This is what Dylan Cease’s curveball is supposed to do

Back in the original spring training, Dylan Cease attacked the Brewers with an array of low-and-away fastballs. If those pitches were literal darts, they would have started splitting each other in the double-16 cell. Even Cease called it “probably the best I’ve ever commanded my fastball,” and although his curveball didn’t fare that well in the Arizona air, he still was too much for the Brewers in four innings.

Out of the desert and facing his teammates in an intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday, Cease clicked on that Brewers start, dragged it into Photoshop and clicked “invert.”

His fastball command was so-so for most of his outing, which still qualifies as superior to his 2019 self, but he often missed Yasmani Grandal’s mitt by a considerable amount. Then again, he only needed a show-me fastball given his handle of his breaking stuff. His curveball and slider were so sharp that he could fool hitters multiple times in the same at-bat.

Put on your floaties and brace for a torrent of GIFs.

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Andrew Vaughn

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Yermín Mercedes

(He eventually got a swinging strike three with a high fastball.)

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James McCann

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Yermín Mercedes again

Mercedes couldn’t pick up Cease’s spin at all. He saw three high breaking balls, and his knees buckled every time. After the third one, Cease couldn’t help but break character for 1.7 seconds. Relative to his usual exuberance, this is his equivalent of a Tim Anderson bat flip.

He won’t let it happen again.

Cease’s problems in 2019 were twofold — there was his strange propensity to yank all his fastballs high to the gloveside, but he also didn’t have enough faith in his secondary stuff to successfully pitch backward during times his heater abandoned him. In limited time this preseason — and against less-than-stacked lineups, sure — we’ve seen him throw his fastball until they make him throw something else, and now we’ve seen him Lance McCullers it a little bit.

Ideally, Cease will toggle between these modes based on whatever Grandal’s heart wants, but he’d be a Cy Young candidate if consistency came that easy. For 2020, a Cease that can at least make hitters wary of 1) fastballs in all parts of the zone and 2) a decent curveball in a fastball count is automatically more dangerous than his rookie self, and less susceptible to the quadruple bogey on the second hole that made shooting par a dream for yet another day. I like his chances.

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Familiarizing myself with Cease’s 2019 location charts this morning, his relationship with the strike zone wasn’t as strained as I’d assumed. He indeed threw fewer of his pitches in the zone than the average pitcher, but not to a noticeable degree (39.4%, compared to 41.9% for the starter with 70 innings). Those ugly innings where he couldn’t get off the mound both the stats and my recollection.

But when I looked up which pitchers spent the least time in the zone in 2019, two other current White Sox top the list:

  1. Gio Gonzalez, 33.2%
  2. Dallas Keuchel, 33.6%
  3. Kyle Gibson, 34.3%

Grandal’s framing is especially strong in the bottom part of the zone, and a lot’s been written about how it benefited Gonzalez during their time together in Milwaukee. Keuchel didn’t have a personal catcher in Atlanta, but a look at his splits suggests that fellow low-strike king Tyler Flowers probably should have been his go-to guy.

Cease’s stuff is far more powerful than either of the new White Sox lefties, so he shouldn’t need the zone to bleed over the edges as much as those whose success is reliant on nibbling. That said, Grandal helped Cease hang a couple of backward K’s on fastballs that Statcast would frown upon.

Here’s one that disappointed Danny Mendick …

… and here’s one that locked Luis Basabe.

It’s been so long since the White Sox had a decent receiver that I’m initially inclined to chalk this up to intrasquad umpire rust. Then again, GIFs like these are one of the big reasons why the Sox handed out their largest-ever contract to Grandal, even though he’s a catcher in his early 30s. It’s supposed to be this jarring. It’s supposed to be this unfair.

(Dylan Cease “Deal With It” photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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karkovice squad

there was his strange propensity to yank all his fastballs high to the gloveside,

Last year it looked like he tried to rotate his torso and yank his glove down to get his foot planted. Sometime later his arm would follow. Was like watching 3 people pull on puppet strings with only a vague idea of what they were trying to accomplish.

Looks like there’s a deliberate effort to plant then rotate now with everything looking a lot more coordinated. Seems able to consistently repeat it, too.

Very encouraging.

Joliet Orange Sox

Great fun article.


Fangraphs had a recent article looking at Gio Gonzalez pitching outside the zone:

Also one on Reynaldo Lopez:


Really awesome article as always. Once we saw how well Cease was throwing those yesterday and what they did to some of our good hitters, I knew there’d be in depth look at them.
Those Grandal framing gifs are utterly astounding too. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before from a white sox point of view. Almost having bad flashbacks to Navarro taking those pitches in his glove into the dirt. We now watch the complete opposite of that!

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Eagle Bones

Fantastic stuff Jim! Very exciting to see Cease looking more dialed in. Hopefully he can do this somewhat consistently. Looking forward to reading more of these articles with actual baseball content in them!