The San Diego Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday night, in exchange for stud prospect Luis Patiño along with young, unpolished catchers Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt. This was a move that says one thing- the Padres are through fooling around. The championship window is open.
Blake Snell certainly brings name recognition. He won the AL Cy Young in 2018 with an absurd 1.89 ERA and 217 ERA+ (both AL-highs) in 31 starts. Then, this past season, he made headlines with what didn’t happen…finish the game. Through no fault of his own, Snell was yanked in the sixth inning at 73 pitches from the World Series in Game 6 against the Dodgers after allowing just his second hit of the entire game.
Three innings later, the Dodgers hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy as Snell looked on.
Now, as a member of the Padres, he has some unfinished business with the boys in blue up north. The Friars picked up a southpaw with a massive chip on his shoulder and plenty of firepower left in the tank, at just 28 years old. He possesses devastating stuff and, when he remains healthy, is one of the most feared lefties in the game today.
Let’s dive into what makes Snell the All-Star, Cy Young-winning pitcher he is.
Like most pitchers in the big leagues, Snell touts a fastball that he can locate well and that can blow away a hitter that is caught unawares. He averages 95 mph with it, but during the World Series against the Dodgers, be it adrenaline or emptying the tank, he threw three fastballs that exceeded 97 mph, all three of which resulted in strikeouts, including one to Mookie Betts.
Over the course of the season, this was the pitch batters had the most success again, naturally, since most pitchers throw more fastballs when behind in the count. Opponents’ expected batting average on his fastball in 2020 was .320, which may be something to monitor looking forward as a weak point. That’s an enormous leap from his 2019 xBA of .220. His spin rate and velocity did not change much, so maybe it was more due to the lack of sample size in 2020.
In any case, having a lefty who can set the table with a mid-to-high 90s fastball is always a good thing.
The 2011 first-round pick uses a changeup to get out of some tight spots. An interesting note is that he threw 173 changeups in 2020 and not a single one of them went to a left-handed batter. The pitch usually sits somewhere in the high-80s, with the average velocity at 88 mph. It seems to be a pitch he favors when facing an opposite-handed batter, trying to keep them off-balance. In one particular case, it seemed to work on the all-world power of Giancarlo Stanton in the ALDS.
With a zipping fastball and other devastating breaking pitches, mixing in a changeup gives the hitters, even more to think about. Given the stark splits between righties and lefties, this is a pitch with which he is looking to get outs against dangerous right-handed hitters such as Stanton. The expecting batting average of this pitch in 2020 was .259.
The changeup was as uneven as possible between righties and lefties, and his slider is the antithesis of that. Almost down to the pitch, it’s split almost perfectly, even between right-handers and lefties, with an expected batting average of .044. It’s clearly his preferred “out pitch.” An encouraging note is that the spin rate of his slider went up from 2,367 RPMs in 2019 to 2,463 in 2020 while maintaining velocity, with an average of 87.4 mph. Obviously, this is one of the toughest pitches to hit in baseball for a left-handed batter. Snell was at his best during the World Series and made power lefty Max Muncy look silly.
Expect a heavy dose of sliders when Snell is ahead in the count, especially against the tough lefties in the N.L. West like the Dodgers’ trio of Muncy, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger, along with Charlie Blackmon, Brandon Belt, and Kole Calhoun throughout the division.
Snell’s fourth and final pitch is yet another “out pitch.” Among the four pitches, the curveball struck out the most hitters in 2020, along with an xBA of .156. Between his three off-speed pitches, there is only a difference of 50 pitches thrown, so he doesn’t heavily favor one or the other. He uses his full arsenal quite often. The curve is his slowest pitch, with an average velocity of 80.1 mph. This is yet another pitch he uses to level the playing field with right-handed batters, throwing 81 percent of his curveballs against righties. He fooled Astros’ All-Star George Springer on a curve in the 2020 ALCS.
There’s plenty to be excited about with Snell’s arsenal. He can mix it up with location, velocity, and pitch type depending on the handedness of the hitter he is facing. He has four quality pitches that he can use to get a hitter out in any count. The Washington native is a welcome addition to a strengthened starting rotation. He brings the accolades and playoff experience any team would love to have atop their rotation.