Only five starters in Major League Baseball average a fastball speed of 97 mph. Everyone throws that pitch more than half the time, except for Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays. He has too many other options.
“It’s hard to hit 97, 87, 86, 82,” McClanahan said Thursday by his clubhouse locker at Yankee Stadium, citing typical speed readings for fastballs, sliders, changeups and curveballs. said while
“It’s a tough game, the league’s hitters deserve a lot of credit because what they’re doing seems impossible. If you look around this room, there’s a bunch of people with elite equipment.” , it’s like, “How do you hit that?” I realized, “Oh, I’m glad I became a pitcher.”
McClanahan, 26, is one of the best. He took to the mound in the Bronx on Saturday and went 7-0 with a 1.76 ERA. This is the ace of the Rays team, the fastest team to reach 30 wins in almost 40 years.
He does it with the most versatile and overwhelming weapon of any pitcher in the game. McClanahan, who started last month against the Chicago White Sox, induced 32 missed swings in 49 swings for a 65.3 percent miss rate, the lowest since MLB began tracking such data in 2008. It was the best record in the game. He has thrown at least 14 out of 4 pitches. Most of the time it’s a combination of the magician’s cunning and the puncher’s power.
“He has a four-ball mix that’s probably as good as any starter in baseball,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “Taking into the quality repertoire he has, he mixes all four balls in the zone before two strikes to maintain unpredictability, controls the count, and does his best to aim for kill shots. I will do my best.”
By Thursday, only one pitcher in the majors has whiffed and whiffed more than McClanahan this season: Atlanta’s Spencer Strider. When the Rays drafted him 31st overall out of the University of South Florida in 2018, he knew he was going to be hard to beat. They never imagined this kind of polishing.
“The general idea was that you have big arms, you throw 100 pitches and you really don’t know where you’re going,” Rays general manager Peter Bendix said. “If you have a college pitcher who’s a first-round pick but not a high draft pick, they usually throw 89 pitches and get everyone out, or 100 pitches and don’t get too many outs. There were a lot of risks in the bullpen, two balls, a high walk rate, a high strikeout rate.”
It wasn’t the kind of pitcher McClanahan wanted. His favorite player was shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. Baltimore-born McClanahan wore the number 18 because Ripken wore the number 8. He looked up to pitchers like Cliff Lee and Greg Maddux, masters of efficiency.
“Maddux may not have been the most dominant pitcher in the world, but he knew how to pitch,” McClanahan said. “He knew how to order, he knew how to change his eye level and speed in, out, up, down. It’s an art.”
McClanahan hit 94 mph as a senior at Cape Coral High School in Florida, enough to earn him a 26th round pick in the 2015 Mets draft. He said he was willing to sign him but needed $500,000 to get him. A typical bonus for such a low round, but it could have gone wrong.
At USF, McClanahan struggled with health (Tommy John surgery), control (five walks in nine innings), and emotional control at times (“When things got faster, he just tried to throw 150 mph. ‘ said Bendix). By the time the Rays drafted him, he was poised to enter professional baseball and moved up three levels in the farm system in his first full season.
After the 2019 season, McClanahan treated himself to a ticket to a Division Series game at Tropicana Field. It was his first postseason game, and the Rays defeated Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros to prevent elimination. The Rays had removed the tarp from the upper deck, and the AA left arm sitting 20 rows above first base was provoked by the crowd.
“It was funny because in that moment I was like, ‘Oh, I do.'” need I gotta do this, I gotta get here,’ said McClanahan. “It was surreal. The fun, the energy, it was unparalleled.”
A year later, McClanahan joins the team. He spent the pandemic-shortened 2020 season at the team’s alternate practice ground in Port Charlotte, Fla., receiving a surprise call-up to the playoff roster before pitching AA or better.
McClanahan thought it was a prank — “I was like, ‘Where’s the camera?'” McClanahan said — but the Rays will shoot a little-known flamethrower in the playoff stage. Liked the idea. McClanahan was the first pitcher to make his major league debut in the postseason when he relieved four games, including one in the World Series.
Armed with a slider he picked up in one bullpen session the following season, McClanahan went 10-6 for the Rays’ only win in a four-game losing streak to Boston in the playoffs, Snyder said. In 2022, he started the All-Star Game in Los Angeles with an improved changeup. He may do it again in Seattle this July.
“He’s determined to keep getting better,” said Rays veteran starter Zac Eflin. “All his pitches are very messy and very difficult, and every pitch feels like it’s changing a little bit, so he’s constantly evolving. do not have.”
The Rays have a knack for using advanced data to highlight old wisdom, like the classic advice to field pitchers, “Throw a strike, Babe Ruth is dead.” In other words, hitters are dead and talented and fearless pitchers always have the upper hand.
“The main thing they did was tell me how many times I’ve been killed on the middle ball. It’s surprisingly low,” said Drew, who thwarted the Yankees to seven on Thursday. Rasmussen said. “It’s really hard to hit. So if you can keep hitting the strike zone, you have a pretty good chance of success.”
McClanahan’s walking percentage has improved this year, but the hitter remains weak, hitting .194, the same as last season. That number is even lower in at-bats that end with changeups.
Pitches that drop like splitters, tucked deep into the hands to reduce spin, were a revelation this season. Hitters have swung and whiffed more than half of McClanahan’s changeups, averaging .140 for them, according to Statcast. As he throws fastballs, sliders and curveballs, he’s good enough to be effective and reliable, but not enough to get used to.
“Some nights don’t feel like anything is there,” McClanahan said. “It’s just a matter of getting back to confidence. Keep throwing even if you don’t feel like holding it. Trust the grip, trust the pattern of that movement, trust the people behind you.” .”
In that sense, McClanahan may best represent the Rays’ nature of trusting coaches, trusting data, and trusting themselves. In that spirit of cooperation, McClanahan, who cannot become a free agent until the end of the 2027 season, wants to stay here for a while.
“I love my people, I love my organization, and I love Tampa,” he said. “I mean, how lucky are you to be able to pitch in front of your friends and family and be in a place that’s home to you? Hopefully it can last a long time.”