January 14th, 2018
Pete Bayer is a reliever in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Pete was drafted out of Cal Poly Pomona in the 9th round in 2016. Pete has an incredible story as he went from little playing time at the University of Richmond, to having a velocity spike, to being a well-known prospect in the Rays system. You can read more about his transformation at Driveline here. Pete spent last year at Class-A Bowling Green. In 67 IP Pete had a 4.84 ERA, 3.96 FIP, .228 BAA, and 95 strikeouts, good for a 31.5 K%. Pete also has a training account @47performance that you should all follow!
Pete was a teammate of Jonathan’s at the University of Richmond for three years. They developed a friendship that they still share today. While visiting Jonathan at Richmond, I became friends with Pete. Although we have only met a few times in person, Pete and I talk quite frequently. Pete was probably the first person to open my eyes to data-driven player development and the benefits one can get from it. Pete is one of the most knowledgeable baseball players I have ever met, and I’m incredibly excited for you all to hear what he has to say.
MD: You’ve long been a client of Driveline Baseball, what parts of the program do you think have been the most integral in your development?
PB: The most prominent parts of the development from Driveline right now for me are probably pitch design and learning how to do that. Learning about rapsodo, spin efficiency, spin axis, horizontal and vertical break. Since I started training there in college, the most important thing I learned was intent, how to throw the ball hard. Some of the mechanical things I learned were: how to efficiently use your front leg, get your elbow over your shoulder and learning to throw the ball rather than pushing it. The last important thing I learned from Driveline is a real work ethic. All the people you train around there are way better than you. These guys are throwing way harder, possess nasty stuff, or they are jacked, and you see that, and the culture just resonates with you. You see that, and it makes you want to work hard to become that. Guys like Trevor Bauer, Casey Weather or Caleb Cotham who I trained with were huge in my development. The work ethic they have and being able to learn from and talk to top level pitchers was incredibly helpful.
MD: Why do you think there is such a misconception from the anti-weighted ball community that Driveline is ‘only’ a weighted ball program?
PB: I think people just see the pulldown videos, or they see the products, and they just assume that all they do is throw these plyoballs and weighted balls. That they are not teaching pitching, rather just teaching you how to throw. Part of it is the products that are out there and seeing the cool pulldown videos. There aren’t many videos of guys throwing off mounds, so there is a misconception that all it is is arm strength and velocity training when really there is so much more behind it. There is a lack of awareness and lack of research done on Driveline. Most people in the anti-weighted ball community are not reading the blogs they provide. People just go on trainees instagrams and twitter to see what they are doing which is just wrong, but I think it is getting better. People are starting to realize there is way more to it. There are a lot of people who just bag on weighted balls saying they are dangerous, when in my opinion although it is not really an opinion it is a fact every ball is a weighted ball. A 5 oz baseball is a weighted ball. Everything you throw is weighted, and I don’t understand the controversy behind it.
Now for fun here is Pete doing a pulldown:
MD: What does investing in your career mean to you?
PB: Investing in your career means you have to be 100% committed to maximizing your potential if it is something you want to do. Whether it is a high school kid trying to play in college and get a scholarship, a college kid that wants to play professionally, or a professional in the Minors trying to get to the MLB it takes 100% commitment towards what you are doing because everybody there is pushing you. In every single level, you go up; there are going to be guys who are better than you. You have to be 100% committed to being better on and off the field. Kobe Bryant, I watched his documentary on Showtime recently, he knew he was working harder than his competition. Kobe knew he wasn’t partying and combining that with his work ethic he knew he had an advantage over other young guys in the NBA. He would go every day and put up hundreds of shots and spend countless hours in the gym working on his game. That is what investing in your career means. If you really want to be the best that you can be you have to spend the most time doing that. Spend an insane amount of time at your craft, like the 10,000-hour rule. I don’t necessarily believe in that, but you have to have a crazy dedication.
MD: You left the University of Richmond for your senior season to pitch at Cal Poly Pomona and was drafted in the 9th round of the 2016 MLB first-year player draft. For players out there in similar circumstances that you were in. Who maybe are talented and not getting a chance or just not at the right place for them, what advice would you have for them?
PB: I would say if you’re at a school where the coaches philosophies don’t match your own, it’s a lot harder to be able to train the way you’d like and do what you need. You have to find an environment that works for you. For me as soon as I’m in a positive environment where I’m embraced and coaches are focused on learning rather than resting on what they know it is huge for me. So that’s the biggest thing, finding an environment where people can do what they want and whatever works for them. For high school guys, make sure whatever college you commit to you can do whatever you need to in your training. You shouldn’t go to the cool place, go somewhere you are going to develop. For guys who might transfer and guys who know they have the talent that are struggling, for me it was just confidence. I think confidence comes from working hard and trusting your training and knowing that you have put in the time rather than the ego side of confidence that you are better than everyone else. Have the belief that you have put the work in and you go out there and show it. Find a place where you can develop and trust the training you are doing and be confident in it and I believe that will lead to success.
MD: When you were at Richmond, and things weren’t going your way how did you get yourself to this moment where you are today?
PB: When things weren’t going my way at Richmond I pretty much knew I had to leave. I don’t treat it as I blame the coaches for everything. We didn’t see eye to eye; we believed in entirely different things so instead of getting pissed and arguing about it I knew I had to make a change. I was sick of getting into arguments and not thinking I’m in the right place. Transferring and like I said to the last question finding a place I’d develop was important. It took an insane dedication and work ethic to get to where I’m at now. Even when I was at Cal Poly Pomona, I’d be at practice an hour before it started doing my warm up, then go through practice and stay after and do my recovery and mobility and then spend a lot of time in the weight room. I always knew what I wanted to do and there was only a Plan A, there was never really a plan B. I never lost sight of what I wanted to do and kept working towards it, knowing inside me that I could do that. There is a lot more to it, but for the most part, it was putting in the time, finding a place I could develop, where I was appreciated. Finding coaches who instead of being stuck in their ways were willing to learn something new and that was the biggest key I looked for in a coaching staff.
MD: After training at Driveline you were fortunate to get drafted by a pro Driveline team in the Tampa Bay Rays. How has being drafted by an analytically based organization helped foster your development?
PB: The Rays have been amazing, they are open to a lot of things. Especially with the Driveline stuff, it isn’t exactly straight Driveline, but they allow their players to do what they want to do with their throwing. They are open with pitchers, they have a lot of success developing pitchers, and I think the reason for that is they let guys do their own thing and be themselves. Allowing guys to be themselves is the most significant thing an organization can do, and there are not many organizations who do that. I think that is a big reason they have had success developing pitchers. Overall since the Rays are an analytically minded organization, they love new open-minded ideas. Since they are a small market team any original idea that can give them an advantage is going to be welcomed instead of thrown away. They are always looking for an edge whether they agree with it or not they are going to learn something from the player.
MD: What numbers are the most important for you to look at when evaluating your performance?
PB: You can look at anything, I look at so many different things, probably more than what most guys do. I think most guys probably look at their ERA and think they are having a good year if they have a low ERA, or a bad year if they have a high ERA. There are way more statistics than that, and I don’t think ERA is a perfect indicator of performance. It is one of the major ones, but shouldn’t be the full story. I look at BAA, BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) as well as ERA. If you look at my rookie season I had a low ERA, but my FIP was a run higher, and last year I had a higher ERA, but my FIP was about a run lower than that. Obviously, I look at GB%, FB%, but the main ones are BAA, FIP, and BABIP. I look at my K%, but I try not to get distracted by it. I know I have a high K%, but there are so many other things I need to improve. While the strikeouts are great, in my opinion, they are better than a normal out, because you are eliminating a ball in play and guaranteeing an out. I don’t put a ton of emphasis on it. If next year it is a lot lower then I may look at it and say this is leading to some regression in my performance. To this point in my career, it has been super consistent, so I’m not putting too much emphasis on it.
MD: You’re doing a study this offseason about how spin rate/Bauer units(spin rate/velocity)/vertical break impacts xBA (expected batting average from statcast) and swing and miss % on 4 seam FBs. Can you give us some insight into your findings so far?
PB: The study is looking at how spin rate, Bauer units, and vertical break impacts xBA and swing and miss %. I was trying to figure out what stat to use, BAA isn’t the best, and there are a ton of metrics I could’ve used that aren’t the best for this study, so I settled on xBA. I took a bunch of data from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant, and I found every pitcher’s average velocity, spin rate, Bauer unit and vertical break and the expected xBA and whiff%. I haven’t seen any correlations yet because I haven’t dug into the data too much, but I want to keep working on this and figure it out. The main reason for me doing this is because I have a pretty high Bauer unit, good vertical movement on my fastball. For those who don’t know much about vertical movement, it is pretty much the spin efficiency on the ball. So you can have a high spin rate and a low spin efficiency. I learned from someone I train with that spin efficiency matters more than spin rate. If you have a 95 mph fastball spinning at 2300 RPM with a 40% spin efficiency, it won’t appear as a 4 seam fastball to the hitter, because it will have some side spin. It won’t seem to rise like a pitch with a true spin efficiency will. While trackman is excellent for teams as it looks at spin rate, it doesn’t look at spin efficiency like Rapsodo does. If you look at Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, Hill has the better spin rate on his fastball, but Kershaw has more vertical break on his fastball at 13.5 inches compared to Hills 11.6. You take that into account, and there is more to spin rate, which is what I’ve found through this study so far. It is spin efficiency that we should prioritize. If you have good spin efficiency and a good spin rate, then that is a true 4 seam fastball.
MD: What gave you the idea for this project?
PB: One day I was thinking about Bauer units, and I was thinking a 2500 RPM at 90 MPH compared to a 2500 RPM at 95, and I was wondering if the pitcher with less velocity, but a better Bauer Unit would have more success with their fastball. I wanted to see if guys with higher spin rates at lower velocities had more success in xBA and whiff% and that is what I wanted to look at as I was talking with one of my coworkers one day. It was fascinating, so I wanted to study it. Also, mainly since I have a high spin rate and good spin efficiency I wanted to match that up with big league guys and see how they’re doing.
MD: How important do you think it is to ask questions as a player?
PB: Honestly you should question everything. If you are not questioning everything, then I think you are just going through the motions. I don’t think anyone has all the answers, so you should always be researching and always try to learn more and not believe you know everything. Every single day I feel like I’m working on something new, or trying to learn something else, so it is vital regarding development and success on the field to ask questions and think outside the box. No one has all the answers, and there is so much information out there.
MD: Why do you think not everyone has accepted data-driven player development?
PB: Baseball is such an old-school sport. There is so much tradition to baseball, and there are so many beliefs that were always there. It is going to be pretty much impossible to get everyone on board. It is getting a lot better; since I started doing Driveline 3-4 years ago, it went from hardly anyone doing it with just a handful of MLB teams doing it to almost half the MLB or even more organizations are into data-driven development. They look into advanced metrics and diversify their training, so it is coming around. It is so slow because baseball is such a tradition-driven sport, with a lot of old minds still involved in baseball. It is hard to convince guys who played their whole career doing things one way, that there may be a better way or that another way is having success.
MD: You possess a 4 seam FB with one of the best spin rates (averages between 2400-2600 RPMs) in all of professional baseball. Did you develop this incredible spin naturally or did you train something specific to increase spin?
PB: Regarding my spin rate I don’t know how I got it. I never developed it or trained anything specific to increase it. I don’t think there is anything you can do to improve it. I don’t know if this has anything to do with spin rate, but I always threw 4 seam fastballs, I would always play catch with a 4 seam grip. As a kid, I only threw 4 seam fastballs. I think you can improve the efficiency on the pitch; I don’t think you can enhance the spin rate naturally or train to increase it. You can improve the efficiency of a pitch though, by looking at how it comes out of the hand, messing with grips, things like that. With the technology, we have now, specifically rapsodo units you can improve your spin efficiency in just a few weeks by messing with grips and how you throw your fastball. Nobody knows how to train spin rate, so it was never something I learned how to do. I didn’t know about my spin rate until a couple of years ago. In college, I got a ton of swing and misses on my fastball, and nobody knew what it was and then when I threw on a trackman or rapsodo it was kind of like, wow this is crazy.
MD: You’ve worked with rapsodo to foster pitch design before. For those out there who don’t know much about it can you touch upon it and explain the benefits of using this technology?
PB: I’ve touched a lot upon the rapsodo unit already, but the benefits are significant. Trackman may be a little more accurate in the metrics it gives, but rapsodo offers more like spin efficiency so in pitch design terms it may be even more beneficial. You can also measure the movement on each pitch. It also gives a diagram that shows how the baseball was moving when you throw it. You can learn how to throw any pitch by just using the technology and doing trial and error with grips, arm angles and wrist position among other things. It is incredibly beneficial for me because of all the fantastic things you can do with it and teach yourself how to throw any pitch. You can also go on baseball savant and get data on every single pitch thrown by every pitcher and get the spin rates on any curveball, or slider thrown. You can get their average spin on different pitches and even league averages for each pitch. You can see how your pitches match up and use the rapsodo to improve your pitches. If you haven’t seen what a rapsodo is you can learn more here: http://rapsodo.com/
MD: You said you recently began pitch design for this winter. What are you focusing on in your pitch design sessions?
PB: This offseason in pitch design I am learning how to throw a 12-6 curveball. That is my mission. For me, 4 seam fastballs live up in the zone, and I don’t have an off-speed pitch to go off that. I have a slider and a splitter that are both low spin efficiency pitches that have to be thrown low in the zone. This year hitters became aware everything I was throwing high was a fastball, and everything low was an off-speed pitch. I’m working on a 12-6 curveball to see if I can get maximum efficiency on it and league average spin or if it is better than league average that’ll be awesome. Just trying to get maximum efficiency on it because if I do, then my curveball and fastball will look the same coming out of my hand. Pitching Ninja on twitter (@PitchingNInja he is a must follow!) tweeted out a GIF of a 12-6 curveball and 4 seam fastball spinning in slow motion and what they look like to a hitter. When I saw this I was like I need to learn how to throw this because it is something that looks just like my fastball up in the zone, but breaks down and that is going to be the game changer for me to move up.
Here is the tweet that inspired Pete:
MD: You’ve told me in the past that you want to see your flyball% go up and groundball% go down. Can you explain why?
PB: This is an interesting concept and something I find unique to just me. It is an individual belief. Everyone preaches ground balls, but I find when I throw to middle and upper parts of the zone that I get a lot more pop-ups or weak fly balls and when I throw fastballs to the lower part of the zone I give up line drives and hard-hit ground balls. I don’t get soft contact when I throw low in the zone. For me, I want to get as many fly balls as possible with my fastball because then I realize I’m putting my fastball in the right spot and I’m getting swings and misses and weak fly balls. For whatever reason, I don’t give up weak ground balls with my fastball, and when I pitch down in the zone, I tend to give up rocket line-drives and hard ground balls. I don’t get weak ground balls unless I throw my off-speed pitches, so that is why I like my FB% to be high with my fastball. You might see a few more home runs pitching this way, but honestly, I haven’t given up many, I think I gave up three or four last year in 70 innings and the year before I gave up one. It is not like I am giving up an insane amount of home runs by saying that. It is only for my fastball though that I want this. I do not want to give up fly balls with my secondary pitches. I wanted my FB % to go up because I throw so many fastballs. I realize I need to throw more off-speed pitches now. There is no way to look at like slider or splitter GB% and FB% I wish there was on the individual pitches. Maybe my FB% on fastballs is like 90%, and the other pitches are bringing it down. Unless you are tracking it all, there is no real way to know that, unfortunately.
MD: Hitters hit just .228 against you last year with an inflated .347 BABIP, but you walked 15.9% of hitters. You have over-powering stuff that is incredibly difficult to hit, and walks are the only problem with your game at the moment. In your first professional season, you walked just three batters in 32.2 innings. What are you doing to replicate you 2016 BB% and be more consistent in attacking the strike zone?
PB: I had some mechanical flaws last year regarding my direction, and when I was throwing to the plate I was stepping right at right-handed batters. My lead foot wasn’t landing in the right spot, and I didn’t pick up on it until we were three-quarters of the way through the season. My coaches pulled me into their office and asked if I had seen myself on video. I hadn’t, and they pointed out how closed off I was landing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with landing closed, but for me, my arm slot is directly over the top, the direction of my body needs to be straight-forward, so I need to be landing in line with the plate. A lot of it was direction and learning to land more open. A lot of it was mental as well; I know a lot of people say throwing strikes isn’t mental. Part of it was for me, I’ve had an issue with walks in the past and in college I did as well. You have a couple of outings where you walk a lot of people, and it starts getting in your head that you can’t walk anyone and I have to throw strikes. Your thought process is just in the wrong place, so I think my head wasn’t in the right place for that matter. I was putting way too much pressure on myself, and I kept thinking about not walking guys. This overthinking resulted in me walking more guys. I switched over from being a starter my whole life to a reliever which gets me to my last reason. As a reliever, hitters take way more pitches, especially at the professional level. When you enter late in the game, these are hitters last at bats of the game and their last chance to do something, when facing relievers with power stuff they are a lot more patient. They take pitches and take until they see strikes, and when they were taking against me, I wasn’t grooving strikes I was just missing or whatever it was. Hitters take a lot more pitches, so I need to be more aggressive in the strike zone instead of trying to be dominant. That was another key part; hitters take a lot more pitches when you are a reliever, and I have never been one before until now. This is something I had to learn, that I need to throw a lot more strikes right away because guys are just taking and I’m getting behind, and it is leading to walks or hard-hit balls. The direction where I was landing, mentality and hitters approach all point to my high walk rate.
MD: What are your goals for the 2018 season?
PB: For me, I don’t like the term goals. For some reason, I don’t set goals for myself. I don’t say I want to do this, this and this or I don’t want to do this, this and this because then I’m always thinking about it. Rather than just being the person who lives day by day. I’m just concentrating on my training, during the season it is just doing the best I can today and then the next day. Whatever happens, happens I am not worried about the future. That is part of the mentality, I have to avoid being so future-oriented and make the most out of every single day. You shouldn’t worry about fewer walks this year, or moving up a level this year, I don’t care I just want to do the best I can today, and the rest will take care of itself.
MD: What do you think organizations can do to improve their player development?
PB: The biggest thing for me and the most significant thing I think is being open-minded and putting learning first and not being stuck in your ways. The most notable thing that I see when teams have success with player development whether it is high school, college or professionally is having an open-minded environment. A lot of people are doing different things rather than everyone being on the same program. Another thing is looking into a lot more advanced metrics, how to set a lineup, how to manage a pitching staff, and stuff like that. There are so many numbers you can look at regarding all the advanced metrics in baseball. For hitters you have OBP, you have all of these things you can take advantage of rather than look at a person’s batting average, and it is the same thing for pitchers. Like looking at a pitchers ERA you can look at so many other things because someone could have a high K%, or they have a low FIP, and a guy could have a low ERA and a super deflated BABIP, meaning their ERA will go up. So being open-minded is the most significant thing and learning from your players honestly. So many players have different philosophies and ways they go about their training. Be player first and the second one is digging into the advanced metrics of the game and put people in the right situations, make the right lineups and using the right guys in the proper roles.