This season has been pretty fun to start things off, eh?
Let’s list the things off we’ve seen so far. We have the starting pitching holding their own (they continue to boast the third best ERA in all of baseball since last year’s All-Star Break thanks to hot starts from Wily Peralta, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson). Jesus Aguilar flashed a hot bat early on. Neftali Feliz continues to close the door with electric stuff. Both catchers (Manny Pina and Jett Bandy) have showed they can produce offensive numbers and of course, — the growing folk legend that is Eric Thames.
Oh, and Ryan Braun is continuing to do Ryan Braun things:
Ryan Braun going deep at Wrigley. A tradition unlike any other.
— Disciples of Uecker (@DisciplesUecker) April 18, 2017
But one player that’s flying under the radar? Jacob Barnes. Drafted in the 14th round (431st overall) in the 2011 Draft, Barnes came into this season with hopes of making the Major League bullpen. Despite a rough spring, he showed his worth to Counsell and the pitching staff, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster — and he’s currently displaying why he deserved that spot.
In his 8.1 innings pitched so far this season, Barnes has been lights out. The only real blemish came when he left a hanging slider against Jose Bautista in Toronto, who almost made him pay dearly for it with a deep fly ball to center field that nearly left the yard. Looking at the traditional stats, Barnes is holding opponents to a .111 average and a 0.72 WHIP. But the numbers go much deeper than those two stats indicate.
Barnes is putting on a velocity showcase. His fastball has plateaued around the 97 MPH mark to begin the year, and just last night he flashed 100 on the gun against Chicago. When you’re cranking out that speed, it sets up multiple paths to go in terms of other pitches in the arsenal and how to follow up — and in Barnes’ case, that typically results in his slider.
Plain and simple, Barnes’ slider needs to be washed because it’s so filthy. Tucked low and away in the zone especially to right-handed batters, it inflicts lethal damage. When it’s featured in the 91-93 MPH range following the blazing heat of a 97+ MPH fastball, it just plays with the minds of hitters. A look at Barnes’ slider so far this season:
That small cluster in the area low and away and directly on the black equals over 56.2 percent (!!!) of where Barnes is placing his strikeout pitch. Outside of that one hanging slider to Bautista, he’s done a masterful job of featuring it in an un-hittable spot.
When you look at the stats, they accompany the visual pretty soundly. Let’s take a look at Barnes’ slider under the “per 100 pitch” microscope. Right now, that figure sits nice and snug at 5.35. Keep in mind, that number is bound to go down as we get deeper in the season. But what does that mean now? It pretty much means that he’s saved 5.35 runs with his slider over a pattern of 100 sliders thrown.
It’s not just Barnes’ slider and fastball that are doing wonders for him either. When everything is all clumped together, he’s collected a 19.5 percent swinging strike clip so far this season. His O-Swing percentage (swings at pitches outside the zone) is also quite respectable, currently sitting at 42.7 percent — up nearly 10 percent from last season.
Players such as Barnes serve as just another example of why rebuilds are fun to take in. Sure, the wins and losses aren’t ideal for the casual fan. But if you live and die Brewers baseball like me and so many others, it’s breakout performances like these from Barnes (and everyone else I listed at the beginning of this piece) that get your heart racing.
Could Jacob Barnes be the real deal? It’s obviously too early to hear the court’s ruling on that, but right now, he’s been a joy to watch and just might be another diamond in the rough.