Lindblom 'excited' after winter in pitching lab

February 25th, 2021

PHOENIX -- thinks of pitching like a chain. Each link, no matter how small, is vital to the other links. And every link requires care.

A few weeks before the end of the 2020 season -- a Brewers debut with a mix of success and frustration following some brilliant years in Korea -- Lindblom already was brainstorming which links he wanted to strengthen over the winter. Baseball Savant, which houses the mountain of Statcast data compiled since 2015, provided an idea for his fastball.

Lindblom remembers perusing the active spin leaderboard and feeling dismayed at how far he had to scroll before finding his name. His fastball ranked 455th of the 550 pitchers who threw at least 250 pitches last season, at 76.6% efficiency.

“That's not good at all, especially for what I'm trying to do with my fastball,” Lindblom said.

For fastballs, the aim is almost always high spin rate and high active spin, sometimes called spin efficiency. A fastball thrown with 100% active spin has perfect backspin, creating the rising effect that makes fastballs -- including Lindblom’s 90.1 mph average four-seamer -- jump on a hitter. Besides throwing hard, Gerrit Cole had a spin efficiency last season of 99.9%.

So, after consulting with Brewers senior vice president of player personnel Karl Mueller and pitching coach Chris Hook, Lindblom established a narrow goal: Improve his active spin. It was one of five or six focused projects on which he embarked.

He started by analyzing high-speed Edgertronic video from the club, watching his hand position at release. He tried an old trick his dad taught him when Lindblom was 7 or 8 years old, drawing a circle on a baseball and then watching its flight out of his hand. If it remained a perfect circle, the efficiency was right. If the circle wobbled, it meant more tinkering.

Lindblom had technology on his side. He built his own pitching lab at home in Lafayette, Ind. It’s a family affair, with a play area for his three kids -- Lindblom shared recently on Instagram that he and wife Aurielle are expecting a fourth -- as well as some toys just for dad. They include a nine-pocket screen to throw to when his catcher -- Purdue University’s bullpen catcher -- isn’t available, plus a Rapsodo (which provides slow-motion video and spin data) among other gadgets.

“And then it's just a long process of trying to get that to 100 percent,” Lindblom said. “I mean, it's frustrating, because like with any change that we make, there's good days and bad days. I remember I had slowly crept up in my bullpens and then one day I was like 94-95% efficiency, and I was stoked about it. And then my next bullpen I was like, 83%. I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me. Like, what is going on here?'”

Eventually, he found consistency. Lindblom reported to his second Spring Training with the Brewers feeling confident.

“Just some of the early feedback on our Trackman stuff,” said Lindblom, referring to the radar technology that is also part of pitching development these days, “is that I'm excited about what my fastball is doing now compared to last year. I think it's going to be a lot better.”

Starting pitching is important to every team every season, but it’s even more important in 2021 as MLB reverts to a 162-game schedule. Teams must be mindful of workloads as they cover nearly three times as many innings compared to 2020’s 60-game regular season. As a veteran, Lindblom said, he feels responsibility to carry as much of the load as possible to protect the Brewers’ up-and-coming arms.

Last year, his first season back in the U.S. since 2017, and his first full summer in the U.S. since 2014, Lindblom had a 5.16 ERA in 45 1/3 innings. But there were promising signs following an early September stint in the bullpen: Lindblom started back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Royals in which he allowed one run in 10 1/3 innings.

“I think what you saw from Josh at the end of the year was the Josh we were hoping for and what he expects,” said Hook, the Brewers’ third-year pitching coach. “A guy who's attacking, who's controlling counts. His stuff played in the strike zone, so we're not worried about his stuff. Swing-and-miss was there. He just needs to get a little bit more aggressive, and I think after his stint in the bullpen, he kind of got re-engaged with that mindset and he kind of finished the year that way.”

At 33 and entering his 14th professional season, Lindblom is already thinking about passing knowledge to younger ballplayers, including his 6-year-old son, Palmer. It’s why he shared the story of his offseason project on Twitter, encouraging players to make a plan and then patiently execute it.

“From a development standpoint, the thing that I've learned is like, everything's a process,” Lindblom said. “And if you don't have a plan going in for what you want to do, you're kind of just shooting in the dark.”