Strong pitching is the crutch that the Cleveland Guardians will need to rely on the most as the 2022 season really gets rolling. Some of the pitchers on staff feature dynamic offerings that can help shape the course of a game when dialed in.
Thus far in 2022, the Cleveland Guardians have been a boom-or-bust team at the plate. They have either scored in droves and demolished opposing pitching, or struggled to scrounge together single runs over the course of seemingly endless stretches of futility. As was expected by basically everyone coming into the season, the true strength of the team has been and will continue to be how well their pitching staff can limit the opposition on the scoreboard.
Some of Cleveland’s pitchers have world-class weapons that provide them an instant edge over batters. Shane Bieber’s curveball and Emmanuel Clase’s cutter are elite offerings that can be used to confound hitters, in addition to many other pitches that members of Cleveland’s staff lean on.
Let’s take a look at three pitches that might not get a ton of attention outside of Cleveland, but are plus offerings for the Guardians.
Eli Morgan’s Changeup
Eli Morgan is not known for the velocity he generates with his fastball, and makes his money with arguably the best changeup in the entire Cleveland organization. The pitch was his calling card when he debuted last season, and he makes excellent use of it to throw hitters off balance, with the pitch sitting in the 74-75 mph range.
On the season, batters have hit .100 off of the changeup, and only hit .174 against it a year ago. Although it’s not as exciting as some of the more electric offerings from other pitchers on the staff, the changeup’s plus movement and deceptive fade give Morgan a fantastic weapon with which to play off his fastball. It has shown to be effective against both righties and lefties as well.
Morgan’s changeup averages 43.8 inches of vertical break, coupled with 15.6 inches of average horizontal run. Both of those totals sit above the league average, and show the strong movement the pitch rides on its path to the plate. When paired with the fastball up, and coming out of a similar arm slot, the pitch’s quick fade makes it hard for hitters to square it up, and can facilitate weak contact off the bat. This helps Morgan to make up for a lower whiff rate on the changeup compared to his fastball and slider.
If he is able to continue tacking on more velocity to his fastball, which he has been able to do so far this season, Morgan’s changeup will be a beneficiary. Batters have already struggled to square the pitch up, and creating a wider disparity in velocity between the fastball and his off-speed offerings will help Morgan miss more bats and contribute meaningful innings to the Guardians.
Trevor Stephan’s Splitter
Trevor Stephan came to Cleveland looking like a two-weapon reliever, utilizing a four-seam fastball and a slider. As he got his feet under him as a rookie in 2021, he worked to add a sharp splitter that adds depth to his arsenal.
As a Rule-5 pick on Cleveland’s active roster, a lot was weighted against Stephan in 2021. He couldn’t be optioned to Columbus without being exposed to other teams, and had to face a great deal of his season in trial-by-fire fashion. Veteran Blake Parker proved to be an invaluable presence, as he would be crucial in helping the youngster develop his splitter. Parker utilized one as his top secondary pitch, and helped Stephan to begin fleshing one out throughout the course of 2021.
In 2022 for the Guardians, Stephan has been a dominant force out of the bullpen. With a hard fastball and slicing slider, he’s worked to turn his splitter into a plus weapon that plays well off of his other offerings. Stephan has generated swings-and-misses off the high heat, and used the splitter to accumulate whiffs when he locates it lower in the zone. Of his eight strikeouts on the season so far, six have come off the splitter.
Stephan’s pitch usage has changed noticeably from 2021 to 2022, with the splitter usurping the slider as the preferential secondary pitch to his high-90s fastball. He threw the slider 32.1% of the time last season, compared to the splitter at 8.1%. This season, Stephan has gone to the splitter 32%, and the slider only 17%. If he keeps developing and honing the splitter, it could become one of the best offerings of any Guardians pitcher.
Anthony Gose’s Slider
Anthony Gose has made the difficult transition from position player to pitcher, and features a sizzling four-seam fastball that has the potential to elevate his role in the bullpen. His slider, in comparison, tends to get overlooked. That being said, it is a potentially filthy secondary pitch that plays extremely well off his heater.
Gose has the reputation as the high-velo lefty, because that’s what he is. Looking at his numbers, however, shows that the slider is possibly a harder pitch for batters to handle. Although the offering lacks a bit of horizontal run compared to most sliders in MLB, it has a steeper vertical dip than the league average, making it difficult for hitters to square up.
Although he uses the fastball at almost a 2:1 ratio in comparison, the slider provides a weapon that plays extremely well off of the high heat due to its sharp movement. On the season so far, the majority of Gose’s strikeouts have come via the slider, with batters consistently chasing it out of the bottom of the zone. He also has yet to surrender a hit off of the pitch while collecting plenty of swings through open air.
It’s also worth noting how valuable a strong secondary pitch like Gose’s slider is in the bullpen. When needing a tough out against a strong left-handed batter, Gose could push for appearances in those types of situations if he can keep building on the strong season he is putting together so far. If he can keep the strikeout rate up, the walk rate low (5.3% thus far), and continue utilizing both his heater and slider, he will continue pushing for big innings out of the Cleveland Guardians bullpen.