Mike Foltynewicz is getting the message loud and clear from the Braves’ new analytics mavens: First-pitch strikes are golden.
He showed encouraging signs Sunday against the Marlins, allowing just one hit and no walks with one strikeout in three scoreless innings of a 5-2 Braves win at Champion Stadium. Foltynewicz threw 29 strikes in 49 pitches and allowed just one base-runner on a two-out single by Starlin Castro in the first inning.
“Just working on fastball location, I think that’s a big thing going into this year, getting first-pitch strikes with it and also just moving it in, out, up, down,” said Foltynewicz, who retired the last seven batters he faced including four on ground-outs. “I think we did a pretty good job with (fastball location) today, me and Kurt (Suzuki), even though that last inning I kind of fell behind a few batters.
“I was hitting my spots with my two-seam and my four-seam (fastballs). That’s what we were looking for to build off this start.”
Foltynewicz is hoping a simplified delivery – his wind-up is barely a wind-up at all – and more deliberate style, slowing his rhythm and pitching mechanics, will help him throw more strikes in general but first-pitch strikes in particular.
“We’re going to do our best to try to get that first-pitch strike, and I think we’ll have a lot more success if we get that,” he said. “We’re all trying to focus on that a little bit more, then it just opens up so many options.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said Braves players have been receptive to the information and theories provided by new general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ analytics-intensive staff including director of major league operations Alex Tamin and Jason Pere, assistant GM of research and development. The pitchers have been shown in detail the disparity in results after getting ahead in counts with first-pitch strikes rather than falling behind 0-1 against hitters.
“It’s huge. The numbers are unbelievable,” Snitker said. “Having a go-to strike-one pitch, it’s phenomenal what the averages against are after 0-1 and 1-0. ...
“I know (the pitchers) are working on a lot of stuff. To their credit, we have that information and they’re all kind of buying in and trying some things within the analytical realm.”
Foltynewicz had a inconsistent season with career-best highs and some alarming lows, going 10-13 with a 4.79 ERA before missing the final two weeks with a cut finger. He went 9-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 14 starts through July 25, but was 1-8 with a 7.27 ERA and .307 opponents’ average in his last nine starts while lasting fewer than six innings in six.
For the hard-throwing Foltynewicz, putting hitters away after getting ahead in counts 0-2 was another big issue last season. He thinks focusing more on location and less on max-effort velocity will help in that regard and that it goes hand-in-hand with the simpler delivery and staying in a direct line with the catcher rather than throwing across his body and falling to the side of the mound.
“They’re going to be ready for the fastball, anywhere over the middle of the plate they’re going to hit it,” he said. “So you’ve got to focus on really hitting your spots. It doesn’t have to be 98 anymore, just 93, 94 where you want it, and you saw today how they put the ball into the ground when I hit my spots. So it’s good to see.”
Asked if he was excited about his early results, Foltynewicz smiled. “Very excited,” he said. “The confidence is there, just don’t look back. This is going to be a big year for the Braves – not only myself but for this whole team, and I’m very excited about that.”