the ’35 Crawfords even more amazing is that an in-his-prime Satchel Paige had departed the team in spring training, opting to instead spend the season playing semipro ball in Bismarck, North Dakota (!). Had Paige remained — and he did return the following year — the Crawfords would have had five future Hall of Famers. Oscar Charleston was a player/manger, Judy Johnson was the third baseman, Cool Papa Bell was in the outfield, and Josh Gibson was behind the plate. A left-hander not in the Hall of Fame, Leroy Matlock, was one of the game’s top pitchers throughout the 1930s.

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FARM NOTES

Chase Meidroth has drawn 26 walks and fanned just 12 times in 115 plate appearances for the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox. The 22-year-old infielder — Boston’s fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft — is slashing .259/.443/.306 with a 119 wRC+.

Tink Hence has 31 strikeouts and has allowed 13 hits and six earned runs in 25-and-two-thirds innings for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. The 21-year-old right-hander was St. Louis’s second-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Jacob Wilson is slashing .429/.443/.679 with three home runs in 88 plate appearances for the Double-A Midland RockHounds. The 22-year-old shortstop was drafted sixth-overall last year by the Oakland Athletics out of Grand Canyon University.

Blake Mitchell is slashing .244/.417/.449 with three home runs in 103 plate appearances for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies. The 19-year-old, left-handed-hitting catcher was drafted eighth-overall last year by the Kansas City Royals out of Sinton (TX) High School.

Chase Dollander has 33 strikeouts, and has allowed nine hits and five runs in 19-and-a-third innings, with the High-A Spokane Indians. The 22-year-old right-hander was drafted ninth-overall last year by the Colorado Rockies out of the University of Tennessee.

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Bob Melvin has three decades of big-league experience between his playing and managerial careers, so it’s rare that he finds himself starstruck. One of those moments took place on Thursday at Fenway Park. Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski walked into the visiting manager’s office accompanied by his 82-year-old grandfather.

“There aren’t too many things better than that, especially if you’re a fan of baseball and the history,” Melvin said of being introduced to Carl Yastrzemski, who played all 23 of his Hall of Fame seasons with the Red Sox. “You look up there [on the right-field facade] and see his [retired] number. I really didn’t have much to say, because I was kind of in awe. I appreciate Mike bringing him in… There are certain guys who get your attention more than others, and him here at Fenway Park is about as good as it gets.”

How many former players would elicit that type of reaction from the 62-year-old skipper?

“Not too many,” Melvin replied to my question. “I mean, I’ve played with guys like George Brett — you go to Kansas City, and so forth and so on — so I know [them]. But here at Fenway Park, it doesn’t get any better than that… There are some cool days in baseball, and I’ve had a lot of them. This was one of them.”

Carl Yastrzemski’s ledger includes 3,419 hits, 452 home runs, seven Gold Gloves, three batting titles, and 18 All-Star games. His 3,308 games played are second-most in MLB history.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have NPB’s best record at 19-9. The Seibu Lions have NPB’s worst record at 11-19.

Shoki Murakami is 2-1 with a 1.06 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 34 innings fir NPB’s Hanshin Tigers. The 25-year-old right-hander captured last year’s Central League MVP award after going 10-6 with a 1.75 ERA.

José Osuna is slashing .285/.333/.488 with six home runs in 132 plate appearances for the Yakult Swallows. The 31-year-old first baseman played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2017-2020 before joining the Tokyo-based club in 2021.

Do Yeong Kim is slashing .329/.371/.616 with 11 home runs in 160 plate appearances for the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 20-year-old third baseman batted .303 with seven home runs a year ago.

Ji Min Choi has appeared in 17 games and allowed just nine hits and one earned run in 16 innings for the Tigers. The 20-year-old southpaw has 11 strikeouts and a pair of saves.

———

A random obscure former player snapshot:

Les Cain had two solid seasons with the Detroit Tigers, then had his career end in controversial fashion at age 24. A left-handed pitcher who had double-digit win totals in 1970 and 1971, Cain made five appearances in 1972 before being shut down with a shoulder injury. From that point forward, his professional career comprised just 11 innings, all of them in the minors. Cain later won a workman’s compensation suit against the Tigers, successfully arguing that Detroit manager Billy Martin had effectively forced him to pitch while he was injured.

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EARLY-MAY STAT NOTABLES

The Minnesota Twins won their 12th consecutive game yesterday, equalling the second-longest winning streak in team history. The longest is 15 games, by the 1991 Twins, who went on to win the World Series.

The Colorado Rockies have trailed in all 33 of their games this season. They’ve gone on to lose 25 of them.

The Kansas City Royals are 20-14. Last season they were 8-26 through 34 games.

The Oakland Athletics are 17-17. Last season they were 8-26 through 34 games.

The Cleveland Guardians played four consecutive extra-inning games this past week, winning two and losing two. The last time Cleveland played four consecutive extra-inning games was from May 1-5, 1910. The then-named Naps won three and had a 14-inning tie. Cy Young went the distance in the 14-inning affair.

Steven Kwan’s last strikeout (his 11th on the season) came on April 15th. He has recorded 22 hits since he last K’d.

Mike Trout came into this year with a career .346 BAPIP, the highest among qualified hitters since his 2011 debut season. His BABIP this season is .194.

Juan Soto has a .324 BABIP and a .318 BA. Tim Anderson has a .329 BABIP and a .219 BA.

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Larry Lester was a pioneer in chronicling the history of the Negro Leagues. MLB’s official historian, John Thorn, wrote about Lester at his Our Game blog.

Rintani Sasaki was the top-rated high school player in Japan, but he bypassed the NPB draft and is now enrolled at Stanford University where his prodigious bat has him bound for MLB. Andrew Baggerly spent time with the 19-year-old phenom and has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).

Livan Moinelo is enjoying success as a starter after spending several seasons as one of NPB’s top relievers. Jim Allen talked to the 28-year-old, Cuban-born, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks southpaw for The Kyodo News.

Pitcher List’s John Foley wrote about how Brady Singer is starting to elevate.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik gave us a statistical breakdown on the importance of first-pitch strikes.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Luis Arraez, who turned 27 last month, came into this season with a .328/.379/.427 slash line and a 124 wRC+. Tony Gwynn slashed .326..377/.427 with a 128 wRC+ through his age-26 season.

Smoky Burgess, a catcher known for his pinch-hitting prowess, played for five teams in a career that spanned the 1949-1967 seasons. He batted .294/.362/.446 in home games, and .296/.362/.446 in road games.

Matt Williams had 7,595 PAs, 378 HRs, a .268 BA, a .489 SLG, and 182 GDPs.
Rocky Colavito had 7,559 PAs, 374 HRs, a .266 BA, a .489 SLG, and 182 GDPs.

Red Ruffing went 10-25 with a 104 ERA+ for the Boston Red Sox in 1928. He went 19-11 with a 104 ERA+ for the New York Yankees in 1934.

The first-ever game between the Red Sox and Yankees franchises took place on May 7, 1903 at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. The Boston Americans beat the New York Highlanders 6-2 in front of 5,462 fans.

On today’s date in 1950, Hank Sauer hit a game-tying, two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, then Randy Jackson hit a walk-off solo shot in the 10th, as the Chicago Cubs beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 7-6. Johnny Vander Meer got the win, his first of three wearing a Cubs uniform.

Players born on today’s date include Bruno Haas, who made his MLB debut on June 23, 1915 and walked 16 batters while throwing a complete game for the Philadelphia Athletics in a 15-7 loss to the New York Yankees. Haas took the mound five more times that season — his only one in the big leagues — then spent the next two decades as an outfielder in the minor leagues, playing primarily with the St. Paul Saints.

Also born on today’s date was Tom Gregorio, a catcher whose big-league career comprised 12 games for the Anaheim Angels in 2003. Gregorio stroked singles in each of his first two at-bats, only to finish his brief MLB stint a modest 3-for-19. He went 0-for-9 against the Texas Rangers.

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