Justin Steele has an unusual pitch profile and an uncomplicated strategy to his craft. He additionally has an outdoor likelihood of capturing this yr’s NL Cy Younger award. With two begins remaining (one if the Cubs clinch a Wild Card berth previous to Sunday’s regular-season finale), the 28-year-old southpaw is 16–5 with a 3.00 ERA and a 2.99 FIP over 168 innings. He’s not solely been Chicago’s finest pitcher, however he’s additionally been the most effective within the Senior Circuit.
Steele’s emergence as a frontline starter was portended by final yr’s efficiency. Whereas his won-lost document was an anything-but-eye-catching 4–7, his 3.18 ERA and his 3.20 FIP weren’t notably larger than this yr’s marks. Furthermore, his strikeout and ground-ball charges have been really higher, as have been his xFIP and HR/9. His BABIP was almost equivalent. The one significant distinction, on paper, was his stroll fee, which at 3.78 was basically double this season’s 1.88.
Previous to his final outing — a sport during which he was BABIP’d to dying by six consecutive fourth-inning singles — I approached Steele in Wrigley Discipline’s residence clubhouse to get his ideas on what has been an excellent season. The next day, I requested Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy concerning the pitch traits that make Steele a Cy Younger contender.
David Laurila: Received-lost document and stroll fee apart, numerous your numbers aren’t all that totally different from final yr’s. Are you kind of the identical pitcher?
Justin Steele: “I might say that I’m higher. The pitches are the identical, I’m the identical pitcher so far as that goes, however I’ve been extra constant this yr. I’m not strolling as many guys. I’m being aggressive all through the depend, I’ve lower down on non-competitive pitches large time. So yeah, much more constant.”
Laurila: Have been you proud of final yr?
Steele: “I feel so. I used to be undoubtedly proud of how I completed up [a 0.99 ERA over his last seven starts]. I felt like the whole season I used to be enhancing. That’s one thing that’s actually vital to me, all the time enhancing from begin to begin.”
Laurila: What’s behind this yr’s improved consistency?
Steele: “I feel it’s simply extra reps, getting increasingly snug on the market every time I take the ball. It’s like something in life: you do it extra and also you get extra snug doing it. You additionally get higher at it.”
Laurila: Is your stuff mainly the identical? Velocity, motion profiles, et cetera?
Steele: “I really feel like it’s. I don’t actually have a look at the numbers an excessive amount of. I type of simply go off really feel and belief what my eyeballs are telling me. However I do assume that my slider has been crisper at occasions. It’s actually simply each day for me.”
Laurila: Do you are feeling you’re sequencing higher this yr?
Steele: “There are undoubtedly days the place I really feel like Yan [Gomes] and I are capable of sequence higher collectively, after which there are days the place I type of simply fully go along with what he’s saying. I really feel like he’s a bit of extra dialed in than I’m. It’s a matter of conditions, hitters… stuff the place they’re beginning to decide up on one thing. Perhaps they’re beginning to get to the slider low and in, so we’ll begin to combine it up in several methods.”
Laurila: How do you determine as a pitcher? Are you extra of an influence man, extra of a finesse man…
Steele: “I might label myself as an out-getter. I get outs.”
Laurila: Is there an artwork to inducing comfortable contact?
Steele: “I’d say so. For those who’re capable of maneuver the ball, manipulate the ball and get it in on their fingers, get them pondering it’s over the plate and it finally ends up breaking late, you will get floor balls, double performs, popups. Various things like that. So yeah, there’s undoubtedly an artwork to it.”
Laurila: Which of your numbers do care about probably the most?
Steele: “That’s an fascinating query, as a result of once more, I don’t actually have a look at stats. However I suppose I care about high quality begins. For those who can maintain your group within the sport for not less than six innings whereas holding the opposition to not more than three runs, you’re doing all your job. You’re giving the group an opportunity to win, and that’s what you’re on the market to do.”
Hottovy on what makes Steele efficient: “If have a look at him from the second half of final yr, he’s been one of the crucial dominant pitchers within the sport. I feel what makes him so good and so distinctive is his potential to throw his fastball at a excessive velocity and have it transfer very cutter-ish. Most guys, after they throw a cutter, it has a bit of extra depth. You’ll see guys who create glove-side motion however not preserve fairly the carry you’ll get on a fastball. He’s in a novel place to the place you’ve bought, at occasions, 11, 12, 13 inches of carry to go along with the glove-side motion.
“When he clicks it proper, he backspins [the ball] and it goes as much as 18 inches of vertical motion. Then he’ll lower one off and it’ll go into that six-and-six vary, which is the place most guys’ cutters are typically. He’s bought the flexibility to throw one pitch in just a few other ways. He’s not manipulating it from a grip perspective. It’s extra intent-based. When he desires to get extra stick with it the ball, he’ll change his sights up a bit of bit and take into consideration driving it by way of the highest, naturally creating extra carry. When he’s making an attempt to jam it in on a righty, or go down and away to a lefty, he’ll focus his sights extra down, glove-side. That can naturally create extra lower due to how his mechanics work.
“It’s a reasonably steep [approach] angle, and it’s his potential to create motion off of that angle that makes him distinctive. Once more, most guys who’ve cutters aren’t throwing 92–93 [mph] and creating that sort of glove-side motion. With numerous the blokes who throw cutters at the next velocity, that pitch will get sucked out to the zero-zero mark the place it’s extra of gyro-y sort cutter. Like I stated, his potential to create backspin and lower is exclusive. He’s such a supinated pitcher. All the pieces he does is in that sturdy supinated place.
“[His slider] is a strong pitch. It’s bought numerous sweep and carry to it. He’s particularly exhausting to time up, particularly for right-handed hitters; he simply doesn’t get barreled up fairly often. That’s with each pitches. You see numerous hitters, after they’re attending to that contact level, begin to go actually quick, making an attempt to beat the pitch to the spot. The one manner you may actually carry his fastball is by staying inside it, and that’s actually exhausting to do when it’s boring in on you at the next velocity.
“For probably the most half he’s a two-pitch pitcher, however his potential to maneuver them round and make them transfer in another way makes it 4 pitches in my thoughts. And he really has different pitches. After I watch him throw a bullpen, he’s bought an excellent changeup. He’s bought a curveball. He’s bought a bit of sinker. Principally, he makes use of what he must. For a younger pitcher to belief what he does rather well and have a capability to regulate off of that’s fairly spectacular.”