Ryan Pressly has become a relief ace for the Houston Astros, and that’s a bad look for the Minnesota Twins.
Add it to the list of things that went wrong in Minnesota during the 2018 season.
Let’s get one thing out of the way early here: The Twins knew Pressly had a great curveball; they knew he had the ability to run up strikeout totals with the best of them; and they knew they were giving up a valuable weapon when they traded a year and two months of Ryan Pressly’s services ahead of the trade deadline.
One more thing to clarify: The two prospects that Minnesota got back, Jorge Alcala and Gilberto Celestino, are interesting. They might become helpful big leaguers someday. So we’re not critiquing the trade on its face. And yet…
Ryan Pressly looking like a star reliever with the Astros is a bad look for the Twins.
Derek Falvey was noted for his work to get the most out of pitchers when he was with the Cleveland Indians. Under Falvey, the Twins hired Josh Kalk, regarded as the pitchf/x guy, away from the Rays.
We’ve been talking for years here about Pressly as a guy with more to offer. His fastball-curve combo always looked extraordinary, and then when we got Statcast data unlocked to the public, the numbers backed up the eye test. Pressly’s spin rate was top shelf. He had the big fastball. In short, Pressly had the weapons to be a strikeout pitcher.
Last year Pressly had a nice swinging-strike rate of 12.4%. That tied for first on the Twins, although it’s only slightly better than league-average for relievers on an MLB-wide view. For Pressly that translated to a 24.2% strikeout rate, third on the Twins (behind Trevor Hildenberger and Michael Tonkin).
This year it’s a new ballgame for Pressly, who looks like a new pitcher. Some 2018 stats:
Pressly with the Twins: 3.40 ERA in 47 2/3 innings, 33.2% strikeout rate.
Pressly with the Astros: 0.77 ERA in 23 1/3 inning, 38.1% strikeout rate.
He’s throwing way more curveballs and he’s racking up the strikeouts. He’s slid into one of the most trusted roles in Houston’s bullpen, with Astros manager apparently telling the TV broadcast crew this week that Pressly “is our Andrew Miller.”
This stuff happens. Players boom or bust after a trade and we roundly praise/criticize the logic after the fact. This one’s a little different, in my mind.
Dave Sheinin wrote a feature on Pressly for the Washington Post. It quotes Pressly
“Honestly, it’s the preparation of the [Astros’] analytics department. They tell us what works and what’s not going to work — the percentages, how to set up your mix of pitches, how to attack hitters.”
He continues later i the piece:
“Every team has an analytics department, and this is no knock on the Twins, but seeing the time [the Astros] put in and the scouting reports you’re given, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s a different level,” Pressly said. “You kind of see, ‘Wow, if I just pitch a little more to this percentage instead of that percentage I can have some better results.’ When I came over here, they were like, ‘Look, your curveball is your best pitch. Everyone tells you your best pitch should be your fastball. But with the amount of spin you have on the ball, you need to throw that more, and it will set up your fastball even more.’ ”
Apparently Pressly has perfected the Minnesotan compliment. “Nice guy, but…”
“No knock on the Twins…”
The real money quote in that Post story comes from Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “The beauty of what we have going on right now is there’s an immediate buy-in when guys come over, because of some previous success stories,” Hinch said, according to the Washington Post.
“Our analytics team, our front office does a great job of providing information, providing thoughts, ideas. But it circles back to the player. I always credit the player, because he has to be the guy — he is the guy with the ball in his hand,” Hinch said.
And you can imagine why track record matters here. Maybe the Twins tried this whole thing, and approached it the exact same way as Houston. Maybe something about the clubhouse culture or the way in which Minnesota tried to get the point across just didn’t land for Pressly.
But when you see what Lance McCullers or Charlie Morton did in the World — or you see Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole jump over and hit the ground running, it’s hard to ignore.
Maybe the Twins will get there one day. But right now it looks like there’s a gap between what the Astros have going and what the Twins have going for them. Pressly is helping to make that point loud and clear this October.