This is as much an indictment of the 2019 Giants as it is praise, but my favorite player to watch has been Trevor Gott. Every time he enters a game, I’m reminded that the Nationals gave him up for nothing, and their bullpen has been a smoldering ruin for most of the year. It’s petty, but with as few things that have gone right this year I’ve had to resort to schadenfreude.
It’s not as if the Nationals weren’t aware of who they were giving away. They had Gott in their system for three years and in that time, he only threw 28 innings in the majors and had a 7.39 ERA. He struck out a modest 24 batters, but also walked 16 batters, hit three, and gave up five homers. Prior to that, he had an effective season for the Angels, but he only struck out 13.4 percent of batters. To put that in perspective, Ty Blach struck out 14.7 percent of the batters he faced last season.
Gott’s minors numbers weren’t all that impressive either. His best season was 2018 when he struck out 38 batters in 29 1/3 innings and pitching to a 3.68 ERA in Triple A, but those results never translated to the majors. He hasn’t had the tools that make a team salivate. He can throw mid-nineties, but a fastball velocity like that is a dime a dozen these days. His curveball has always been good, but not great.
But with the Giants, Gott has been thoroughly impressive. Through 26 2/3 innings, he has pitched to a 2.70 ERA and his FIP of 2.25 suggests he has even been unlucky. His 29 percent strikeout rate is his best mark in the majors, and he has only surpassed it in one minor league season. He’s only walking two batters per nine innings. His 3.7 HR/FB percentage probably won’t continue, but even with a normal home run rate, he’s a perfectly good mid-inning reliever. And hey, if he can continue pitching like he’s in the dead ball era while everyone else is hitting dingers like the world is ending and they’ve never dingered before and they just want to know what it’s like, well that’d be great, too.
But Gott’s emergence raises the question: did the Giants actually make someone better? It’s hard to know who to give credit for Gott’s emergence. Perhaps he made the research on his own. Maybe it was something Matt Daniels found. It’s even hard to say what it is that Gott is doing differently since he’s had so few major league innings.
Mechanically, Gott is more or less the same. He’s quieted down his setup. He used to rock back and forth even as he started to come home. Now, his body is still. His motion is perhaps a little slower. Maybe these things have helped with his command.
The thing that jumps out the most is that Gott has swapped his sinker for a four seam fastball. This isn’t an unusual change to make. All over the league, pitchers are dropping the sinker in favor of sliders or high-spin fastballs that they can throw above the uppercut swings of fly ball revolutionaries. Gott, though, doesn’t have a slider or even a high-spin fastball. His fastball spin ranks in the 22nd percentile, so Gott has been the perfect candidate for keeping the sinker at first glance.
Fastball spin is supposed to help a ball resist downward movement. The higher the spin, the less drop it has. Pitchers with low spin pitches tend to favor sinkers because if their pitch is going to drop, they want it to drop as much as possible.
The thing is that Gott’s sinker just hasn’t been very good for him. Last year, he threw 159 sinkers and got swinging strikes on just 1.9 percent of them. Gott throws with a three-quarter release that won’t give him the same kind of drop that other sinker ballers can get. Maybe that’s why he’s moved away from the pitch or maybe he just looked at the results and thought, “Well, this sucks. Let’s try something else.”
The something else—his four seamer—is working marvelously. He has a 14.4 percent swinging strike rate with the fastball which ranks 12th among pitchers with at least 200 fastballs thrown this season. Watching him pitch, that comes as no surprise.
The Giants probably can’t take credit for telling him to ditch the sinker. He started doing that last year, but maybe they can take credit for identifying this switch when his old team didn’t see the potential. So far, Gott has been the highlight of the Farhan Zaidi era. Maybe that doesn’t speak highly of how things have worked out under the new leadership thus far, but Gott deserves credit for what he’s done.