Here are 3 new pitches already on Twins' radar

February 23rd, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Every spring, several pitchers enter camp with new or tweaked pitches, eager to test those offerings against live hitters for the first time. Though Twins hurlers have been throwing live batting practice to this point, the start of Grapefruit League games on Saturday will mark when the real test begins -- and here are some of the new offerings that have key Twins pitchers excited.

's slider and split changeup

Look for: More consistent horizontal break (slider), more depth (changeup)

In his words: “I think giving up probably, like, 30 extra runs on sliders is usually a good idea to maybe make an adjustment. … It was good sometimes. There’s just, like, inconsistencies there, and this one just feels more consistent, I'd say, is the best reason. Having sliders just register as 84 mph four-seam fastballs and go to the fence is not super fun.”

Context: Ryan already had a slider and a changeup, but they weren’t as effective as his fastball, with opponents slugging .497 off the slider and .492 off the changeup last season (compared to .300 off the fastball). He felt the slider was sometimes effective, but couldn’t find something he liked until he added five inches of horizontal break in September -- making it more of a “sweeper,” in modern terms. He worked to refine that new version’s shape and consistency this offseason.

And once Ryan got past the apprehension behind the perception of arm issues with splitter grips, he converted his traditional changeup into a split changeup, which he says works better with his hand position in his delivery, to add more depth to the pitch.

's cutter

Look for: Its existence

In his words: “I want to throw it hard. If I'm going to use it almost in place of my fastball, it needs to be low to mid-90s. It has been. It's been anywhere from 91-94, so I'm very happy with that. But the movement is where it's been a little inconsistent from day to day, so that's been the biggest harp. Sometimes, I'll get around it too much and it almost turns into a slider, which, I don't need another one of those.”

Context: Jax knows that he excels in his ability to spin the ball, with his slider (thrown 48.4% of the time) serving as the focal point of his breakout ‘22 season in the bullpen, when he posted a 3.36 ERA in 72 1/3 innings. He also knows that his four-seam fastball is decidedly not as effective -- so he sought a pitch that would play better off his slider.

He toyed with the idea of a sinker, the natural complement to a slider, but he found more success with a variant of the cutter, which he said he was able to pick up “right away” and could factor in against left-handed hitters -- though Jax was already quite effective against them last season, when he held righties to a .612 OPS and lefties to a .595 OPS.

's slider

Look for: Less velocity, more horizontal break

In his words: “Grip changed, mindset on it changed. I'm not trying to throw a 90 mph slider, because what I'm good at is getting behind the ball. If I think I'm going to try to throw something hard, I'm going to get behind it, which isn't good for a slider. It's kind of more like a finesse pitch. I'm not trying to throw the [crap] out of it. They told me to do that and it clicked right away: Not babying it, necessarily, but not trying to throw it as hard as I can.”

Context: From grip to mindset to execution, Mahle says he has struggled to develop an effective breaking ball for a long time. An ineffective slider in ‘18 gave way to an ineffective curveball in ‘19, then a better slider in ‘20 that regressed in ‘21. The splitter became his primary secondary pitch in ‘22, when his slider usage dipped all the way to 11.4% -- less than half of what it was a year earlier.

The lack of an effective slider is part of why Mahle was so susceptible to right-handed hitters, who posted an .835 OPS off him in ‘21 (versus a .573 OPS by lefties) and a .783 OPS last season (against a .602 OPS by lefties). He worked at Driveline to add horizontal depth to the slider -- and is excited to see how it plays to hitters.