Cole Ragans, Extremely and Appropriately Hyped


Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports activities

I’m not the primary member of the Cole Ragans fan membership – that’d be Nick Pollack. I’m not an early member – hello Eno and Esteban. The cat is out of the bag: A scout known as Ragans “left-handed deGrom” in a latest Jeff Passan roundup. The Royals’ left-hander appears like an absolute terror on the mound.

So I’m not going to attempt to persuade you that Ragans is nice. These different articles have absolutely achieved a ok job of doing that. I’m additionally not going to attempt to persuade you that he’s a left-handed model of the perfect inning-for-inning pitcher of the twenty first century. However I do need to take a fast have a look at how he’s persevering with to alter his arsenal, and the way a few of his outdated expertise may assist him preserve his great run of type stepping into 2024.

The rationale Ragans has drawn such flashy comparisons possible begins together with his fastball. As Passan famous, he averaged 99.2 mph in his first begin of spring. Statcast didn’t monitor it, however I used to be in a position to seize a few of it by watching the published. There was no radar gun, however the announcers continuously talked about his velocity and by no means stated a quantity decrease than 98. It definitely regarded fairly sharp when he blew it previous Mike Trout:

One of the best I can do for matching the info is taking a look at Ragans’s quickest fastballs from final yr, and to throw a little bit of chilly water on an outrageous comp, Ragans’s fastball form isn’t precisely otherworldly. He throws extremely arduous, however he isn’t inducing the sort of journey that makes deGrom’s fastball so ridiculous. Ragans threw 97 fastballs clocked at 98 mph or tougher final yr, averaging 98.7 on them. He induced 16 inches of vertical break on these pitches, per Statcast. By comparability, deGrom averaged 99.1 mph on his 98-or-harder fastballs, however induced an additional 1.5 inches of vertical break.

Put one other approach, 45 pitchers threw 75 or extra fastballs at 98-plus mph final yr. Ragans ranked twenty sixth in induced vertical break, roughly common in that elite group. His fastball regarded rather a lot like Luis Medina’s and Tanner Scott’s variations of the pitch when it got here to vertical break.

That’s solely vertical break, although. Ragans generates an ungodly quantity of spin on his fastball, and he harnesses it fairly successfully, as effectively. Out of that very same cohort, Ragans generated the third-most horizontal motion due to the fourth-highest spin fee. When it comes to whole motion, Ragans’ hardest fastballs have been third in baseball, behind solely Félix Bautista and Ryne Stanek and simply forward of Eury Pérez. That is completely elite firm, even when the form is a bit unusual.

In different phrases, Ragans may not have the perfect fastball but, however he has the uncooked instruments to enhance it, even when that isn’t that mandatory. Eli Ben-Porat’s recent research means that fastball form issues lower than location while you’re touching 100. However a form change would undoubtedly be useful. For all of the drooling over his fastball, opponents did a satisfactory job placing it in play and doing harm. By our pitch values, it was his fourth only pitch, even when you isolate solely his time on the Royals. Baseball Savant’s model of run values agrees; the one worse pitch he threw was his curveball, his least-used providing and one I believe he’ll possible shelve as he will get extra snug together with his slider/cutter mixture.

About that: Lance Brozdowski broke down how Ragans cut up his arduous breaking ball into two choices, one a low-90’s cutter and the opposite an upper-80’s gyro slider. I haven’t seen any definitive velocity readings on his slider this spring, however his cutter appears to be a number of ticks sooner in 2024, which suggests the slider can be as effectively. That slider is the true key to Ragans’ success.

Significantly, that is simply unhittable:

Gyro sliders like this one (lower than an inch of gloveside motion and a smidge of journey) play effectively towards all hitters. They’re not often so devastating, although. Sweepers have gotten a number of hype these days, however you don’t have to make your pitch sweep to overlook bats. Listed below are the sliders that induced swings-and-misses most continuously final yr:

The one folks hitting these numbers are relievers with elite breaking balls and the perfect starters within the recreation. I imply, what extra are you able to say? You might say this:

Finest Slider SwStr%… and Utilization

Participant Sliders SwStr% Slider Utilization%
Spencer Strider 1,048 29.2% 33.8%
Giovanny Gallegos 409 28.9% 46.3%
Jacob deGrom 167 28.7% 37.0%
Dominic Leone 265 27.5% 29.9%
Ryan Helsley 223 26.9% 36.7%
Gregory Soto 377 25.7% 39.0%
Cole Ragans 164 25.6% 14.0%*
Andrew Chafin 323 25.4% 35.1%
Camilo Doval 412 25.2% 36.2%
Josh Hader 242 25.2% 23.2%

*: Utilization% in Kansas Metropolis, excluding slider-less Texas stint

Goodness gracious, that’s engaging. Ragans is sitting on one of many recreation’s greatest sliders, and he’s utilizing it far lower than he may. The fastball numbers are in fact spectacular, and his total velocity is vital to his success. However this slider, one he solely realized final yr, looks like it may very well be main distinction maker this season.

Even crazier: He has one other elite secondary possibility. That may be his changeup. I do know “Bugs Bunny-ish” is an overused changeup description, however c’mon:

That’s completely elite stuff, and its velocity is trending the identical approach as the whole lot else: up. It’s the sort of pitch that, whereas I can’t fairly quantify this, makes the whole lot work higher; he throws it continuously sufficient that batters at all times have to fret {that a} changeup is coming as a substitute of a fastball, and it sits in the same velocity band because the slider regardless of breaking practically a foot in the wrong way.

One other profit: Ragans, like all lefty starters, faces a ton of righties, thrice the variety of lefties he confronted final yr, and his changeup is at its greatest towards righties. He threw it 30% of the time towards them. He additionally prospered when he threw his slider to righties, however he solely did so 7.4% of the time with the Royals, half as usually as he threw his ineffective curveball. I believe there’s room for him to make use of each his changeup and slider extra continuously, and that must be a completely terrifying thought for opposing hitters.

If he had a weak spot in 2023, it was command. Even in his dynamite Royals run, he walked 9.4% of opposing hitters. It definitely wasn’t as a result of he did not generate swings when he left the strike zone, as is obvious from the gaudy swinging strike numbers he put up on all of his pitches. His larger concern was that for somebody with elite stuff, he didn’t come after hitters as a lot as I’d like.

A technique of taking a look at it: When pitchers as an entire fell behind within the depend in 2023, they threw pitches within the strike zone 56.1% of the time; Ragans was beneath common, at 55%. He acted like a pitcher with common stuff as a substitute of 1 with a hellacious array of unhittable nonsense. That’s an issue, particularly as a result of his stuff performs even when it’s within the zone, a lot in order that he must be extra inclined than most to throw within the zone when behind within the depend. After he joined the Royals, when opposing batters swung at his in-zone pitches, he produced 3.2 runs above common per 100 swings. That may’ve been fourth in baseball over a full season, tied with Gerrit Cole, who threw 61.1% strikes when behind within the depend. Even when you embody Ragans’ blah stint in Texas, he sat at 2.8 RV/100, thirteenth in baseball final season. Even when assembly hitters on their phrases, he has the benefit. If he retains throwing a number of elite secondaries with a fastball approaching 100, strolling would be the best method to beat him. Final yr, his strategy performed into that somewhat an excessive amount of.

Is that fixable? It’s not instantly apparent. It feels like an strategy concern, the place he ought to simply chuck it within the zone and never fear about going full Blake Snell. However think about this: Ragans threw 98 pitches in 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1 counts final yr, and hit the strike zone with simply 51% of them. That’s a lot much less of an strategy query at that time; most of these are counts the place you simply need to throw within the zone, and he couldn’t.

What’s my conclusion on all of this? I’m going to exit on a limb (word: probably not a limb) and say that he’ll be a high 15 starter. Ragans undoubtedly has ace-level stuff. I’m not in love together with his cutter, however his slider and changeup are each ludicrous and his fastball isn’t far behind. There’s purpose to consider he’ll carry out higher in 2024 than in 2023 with out having to do a lot different than simply change his pitch combine – however that’s all tutorial, as a result of he’s throwing tougher too.

In opposition to these positives, there’s actually just one main unfavourable: whether or not he has the command to make these nice pitches really sing. I are likely to guess on guys with so many good pitches to determine the command aspect of issues – name it the Spencer Strider Conjecture – and I believe Ragans’ flooring is sort of excessive even when he walks 10% of opposing batters.

Will Ragans be top-of-the-line pitchers in baseball this yr? I believe so, and it’s not as a result of he’s popping 100 or bullying folks together with his fastball. It’s as a result of he has some ways to beat hitters, and would possibly nonetheless be bettering as he grows extra snug together with his new repertoire. Now that’s a scary thought – a man scouts are evaluating to deGrom continues to be getting higher. It’s not a can’t-fail scenario – nothing ever is on the subject of pitching – but when I have been designing a pitcher in a laboratory, he’d look rather a lot like Ragans.

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