This year, Milner has almost completely swapped which pitch he is throwing as his fastball, substituting his sinker for his four-seam fastball. In addition, he's throwing his changeup a lot more. This pitch change directly contributes to the success Milner has had this season against right-handed batters.
When attacking right-handers this year, there is a clear and obvious trend. The sinker is used most often, then the changeup and curveball are used at almost the same rate, while there are almost no four-seamers thrown. Against lefties, there have been absolutely no changeups thrown, while sinker and four-seamers are used while curveball is the tertiary pitch.
This is quite the change. In the past, the 4-seamer has been heavily relied upon against right-handed batters, and the changeup has mostly been an afterthought. With Milner using both the curveball and the changeup to get righties out, there is much more a batter needs to look out for. Lefties see both of the fastballs, sinker and 4-seamer, and the curveball, allowing varying eye levels.
This shift in eye level is a key contributor to Milner’s success. Rather than working up in the zone with the fastball, the primary pitch, sinker, is thrown nearer to the left-handed batter’s box and lower in the zone. Comparing that to just 2021, the primary pitch, his four-seamer, was thrown basically directly in the center of the zone. Even now, in 2022, when the 4-seamer is thrown, it is mainly dotting the upper corners of the strike zone, and therefore avoiding the principal barrel path of batters. It is used as an effective pitch to change the sight plane of hitters.
Milner is pairing this fastball location with excellent positioning of the offspeed pitches. The curveball is only placed lower in the strike zone, but has a couple instances of being higher when outside the zone. It travels through the zone quite a bit, sweeping across the plate before ending towards the right handed batter’s box side. The changeup is almost exclusively positioned as a shadow of the sinker, hitting the lower part of the zone nearer to that left handed batter’s box
2022: Heat Map for Pitches
2021: Heat Map for Pitches
These new locations and pitch selection plays very well, as there is fantastic spin masking of those pitches. This makes determining Milner’s pitches significantly more difficult. Each of the four-seamer, sinker, and changeup all have primarily ¾ based rotation, while the curveball has ¼ rotation. This change in rotation spot may seem to be a problem to the uninitiated, but all this pitches adhere to the same rotational axis, thereby making it near impossible to actually make out which of the actual pitches are thrown.
But while pitch selection is a big part of the story, there are other factors, too, including a change that Milner has made in how he releases the ball. We'll go through that on Monday in our final and third part.
Part 1: Identifying Issues
Part 3: Mechanics and Strategy
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