I’m not going to pretend to understand the specific pressures faced by ever Major League Baseball player, especially a pitcher. For the purposes of my job, though, I must pretend to understand the publicly available statistical data that measures pitcher performance. Everything I talk about after that is merely a generalization of personal life experience.
So, if you’re reading this for some reason, Tyler Beede, feel free to ignore it or take it with a grain of salt. The only point I want to make here is that Tyler Beede can be a quality major league pitcher. He has the tools. He just needs the confidence.
The Giants are going to need arms down the stretch. Bumgarner and Samardzija aren’t going to be enough. Logan Webb and Dereck Rodriguez should probably only carry the expectation of 4-5 innings at most, and the idea of rushing Johnny Cueto back into action a week or two before his originally scheduled return just feels unnecessary. Of course, all that uncertainty after Bumgarner and Samardzija can be mitigated by a return to form for Beede.
What form could a pitcher averaging 10.5 hits per 9 innings in just 90.1 major league innings possibly return to? In seven starts from June 11 to July 19, Beede posted a 3.24 ERA in 41.2 innings and walked just 14 against 36 strikeouts. He allowed five home runs among 32 hits. Three of the starts were at Oracle, four were on the road. One of those was a six-inning, seven-strikeout game against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. The other was a seven-strikeout game against the Brewers in Milwaukee.
Statcast measures his four-seam fastball above league average in both velocity (73rd percentile) and spin (64th percentile). Here’s just one example of that movement and velocity:
And here’s a stellar example of Beede deploying that same movement and stuff with confidence:
The good news is that the mental aspect of every action is part of the human condition. Few people in existence have experienced the scrutiny of pitching on a major league mound in front of a major league crowd, but the principles of confidence work in any context.
Beede’s issues are not completely related to his confidence, but the ability to hit that peak performance bar more often would seem to follow from a boost in that area. That seven start stretch came after opening up the season with an 8.15 ERA in five games. His stuff didn’t quite look as crisp and his approach — not challenging hitters — was getting him into trouble, as it often does.
Last week, Eno Sarris of The Athletic talked to Cal Quantrill, John Means, and Walker Buehler about mentality (subscription required):
Right now, Quantrill’s slider has a higher whiff rate than Chris Sale’s. And it’s not thanks to a large change in movement or velocity, no grip change, no mechanical salve. Just a different state of mind.
“I don’t know that I’ve changed much except throwing it with a lot more intent,” Quantrill said. “I’m throwing it as hard as I can, and I believe they’re going to miss it every time I throw it. The thing that works best for me is — whether or not other people, whether people believe — what’s worked best for me is believing in myself, believing that I am a power pitcher. I’m going to attack, I’m going to throw every pitch with fastball intent and let the action, the arm speed, it’ll all handle itself if I just focus on throwing the baseball with intent.”
Wild pitches and walks have always been a part of Beede’s game, and while wildness is a thing that happens with pitchers, in a lot of those cases, there’s almost always a publicly visible sign that the wildness is connected to focus and confidence. A pitcher wild outside the zone becomes frustrated that he can’t hit it, which means that he tries harder to not miss the zone but in doing so misses more, which grows the frustration, which leads to bad pitches down the middle just to get a strike, which leads to big hits, and so on and so on...
Yet, like with Quantrill’s sudden confidence and the idea of wildness, there are other factors that play into it, too: scouting and game planning, game situations, sequencing, and how he feels during warmups before a particular start; but, for the most part, the key to consistency, if not the key to self-improvement, is self-acceptance.
So, Tyler Beede, go easy on yourself. Pitch mistakes are not indictments of your humanity or your worth. That feeling of being judged pitch to pitch with the next one possibly deciding your fate as a major league baseball player? That’s no way to live and it’s no way to pitch.
Life is Justin Turner crowding the plate. He’s going to stand in the way of what you had hoped to do, so now what? You can hit him and make things more difficult, or you can accept the things you cannot change and influence where you can. A big inning doesn’t need to be your last inning. If a batter beats you, it’s not a permanent victory.
Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson, and even Jeff Samardzija have all found success this season by reinventing some aspect of their game, but from the outside looking in — which is about as deep as I can go — they all look like they’re not carrying a weight on their shoulders. They’re present in the moment, accepting of their past and open to the future; but, mainly, focused on the present. And, they seem to build off their success more than they seem to dwell on their misses.
Tyler Beede has had success this year, and recently. If he can let go of the misses, he will reclaim his power. It might be all he and the Giants need to stabilize the rotation.