Very few Minnesota Twins players were as overlooked as Griffin Jax was while the 2022 season sputtered and stalled out. It’s not uncommon for a failed starter to get a look in a relief role, but few have seen such instant success after making the switch.
While fellow bullpen transplant Jhoan Durán got countless headlines throughout the year (for good reason), Jax’s success as a set-up reliever made him an unsung hero. He was the good break that the club desperately needed. And now the former Air Force Captain feels a certain need.
The need for speed.
He was a slider-heavy pitcher for much of his first two seasons in the big leagues, especially last year, where he threw the snapper 48.5% of the time. He was able to get a ton of success with his breaking pitch, but now Jax is trying to improve another weapon in his arsenal.
The 28-year-old righty has been training with Driveline, a data-driven baseball training facility that has helped numerous players increase their velocity with great success. Videos surfaced earlier this week of Jax doing some pull-downs with Driveline’s patented PyloCare balls, where the breakout relief pitcher hit 99.8 MPH on one of his throws. That’s some serious heat from a guy who averaged a respectable 95.4 MPH on his fastball in 2022. Granted, hitting this mark with a PyloCare ball is very different from throwing in an actual game. Still, the excitement remains as Jax taps into more velocity as his career progresses.
These PyloCare balls focus on improving a player’s game in multiple ways. They help pitchers improve their mechanics, throw harder, recover better, and warm up faster. These facets are incredibly valuable for relievers, especially pitchers like Jax, who were routinely thrown into high-pressure situations with little warning.
While he had a very successful year overall in 2022, high-leverage situations were actually an area where Jax could look to improve. Durán, Jorge López, and Caleb Thielbar all sit higher on the depth chart, but there are bound to be ample high-leverage opportunities for each member of the bullpen. It’s a long season, and most MLB teams tend to pull starting pitchers after they go through the lineup twice. If Jax hopes to take the next step, he’ll need to improve his numbers when the game is on the line.
In those instances last year, his strikeout numbers dipped from 26.2% to only 11.4%, and opposing batters hit .324/.372/.324. In the end, that’s not a killer slash line because Jax didn’t give up a single extra-base hit in high-leverage spots, just a swarm of singles. But if he can raise that strikeout rate so that it’s closer to the 25.9% that he nailed in medium-leverage or 32.6% in low-leverage spots, he would be another head on Minnesota’s late-inning dragon.
As stated, his slider-heavy approach made him a major weapon, especially against right-handed hitters in 2022. He threw his this pitch 65% of the time against righties, which was the 2nd-most in MLB, according to Inside Edge. This led to a 36% chase rate against righties, which was 5th-most in baseball. He even went the entire month of September without walking a single right-handed batter. When there are that many swing-and-misses, without giving up free passes on walks, a pitcher’s career really starts to take off.
Now, if Jax’s plan to gain more velocity really catches on, he’s going to soar. His heater was already in the 78th percentile for pitchers in 2022, and his fastball spin was approaching elite status in the 86th percentile. Add a couple of ticks on the radar, and this pitch could be nasty when paired with his already-strong slider.
Durán is still the best reliever that the Twins have in their bullpen hierarchy, and that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. Much of that is due to his blazing fastball and an above-average slider in his arsenal. Sound familiar? Now imagine having two players with that skill set.
Jax still has a lot of work to do. But with the trends we’ve seen over the last year, plus his newfound velocity from training with Driveline, it’s not out of the question that we could see him eventually make a run as the bullpen’s Top Gun.