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Exploring the various release points of the Yankees’ rotation

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Do the Yankees have an octopus of their own?

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’ve been thinking a lot about release points lately — I go back to Mike Petriello’s post on the Rays’ bullpen all the time, and wrote last week about new Yankee sidearmer Darren O’Day’s delivery. As we’ve seen an increasing homogeneity in terms of pitching repertoire, with everyone trying to throw 98 mph up with a slider down and away, a mix of release points seems to be a way to gain an edge over a team, maybe not in one given game but in a series, where three starters may feature similar stuff but coming from different angles.

The Yankees are going with this strategy of 7-8 possible starters, and shaking out 162 games from them in the aggregate. I think we can expect a lot of movement in and out of conventional “rotation,” with guys like Deivi García and Domingo Germán possibly shuffled between the bullpen and rotation (or majors and minors), plus innings caps on “recovery” projects like Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber. This fluid rotation should play up the possible advantages of varying release points, since hitters won’t be facing the same five guys all the time — rather, the Jays might see Gerrit Cole, Taillon and Kluber in the first series of the year, and then Cole, Germán and Jordan Montgomery a month later.

If the Yankees are rolling with some combination of eight arms, here’s how those release points look to a hitter:

So you can see if Bo Bichette has to face Gerrit Cole on Opening Day, he’ll be throwing 98 mph from his release point in a very classic three-quarters delivery. The next day, Bichette might see García throwing four mph slower, but also from a release point four inches closer to the center of the plate, and two inches higher. Meanwhile, a player like Clarke Schmidt, who has a real outlier of a release point, could be better used in a long relief or swingman role, where he comes in following Montgomery and throws from a completely different slot.

Of note in this chart as well is Taillon, who leverages his height and wingspan to throw out of a wickedly high release point. Most right-handed hitters probably can’t pick up the ball right out of the hand, using up fractions of the second they have to react to the pitch. However, Taillon has, rather publicly, rebuilt his delivery in order to take stress off his elbow — throwing from so far out forces the elbow to bear more of the stress of the pitch, leading to a higher chance of injury. This is basically what we all thought would happen to Chris Sale, and eventually of course, it did (albeit after quite a long stretch of success).

Now Taillon throws from a much shorter delivery:

Modern biomechanics stress the importance of hip-shoulder separation, where the more your shoulder turns relative to your hips, the more energy you’re able to impart on the ball. This focus on shoulder separation will tend to pull your arms in tighter to the body, meaning your release point, as a right-handed pitcher, is closer to the zero mark on the above graph. Pitchers that rely more on their elbows for rotation, like Sale and Tim Lincecum, can still impart massive amounts of energy on the ball, but with a much higher risk of that elbow breaking down.

So Taillon’s release point will look fairly different, and while we don’t have Statcast measures from him, he helpfully posts his workout videos online, and we can piece together what a likely new release point looks like:

Laterally, Taillon’s release looks more and more like Kluber’s; just a few inches higher. Just like with Cole and García, the three-to-four mph difference we can expect in fastball velocity, plus a higher release point between Kluber and Taillon plays them both up when they pitch in back to back games.

The impact of these various release points is likely realized over a full series, especially playoff series where you face the same team up to seven times in ten days. Training a batter’s eye to pick up wildly different slots can be devastating within a game. However, I think the effect exists over a broader sample of games too, and it seems to at least be part of the Yankees’ strategy this offseason.