News and Notes in Offseason Pitching Developments

DJ Herz, Josh Burgmann, Chris Clarke, and Michael McAvene all throw serious curveballs
Photo by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

Josh Burgmann

Cub fans saw a continuation of more aggressive selections throughout the 2019 draft. With Michael McAvene, Chris Clarke, and Josh Burgmann, the Cubs selected three straight Tommy John surgery (TJS) survivors. The Cubs using more risk-averse draft strategies in previous years would have likely ruled out prior-TJS pitchers. McAvene and Clarke receive more praise, but don’t sleep on Burgmann who is one of several pitchers in the organization coming into spring training with five pitches. The biggest change he’s made during the shutdown and offseason was in finding grips to differentiate the shape of his slider and curveball. Burgmann changed his curveball to employ a “spike-curve” grip (the Cubs pitching development specialty). He’s also worked to create his slider to have more hard break rather than cutter movement. The Cubs have done well with pitchers in his profile. Josh Burgmann could carve out a starting rotation assignment at the start of minor league games.

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Luke Little

Luke Little is known for serious velocity. He’s received publicity for hitting 102 mph and later 105 mph in a bullpen session. Even just accounting for a hot gun and some range of error, that’s pure fire from the left-hand side. The real test for the Cubs development staff and Luke is the incorporation of his secondary pitches. According to Luke, he feels most comfortable with his slider and he noted the importance of his changeup if he wants to have success as a starting pitcher. However, according to Little, his curveball is what he’ll be spending more time on this spring and summer. He and the developmental staff are still experimenting with grips and arm slots for his curveball. Luke will be featured in an upcoming episode of

Max Bain

If you haven’t listened to Max Bain describe pitch design and you are at all interested in the topic, you’re missing out. He was featured in an episode of the Growing Cubs podcast, among several others. Bain is known to be very detailed in incorporating data into his pitch design. Along those lines, seam shifted wake (SSW) is an emerging data point in pitch design that may help to explain how certain pitchers can throw pitches that appear to befuddle hitters despite a lack of velocity. The Cubs-centric example includes Kyle Hendricks, who is a leader in SSW. If you’d like more information about SSW, check it out here. But to briefly describe it, there is an extra effect on the ball caused by the impact of the seams of a baseball. It’s responsible for extra late movement and is especially associated with sinkers though it can affect other pitches as well. Why are we hearing about this now? Well, multiple teams of researchers have demonstrated that this is a real effect and how to quantify it. I reached out to Max to see if he’s experiencing SSW with any of his pitches. And he is! Unlike most SSW examples, he’s experiencing it with his cutter. Bain mentioned that it wasn’t an intentional development, but rather one “you naturally fall into”. Max Bain is already one of the most interesting stories in the Cubs system and an incredible follow online. Bain throwing a pitch with in vogue metrics is yet another pitching development story to watch in 2021.

Brendon Little at Spring Training 2021 by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

Brendon Little

Brendon Little had a rough outing in Friday’s game, but nonetheless still shows strong improvement with his breaking ball. It’s expected that Little will continue to build up as a reliever (though not set in stone). With the reports of upper 90s velocity in instructs and his excellent curveball, Little has the tools to succeed in relief.

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