Colin Poche is dominating with just his four-seamer

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Poche’s brand of success is extreme, but it’s bringing value to the Rays bullpen.

It seems like for a while now that the Rays bullpen has been a strongsuit for their team. Once again, they find themselves ranking near the top of many leaderboard categories, to to this date ranking first in fWAR, second in ERA, first in FIP, and first in home runs per nine innings for the 2019 season.

A lot of this has to do with their organizational ability to generate productive relievers from their farm system, with names like Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Ryne Stanek, and Hunter Wood being responsible for a large portion of their success.

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A new name recently added to their major league bullpen is another call-up from their minor league system, Colin Poche. Poche’s name isn’t one that popped out of nowhere, as since the beginning of the 2018 season, he put up some of the more dominant numbers for any pitcher in the minor leagues. Among 1,385 pitchers with at least 80 innings in that time, spanning across every level of affiliated baseball, here were Poche’s ranks…

  • FIP: 1st
  • xFIP: 2nd
  • K%: 2nd
  • K-BB%: 1st

Looking at just the upper-level of the minor leagues to get more reliable batted ball data, here’s where Poche ranked among 559 pitchers in other metrics…

  • FB%: 19th
  • GB%: 558th
  • IFFB%: 9th
  • SwStr%: 6th

It’s pretty apparent that Poche had quite the unique and extreme statistical profile. He doesn’t get a lot of ground balls, but makes up plenty for that by inducing weak infield flies and getting an elite amount of whiffs and strikeouts.

The unmatched dominance that Poche was putting up gave the Rays no choice but to give him a look in their major league bullpen. And despite questions about how his average-to-below-average velocity and extreme profile would translate to the big leagues, he has carried everything over to the next level. Things started out murky, as in his first three appearances he allowed four runs across his first 15 batters faced, but since then he’s been on a roll, pitching to the tune of a 0.22 ERA and 0.39 FIP in 11 innings. All together, he’s been great, striking out 17 and walking only one in his first 14 13 innings. That’s good for a 39.6 K-BB-rate, surpassed by only Josh Hader among pitchers with as many innings as him. Only two pitchers have a lower xwOBA than him this season.

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With a unique profile comes a unique way to success for Poche. He’s thrown 214 pitches this season, with 208 of them being four-seam fastballs. Almost similar to Josh Hader, but confusing once you look at the velocity difference (Poche at 92.7 miles per hour hour, Hader at 95.3). Where Poche generates his success is his vertical movement. His percentage of rise on his four-seamer ranks first in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 four-seamers thrown.

With the rise on his fastball, Poche generates weak contact through having hitters get their swings under the ball, inducing weak contact. According to Baseball Savant, only Marco Estrada has matched the sample size and rate of batted balls swing under the ball.

Colin Poche looks to be another key piece in a playoff push for the Rays. Through a plethora of four-seamers, he’s added value to a bullpen that didn’t even really need it. To what degree his dominance go is still a question, but the early results look fantastic.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.

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