Going along with the theme of the Angels franchise, Reid Detmers has been nothing if not perplexing. A first round pick in the 2020 draft out of Louisville (10th overall), Detmers debuted in late 2021 to disappointing results. In five total starts, Detmers owned a 7.40 ERA, a 10.9% walk rate, and allowed home runs on 16% of the fly balls put in play. Put differently, he allowed a lot of hard contact (33.3% hard hit rate), allowed that hard contact 65.2% of the time to be in the air, and walked about five guys per nine innings.
Browsing the 2022 line for him would show you that he has improved his fWAR by 1.2 compared to last year in only 89 innings pitched thus far. However, if you were to have looked at his line at the end of June, things would look much more grim. See if you can tell when something changed:
Sometimes a calendar turn is all someone needs to up their game, and Detmers clearly has figured something out in the dog days of summer. What changed?
The book on Detmers coming up was a diverse four pitch mix with a FB that sat in the low-to-mid 90's with average spin and shape characteristics but good command, a sweeping slider with below average feel, a changeup that he mixed in to keep righties off balance, and a glorious plus-plus curveball that flummoxed poor amateur hitters.
Did it translate to the big leagues? Yes, and no. He threw the curve about 26% of the time to the tune of a 33.3% whiff rate, a .328 wOBA (MLB average last year was .314), and a run value (per Baseball Savant) of exactly 0. The fastball was absolutely tattooed when he had the courage to throw it (45% of the time), possessing a .550 wOBA (!), an .852 SLG, and a run value of 6. He barely throws the changeup at all, and the slider was merely average.
His 2022 season started off with largely the same middling results, save for what might go down as the weirdest game of the year when he threw a no-hitter (the Pre-July stats in the table earlier are inclusive of a no-hitter). As evidenced by the no-no, he has the raw talent to get outs, regardless of the underwhelming peripherals, so what happened between June and July that led him to turn from super-dud to a super-stud?
Well, three things. The first is that the Angels demoted him to Triple-A to help him clean things up and get his mind right. He made a single start for Salt Lake, and boy, was it encouraging. Six innings, one earned run, one walk, and fourteen strikeouts. Sometimes a demotion can help a struggling pitcher and give them a chance to hit the reset button in a much lower-stakes setting.
The second, is that he and minor league pitching coach Buddy Carlyle were able to rework the most overlooked pitch in Detmers' arsenal: the slider. As mentioned earlier, scouts and hitters alike never really saw the slider as anything more than something he mixed in to keep people off the curveball, and he never really possessed the ability to locate it with great consistency. For instance, here is a look at the offering from a start on June 8th:
And here is a reworked one from his start on July 14th:
It may be subtle, but version 2.0 from the bottom has been absolutely paramount to unlocking his potential. The main thing that he and Carlyle worked out was his release point. Look at the stark drop off in his vertical release point and the uptick in the extension he generates:
It's tough to notice watching those videos full speed unless you are a tenured scout, which I am not either, but here is a side-by-side shot of those two sliders' release points where you can see the difference more clearly:
This tweak has allowed him to unlock some extra velo with the pitch, as he has added over 2 MPH on average to the slider since June (83.9 vs 86.1 in July). The results have been fantastic:
As you can see by the big increase in usage of the pitch, Detmers has noticed the improved offering and has made a point to feature it, using it FORTY-THREE times in his August 6th start against the Mariners, generating eight swing-and-misses out of that subset. From the article written on MLB.com after the aforementioned start:
“It's the same thing I've been working on since I went down,” said Detmers, who struck out seven. “The slider is a big pitch for me and gets them off everything else. It's worked well for me."
The extra velocity combined with more horizontal break (from -7,67 to -1.5) has led to a pitch that tunnels better with his fastball and keeps hitters from sitting on the fastball or curveball. The below video (from the excellent Pitcher List) shows this in action. During his immaculate inning (!), we see two mid-90s fastballs located on the outer half of the zone to Ezequiel Duran, and then an absolutely devastating 87-mph slider beneath the zone that sends the Rangers infielder flailing.
The sustainability of this new pitch hinges on whether Detmers is able to repeat these new mechanics, a skill that doesn't particularly present itself in his early career.
The talent is not in question, Reid was the 10th pick of the draft for a reason, and after all we are talking about a 23 year old pitcher who has a no-hitter and an immaculate inning under his belt in the first 22 starts of his career. The Angels would love for this breakout to be real, as we spend yet another season wish-casting Mike Trout & Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs. Arte Moreno has shown the willingness to shell out money for big contracts (although he clearly has a limit), but has yet to sign a pitcher to a multi-year deal since Tungsten Ar... er, Aaron Loup.
You could do worse than a foundation of Detmers, Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, mixed with depth pieces like Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning, but they still need more if the Angels are serious about contending in Ohtani's last season before free agency. If Detmers can stay healthy and keep this up, it would go a long way. For now, just enjoy the ride.