Back in February, Justin Toscano wrote that when the Mets acquired reliever Brad Brach last August, the team asked Brach to do the one thing he couldn’t do with the Cubs in the first half of the season: throw his cutter.
The 6-foot-6, 33-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment by Chicago after signing a $1.65 million deal with the team during the 2018–19 offseason. Brach posted a 6.13 ERA in just 39.2 innings across 42 games for the Cubs in 2019.
After having spent most of the second half of 2019 with the Mets, Brach re-signed with the team on a $850,000 deal, with a player option for 2021, that can increase to $1.25 million with incentives.
From March 27 through August 10 of 2019, among 197 relief pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched during that time frame, Brach ranked 123rd in the league in GB% (41.1%), 70th in K/9 (10.21), 193rd in BB/9 (6.35), and 97th in FIP (4.12). Suffice it to say, Brach was not the most productive pitcher for the Cubs, thus justifying his being DFA’d from the team in the middle of the year.
When analyzing Brach’s career numbers, however, it is clear that his time with the Cubs is not indicative of his overall arc. From 2011–18 with the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles (and half a season with the Braves), Brach pitched to a 3.08 ERA (132 ERA+), a 3.68 FIP, and a 9.6 K/9 in 456 IP.
Prior to 2019, Brach only recorded an ERA over 4.00 once (5.14 in seven innings in 2011 — his first year in the league) and has never allowed more than 28 earned runs in a season. Moreover, since 2013, Brach has posted an ERA+ over 100 in every year but 2019, including a 210 ERA+ in his All-Star 2016 campaign for Baltimore.
However, Brach has not had his cutter throughout the majority of his career. According to Baseball Savant, Brach only began throwing his cutter in 2017. Prior to then, he primarily relied upon a four-pitch repertoire: a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider, and a split-finger. Prior to 2017, Brach threw his four-seamer consistently over 50% of the time, with the pitch seeing its most usage in 2013 at 66.1%. Brach’s sinker is undoubtedly the pitch he threw the least from 2011–17, with its highest usage coming in at 13.7% in 2014.
As mentioned, Brach started to introduce the cutter in 2017, throwing it at a 2.2% rate. The pitch disappeared from Brach’s arsenal in 2018 and reappeared last year at a 7.9% clip. In 2017, Brach ranked ninth in the league among all pitchers (starters and relievers) in average speed on his cutter at 93.1 mph. When he began throwing his cutter, he put hitters away at a rate of 25% and caused batters to whiff 11.1% of the time according to Statcast. Even in 2019, when Brach truly struggled, he mixed his cutter with his fastball and reached Whiff% and Put Away% rates above 30%.
Although we may never know why exactly the Cubs wanted Brach to abandon this pitch that has had success, Toscano’s article makes it clear that the Mets wanted him to throw it, and rightly so. From August 11 through September 29, Brach posted a 9.20 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 3.68 ERA, and a 2.67 FIP in 14.2 IP in 16 games for the Mets, good for a 0.5 WAR. In analyzing all relievers with at least 10 IP in that same time frame, Brach was tied for 51st among 265 relievers in BB/9, tied for 64th in HR/9, 45th in FIP, and tied for 22nd in WAR.
Among Mets relievers over that same period, Brach was third in ERA, first in WAR, and third in BB/9. Brach threw his cutter more than any other pitch in September while with the Mets, coming in at a rate of 41.6%. Additionally, in September of 2019, Brach held righties to a .125 BA and a .125 SLG when throwing the cutter. Brach increased use of his cutter from August to September, going from 23.9% to 44.3%.
There is value in allowing a pitcher to throw the pitch he is comfortable with, even if it doesn’t fit the scheme or the philosophy of the team. While Brach is likely to play a big role in the middle innings in the Mets’ 2020 bullpen, look to see how he can use that pitch with efficiency and contribute to what is supposed to be, on paper at least, one of the better bullpens in baseball.
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