I identify strongly with the Cubs and Seam-Shifted Wakes, so it’s a good day.
Sahadev Sharma published an article in The Athletic on April 11, 2021 about how SSW affects the Cubs pitchers. He had noticed something I had also noted: that compared to a lot of teams, the Cubs have a lot of SSW guys. He notes Hendricks (of course) as well as Williams, Arrieta, and Mills. The only one I’d add is Jason Adam’s changeup. I had recently wondered if William’s SSW use had anything to do with the Cubs trading for him.
I am now thinking the answer to that is “yes”.
If you are unfamiliar with plots like that, I recommend reading my cliff notes. The cliff notes version of the cliff notes is that if a pitch falls on the line, it’s moving the way spin would dictate. If it’s off the line, seams are moving the ball. Below the line means glove side for a RHP and visa versa.
I agree that the Cubs are one of the most SSW teams. They are one of many teams I met with last year and they took a lot of notes. Sahadev correctly mentions the Dodgers as the perceived leaders, but I see two very different approaches on these teams. The Dodgers use a lot of high efficiency “turbo sinkers” (e.g. Treinen and May) which gain additional movement from SSW. The Cubs style is more about changing the movement direction. You’ll note that none of their SSW guys are that anyone would call a power pitcher. They have many SSW changeups, 4S and sinkers. The Braves (who I’ve spoken to a lot) and the Tigers (who I have not) also have a lot of these guys.
Sahadev mentions their main power guy, Craig Kimbrel. The plot below shows his pitches this year. The top blob is his 4S and the bottom is the curve. The 4S may be shifted slightly to the arm side (which is how I know he throws it 4S), but this just means his efficiency is more like 95% than 100%. So, when pitching well (which he has in 2021), Kimbrel is not a SSW guy.
One claim Sahadev that I disagree with (but that is commonly repeated) is that SSW has less effect on breaking pitches. This impression comes from looking at league-averaged data. SSW curves and sliders move one way when thrown 2S and the opposite way when thrown 4S, and since there is no consensus on how to throw them, they average to not much. I’ve written an article on this that you can download here.
To me, the most interesting part of the article are the pitchers quotes. They all amount to “what??” (OK, Williams is a bit more on it). From what I’ve seen, any successful MLB pitcher using SSW is unaware of it and not very interested in learning about it. Which makes sense. The ones I hear from are either trying to work their way up (e.g. Williams until last week) or have fallen on hard times and are looking for answers.
I’ll close with a message to the Cubs and Hendricks: Why not make that 4S work more like the “cut” changeup? You know where to find me.