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  • Two Adjustments to Take Aaron Ashby to the Next Level


    Tim Muma

    Aaron Ashby's skill set and "stuff" show clear signs of big-time potential. The Milwaukee Brewers agree, signing him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $20.5 million. Two adjustments in his mound strategy could impact how quickly Ashby begins to reach greater heights and help the 2022 club make a deep postseason run.

    Image courtesy of © Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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    Every pitcher goes through growing pains in MLB. Left-handers especially seem to take a bit longer to put everything together. Aaron Ashby is no different, displaying flashes of dominance with stretches of frustration. His struggles often stem from the fantastic movement he gets on his pitches. It's a blessing and a curse when you're learning to command a high-quality repertoire. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings, Ashby has the 15th-highest BB% at 10.7%; however, he also ranks 25th in MLB with a 26.9 K%.

    As noted, a significant factor in his strikeouts and walks is how much Ashby's pitches move, particularly his slider and changeup:

    • Ashby's slider gets the fifth-greatest amount of vertical movement in MLB (minimum 400 pitches)
    • His horizontal movement on the slider also ranks 14th in distance
    • Ashby's changeup rates as the 16th-best in the amount of horizontal movement (minimum 300 pitches)

    With such great movement on those two offerings, and a sinker that sits 96-98 MPH, it's difficult to understand how Ashby owns a 4.32 ERA. There are two specific areas where he could make changes that would keep hitters off-balance and ideally get better, more consistent results.

    Ashby needs to mix up his pitch selection on 0-2 counts when hitters have a stunning .323/.333/.387/.720 line. He has been the worst in that count all season. For comparison, the average MLB slash line on an 0-2 count is .154/.164/.223/.387. Quite remarkable. From what I can see, part of the issue is that Ashby throws his slider too often in that count.

    Asbhy 0-2 usage.JPG

    As you can see, he is using the slider more than 55% of the time when he is ahead 0-2, the largest percentage of any pitch in any count. While pitchers will have their "put away" pitch, that usually means it is highly effective. For hitters facing Ashby, odds are you're getting a slider on 0-2. So they might look for it in most cases and believe they will either fight off a different offering or take it, thinking there's a good chance it's out of the strike zone. And if they get a slider that isn't a strike, they would be better prepared to take it. 

    Using any other pitch more frequently would start to catch opponents off-guard and give them different 0-2 pitches to think about each at-bat. Especially if Ashby utilized the curve and four-seam fastball, which he rarely throws on 0-2, it immediately alters their perception.

    Speaking of changing things up, the second adjustment Ashby needs to make is gunning for the high-and-inside region of the strike zone on right-handers (high and away versus lefties). Baseball Savant's graphic below shows how little Ashby hits that spot - by choice or lack of execution.

    Ashby Pitch Location.JPG

    Targeting that location works against hitters on both sides of the plate. Again, Ashby has the velocity to succeed up there with his sinker and four-seam heater in the mid-to-upper 90s. When facing righties, the up-and-in spot location keeps batters from leaning over the plate, anticipating something softer and outside. It also helps to change the eye level as they are likely looking for a changeup or breaking ball in the bottom third of the zone. If Ashby can be close to that region, it's a challenging ball to hit well, if at all, for a right-hander.

    It might be slightly less effective against lefties but still has value. Typically a left-hander anticipates a slider or curveball on the outer half from southpaws, breaking to the edge or outside the zone. Of course, those also have a vertical drop, so their swing would be middle-to-low in height. Mixing in the sinker or fastball into that spot gives lefties less time to react and doubt in their minds when it comes to offspeed. While it can be easier to reach than up-and-in, it would be a worthwhile risk for Ashby to increase his overall effectiveness.

    Again, Ashby is still learning to command all of his pitches, use an impactful variation, and find the best balance. There are also team decisions on how to attack certain hitters in specific situations, which could mean Ashby has less control over what and where he tries to throw. But if he is going to take a quick step forward the rest of this season, Ashby and the Brewers should be willing to try some new things and see what level he can reach in 2022.

     

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    Nice article with very good insight . that being said  , don't know your credentials, but if you can see this then why don't the brewer coaches see this and make the adjustment. 

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    Ashby is like a lot of young guys, he lacks control both in the zone and out.  However with Ashby it's more with his fastball than his off speed stuff. He doesn't have the ability to throw his fastball up when he needs to or to locate down and in on a righty.  Like the article said, he gets killed with 2 strike pitches because he doesn't have the control of the slider/curve to throw it over the plate but low or to back foot a RH hitter.  Instead he catches too much of the plate and hitters are looking for the breaking ball.  His change-up needs a lot of work because he throws it too high in the zone most of the time.  He has all the talent to be a TOR pitcher if he can learn to control the upper part of the zone and get an effective change-up. 

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    @Tim Muma Fifth in vertical movement and 14th in horizontal movement… does that add up to *too much* movement? Seems like it’d be really hard to keep that pitch in the zone so if the batter can lay off it, he gets a ball. 

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    17 hours ago, mtsportsfan said:

    Nice article with very good insight . that being said  , don't know your credentials, but if you can see this then why don't the brewer coaches see this and make the adjustment. 

    Well...the Brewers announcers have been talking about it for some time. I'm guessing it's been communicated to him.

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    Tim Muma
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  • Posted

    On 8/13/2022 at 8:43 AM, mtsportsfan said:

    Nice article with very good insight . that being said  , don't know your credentials, but if you can see this then why don't the brewer coaches see this and make the adjustment. 

    Thank you!  Well, hard to say what they are discussing internally. As for the consistent 0-2 sliders and his propensity to give up hits in that count. The pitch selection is often a team-wide discussion before the series in how to handle hitters, plus what the catcher may see/think in-game. Maybe some adjustments come late in the year. As for giving up hits in that count, that has certainly been a conversation.

    The high-inside location to righties...he could simply have trouble locating in that spot. I've caught at least one pitcher who just couldn't manipulate any pitch into that location, so I had to stay away from it. Obviously Ashby's skill level is way higher, so perhaps they have other reasons to avoid it. Seems worth a shot to me.

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    Tim Muma
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    On 8/13/2022 at 4:20 PM, Brock Beauchamp said:

    @Tim Muma Fifth in vertical movement and 14th in horizontal movement… does that add up to *too much* movement? Seems like it’d be really hard to keep that pitch in the zone so if the batter can lay off it, he gets a ball. 

    That definitely can be part it. Learning to harness such movement can take years to figure out - if ever truly "getting it." You don't really want to encourage "less movement," but there can be value in doing so if it means better command.

    In my experience coaching youth, high school & college I have tried to get guys to throw with slightly less velocity to improve command...but even that can have unintended consequences. Never really had the issue with too much movement. Any movement problems we simply targeted different spots to hit the intended location.

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