Armed with a blazing fastball and a wipeout slider, Cam Bedrosian, who the Angels selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, seemed destined to be a late-inning weapon for the team. But success in the major leagues has not come easily for Bedrosian.
He made his big-league debut in 2014 and logged an ugly 6.52 earned-run average in 19 1/3 innings. He then posted similar numbers in 33 1/3 frames the following year, earning a 5.40 ERA. With a walk rate above 12% in both seasons, Bedrosian’s struggles mainly stemmed from an inability to find the strike zone consistently.
Then, in 2016, Bedrosian reached his potential. He scrapped his ineffective changeup and instead leaned more on his refined slider. He added velocity to his fastball, which now averaged 96 mph. And he got his walks under control, lowering his 2014-2015 WHIP of 1.78 to 1.09, while striking out 31.5% of the batters he faced, a number that was about 10% higher than in the previous two years.
Those changes unsurprisingly amounted to a serious improvement in results. Bedrosian enjoyed a sparkling 1.12 ERA and 2.13 FIP, the second-lowest and 10th-lowest mark, respectively, among all pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. But that qualifier is part of Bedrosian’s problem: His dream season ended after only 40 1/3 frames due to a blood clot in his arm.
The right-hander was healthy for the start of the 2017 season, though, and fired 6 2/3 scoreless innings before being placed on the disabled list with a groin injury. The injury ultimately stole nearly two months of Bedrosian’s season, and it also had a lasting effect.
Although his April velocity was down slightly from the level it reached the year before, Bedrosian’s fastball was still averaging a tick over 95 mph. From the time he returned until the end of the season, it averaged just 94 mph, a full two mph lower than in 2016.
Bedrosian adjusted well to the diminished velocity, opting to throw his slider more often than in the past, so he still produced decent results. He attributed the velocity drop to “a lack of lower body strength from the groin injury” in April. But it has now been more than a year since Bedrosian succumbed to that injury, and his velocity has yet to return. In fact, it has decreased even further, as seen below.
In 2016, Bedrosian’s fastball velocity was solidly above average and placed him in the top 15% of pitchers. Now, his fastball, which doesn’t have much movement, is averaging just 93.4 mph. For reference, the average pitcher possesses a 93.5-mph fastball, and the average reliever’s fastball is thrown at 94.2 mph. His slider velocity has remained relatively stable during this time, which means that the velocity differential between the two pitches has decreased, further exasperating the problem.
His once elite run-prevention ability has declined accordingly. In 26 1/3 innings this year, Bedrosian owns a 4.44 ERA and 4.98 FIP, and he has been worth -0.2 Wins Above Replacement. He is also striking out fewer batters than ever before, with his swinging strike rate dropping 4.5% lower than last year and his strikeout rate of 18% being the lowest of his career.
Opposing batters are simply crushing his fastball now. In 2016, they hit just .235 against Bedrosian’s fastball and recorded only one home run and a pair of doubles against it, good for a minuscule .295 slugging percentage.
This year, on the other hand, opposing batters are hitting .333 against the pitch with an astronomical .646 slugging percentage, having already recorded four homers against it. Whereas in 2016 hitters were whiffing on about 16% of their swings at the pitch, they are now swinging and missing at it just 11.3% of the time.
To account for this, Bedrosian has continued the trend that he began last year, as visualized below.
As his fastball velocity has diminished, Bedrosian has simply stopped relying on it as much. At the height of his powers, in 2016, about two-thirds of Bedrosian’s pitches were fastballs while the other third were sliders. Last year, he upped his slider usage by 10%. In 2018, he is throwing the two pitches with nearly the same frequency, with his fastball usage sitting at just 50.4% and his slider usage at 49.6%.
One might have expected a decrease in the effectiveness of Bedrosian’s slider to have coincided with the demise of his fastball because batters no longer have to contend with a 96-mph fastball and can thus adjust to the off-speed pitch better. While this is true for Bedrosian, his slider is still a potent pitch.
Bedrosian’s slider has well above-average horizontal movement and a spin rate of 2670 rpm, which puts him in 88th percentile. He has held opposing batters to a .250 batting average and just one extra-base hit versus the pitch.
In addition, he has generated a 32.1% whiff rate on the pitch. This is a solid number, but it is significantly lower than the 41% mark he enjoyed last year. Thus, his success with the pitch has come in a slightly different way than in previous years.
Likely a side effect of his decreased fastball velocity, Bedrosian is not getting batters to chase his slider out of zone like he used to. To remedy this, Bedrosian is focusing on throwing the pitch in the zone more often.
With his slider chase rate down from 37.4% last year to 31.6% this year, his slider zone percentage (How often the pitch is in the strike zone) is up from 43.7% to 45.3%. As a result, Bedrosian is getting more called strikes with the pitch than in previous years, making up for the lack of swinging strikes. And Bedrosian is also throwing better strikes than before. As seen below, Bedrosian’s slider was often either in the middle of plate or low and out of the zone in 2017.
In 2018, as visualized below, Bedrosian is staying in the strike zone with his slider more often and doing a phenomenal job of locating it, making few mistakes in the middle of the zone and consistently dotting the low-and-away, glove-side corner.
Because of Bedrosian’s improved command of the pitch, batters have had less success with it when it is in the zone. In 2017, batters hit .300 and slugged .540 against his slider when it was in the zone. This year, those numbers are down to .268 and .293, respectively.
Based on this evidence, the path forward for Bedrosian seems clear, and it involves doubling down on the adjustments that he has made thus far. Not only does Bedrosian need to continue throwing his slider in the strike zone, but he also needs to be leaning on the pitch even more, a la Sergio Romo, a reliever who was once one of baseball’s best and throws his slider around 60% of the time.
This is almost certainly something that Bedrosian is considering, and he gave his opponents a taste of it in his most recent outing, when he struck out two batters in a scoreless inning while throwing 13 sliders and just four fastballs. A change like this would be drastic for a pitcher who became accustomed to routinely blowing hitters away with his fastball, but it might just be a necessary one and could very well lead Bedrosian back to excellence.
Featured image via Keith Allison/Flickr.