Bryce Elder grabbed everyone’s attention with a six-hit shutout that dismantled the Nationals last Monday. The bullpen was able to get a night off, which it needed after a long overtime game versus the Phillies the night before. Some reported the performance as Maddux-like, and we need to pump the brakes on the Hall of Famer comparison. Still, it’s worth recognizing the work that Elder did over the summer in Gwinnett, work that saw him emerge with a new battle plan and (I believe) some new confidence.
Before the long stay in Gwinnett, hitters had a .254/.384/.437 line against Elder with a .364 wOBA/.393 xwOBA. Since returning, hitters are only managing .189/.254/.217 with .214 wOBA and .259 xwOBA. Elder has feasted on the bottom of the NL East since August. However, in April the only playoff team that he faced was San Diego. So, it’s at least somewhat fair to compare these two time periods. The big difference is that he is getting many more strikeouts now than before, nearly doubling his rate from 13.8 percent to 25.4 percent.
A couple of things are noticeable as you look at differences from April. The one that jumps out is his release point has moved right to left (from the catcher's perspective) and moved higher slightly. I'm not sure what to make of the height change, but the slide to the right is clear. As you can see when he is in the stretch, he has made a big move toward the center of the rubber. This is him in April. Look at this shot of him in San Diego. A lot of this is the ESPN camera angle, but he barely looks like he hanging on the to the side of the earth. This projects a hey-Mr.-Batter-don’t-mean-to-be-rude-just-gonna-toss-my-91-MPH-sinker-over-here vibe.
And this is him in September.
He’s using a lot more of the plate now, and is pumping in the sinker to right-handers with greater authority. He is running in the sinker toward their thighs, which is opening up opportunities on the outside with the sinker and the slider. In April, this chart was a jumbled mess.
The ability to stand toward the center of the rubber is giving him opportunities with the slider away. Part of his April issues were the lack of the putaway pitch. He has 19 swings and misses on the sinker versus righties since August versus only 5 in April. But now, observe the sinker in...
and the slider away.
In addition to this, he has trimmed the number of pitches used both to righties since April. He has discarded the changeup. This makes sense, as it might not work to have a changeup with a 91 MPH sinker. The changeup use is way down versus lefties as well, replacing mostly with the sinker.
Elder is certainly on a roll right now. His last four starts all had Game Scores (v2) over 63 while his first four topped out at 46. Other than the above, he is basically the same guy. His slider spin rate is up slightly, but nothing that would account for the four run drop in FIP. He is outrunning his xwOBA by .045, but was also doing so in April at a .029 clip.
Bryce Elder is low-key a great rookie turnaround for the Braves. He gets overshadowed by Strider and Harris, but his ability to get outs versus the NL’s bottom tier has been super helpful over the playoff run. I’m not sure he makes the playoff roster, but if he did, his 60 FV playoff beard will definitely fit right in.