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The Twelve Days of Relief Pitchers: Day Seven, Blake Treinen

On the seventh day of “Free Agent Relief Pitchers,” Blake Treinen is our seven-swans-a-swimming. Or maybe a-sinking?

IMG_0446 by Rachel Getz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Twelve Days of Relief Pitchers: Day Seven, Blake Treinen


Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Some people might have expected Blake Treinen to be higher in my rankings for my “Twelve Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers.” And before I dug into my research, those “some people” included “me.” To be honest, I even interposed Joakim Soria and Blake Treinen at the last moment. But I am not sorry. The fate of this extremely serious holiday-themed ranking hangs in the balance!

Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen was, of course, electric in his 2018 season with the Athletics, the memory of which might have led us all to believe that he’d be higher than the seven-swans-a-swimming position. In 2018, the introduction of a cutter helped transform him from a very good relief pitcher to an elite one, posting a microscopic 0.78 ERA. At 18.2%, he had the third-best swinging strike rate in baseball, after only Edwin Diaz and Josh Hader (near-tied at 18.9% and 19%). Treinen gave up two home runs…all year.

I have an idea, Mike!

But in 2019, injuries pulled him to Earth. A shoulder injury caused him to miss time, and his season ended early with a stress reaction in his back. (Enter: Liam Hendriks.) One of the more troubling things driving 2019’s 4.91 ERA, and, more pointedly, his 5.14 FIP, was severe control problems. His walk rate more than doubled from the previous season, to an unsightly 13.9%.

His injuries were certainly a factor, here, as he had a more respectable 7.5 BB% in 2020. But I have doubts about Treinen regaining 2018’s glory, and not just because of this season’s 25 innings of a 3.86 ERA, and 4.76 ERA performance in 11 postseason innings. His swinging strike rate has continued to dive from 2018’s pinnacle (18.2%, above), to a league-average 12.5% in 2019, and below-average 11% in 2020. This has driven a decline in his overall K%, from 31.7% in 2018 to 22.2% last year, and 20.6% this year.

Sinker Swim

And the issue is with his sinker. The sinker is Treinen’s dominant pitch—he threw it 56% of the time in 2020. But while it generated a 29.5% whiff rate in 2018, dropping to 25.2% in 2019, its effectiveness cratered in 2020, with only an 11.6% whiff rate. (I outline this in my advanced metrics refresher, but the difference between whiff rate and swinging strike rate is that whiffs are a percentage of swings, while swinging strikes are a percentage of all pitches thrown or seen.)

This Laureano homer was on a sinker. I went back and verified.

Partly, Treinen seemed to have lost some vertical movement on the pitch, which dropped three inches less, on average, in 2020 than it did in 2018. His sinker still often dives out of the zone, but not out of harm’s way. From 2018 to 2020, Treinen has nearly 20% more contact on his pitches that are out of the strike zone (O-contact%). That’s not great.

The good news for Treinen is that he has three other pitches: a cutter, a slider, and a four-seamer that averaged 97 this year. This is why I still continue to rank him this highly. But I prophesy he’ll have to alter his pitching mix to return to being a truly great reliever. The FanGraphs crowd, meanwhile, prophesies two years and $16 million. Although I would sooner have had Trevor May, the guess here is that Treinen will get more than May did.

Fulfilling My Patriotic Duty

Yesterday, a Twitter acquaintance, @dapscout, pointed out that my articles fail to have “a Christmas-themed gift associated with each RP,” and suggested an excellent t-shirt that he had found for Joakim Soria. I located a couple of others:

However, the excellent news is that Blake Treinen has corresponding options. And December 26th is actually only the second day of Christmas, folks. You still have time to get your true love what they really want.

Just watch out for that sinker.

Ellen Adair is an actor, probably best known as Janet Bayne in “Homeland,” Bess McTeer in “The Sinner,” and Bridget Saltire in “The Slap,” but has been in a lot of other TV shows, films, and theater that the truly curious can investigate at www.ellenadair.com. As a human being, she is best known for her unhealthy love of baseball. It says so on her business cards. She loves baseball in general, but the Phillies are her life partner. She is the author of "Curtain Speech," from Pen & Anvil Press, and is working on bringing to life a TV series about baseball writers. Connect with her on Twitter at @ellen_adair or Instagram at @ellenadairg.

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