Wednesday, June 29, 2022

How sidearm reliever Scott Efros evolved into a weapon for the Chicago Cubs: ‘He’s not surprised by the moment’

When Chicago Cubs reliever Scott Efros first learned his sidearm delivery, he watched a lot of hit videos.

Because he uses a more low-half load than a traditional pitching delivery, his process more closely resembles that of a hitter. Dissecting those hit videos became a valuable tool, helping him use his hips and core to get down the mound and keep his arm path consistent.

“I’ll see how people stay on their hind legs and drive,” Efros told the Tribune. “Obviously pitchers use their lower half really well, but for me, that was probably the biggest adjustment, learning how to use it in a completely different way.”

About three years ago, during the Double-A Tennessee All-Star break, Efros committed to the new sidearm delivery in hopes of changing his career path. The 28-year-old has quickly become a versatile bullpen substitute for Efros manager David Ross. Efross leads the Cubs with 19 appearances, owns a 2.04 ERA, team-high 11.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 203 ERA+. Apart from Keegan Thompson’s multi-innings, spot-start work, his 17⅔ innings is the most of his relievers.

None of his 10 inherited runners scored. Only a 14 MLB reliever had more combat than Afros 0.5. He gives the Cubs a different look: The Efros has the seventh lowest average release point — 3.67 feet above the ground — among the majors. The average is 5.82 feet.

“If you were to ask me three years ago where this is where I am now, I’d say it’s better than the best situation,” Efros said. “I still feel like I have a long way to go. There are still some things I’m learning every day about pace and how to attack hitter and being a big league pitcher in general.

During the first 2½ years of his new delivery and arm slot, Efros thought about his mechanics and how the process felt each time he threw a baseball. Now he is in a better position to adjust and adjust.

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Efros credits assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos with helping him implement the small mechanical adjustments. At the start of spring training, Efros’ posture was too bent and didn’t have enough lower-half weight. It was quickly caught on, and Efros rose to the top of the season. Replicating the point of its release has been a big part of the Afros replication mechanics.

The Cubs are ready to use him to pitch from one batsman (four times) to two innings (four).

“He can do so many different things, he’s not surprised at the moment,” said pitching coach Tommy Hottovi. “He can do many different things. But it all comes back to his continuity of work and being able to be himself, no matter what the situation.”

Figuring out how to balance platoon splits for the low arm slot is especially important with the three-batter-minimum rule. Being competitive against left-handed hitters is a must. Efros’ variation has become an important part of the mix of his four pitches. According to Baseball Savant, he averages 47 inches of vertical movement with his variation; The league average is 31 inches.

His success against left-handed hitters this season – with eight strikes and one walk in 0-for-18 – is a big step in his development.

“What’s unique about him is only as much depth as it gets,” Moskos said of his makeover. “If you compare the movement profile, it’s more like a left-handed slurve. It moves like a left-handed braking ball, not a right-handed shift, which is what makes a left-handed braking ball very well.” So it’s something that’s really unique to Arm Slot, and the pitch moves a ton. It’s really fast, and that’s why he’s had success with it.”

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The more Efros throws his variation, the more comfortable the right-hander becomes at going on any count and using the pitch of his four-seam fastball. He hasn’t hit his changeup (or fastball) this season, an offspeed pitch he has used primarily against left-handed hitters.

Experienced catchers Wilson Contreras and Yann Gomes help Efros know when to best engage certain pitches given the situation.

“At the end of the day, these are the big league hitters, but you have to see what they’re giving you and do justice to the swing to swing,” said Efros. “Willie and Yan have been huge for me. They see in some swing and they’re like, oh, we can capitalize on this and take a little bit of the thinking out of it for me.

Baseball is a game of constant adjustment. With more data and information about Efros, look for hitters to adjust to his delivery and how he uses his pitches in the coming weeks. At least that’s what it should be. But Moskos noted that teams don’t typically plan their lineups for an outside reliever, who is present in the slot of Afros and his lower arm.

There aren’t many big league pitchers who resemble Efros, further making him an important bullpen substitute for the Cubs.

“Most teams are trying to adjust by not just swinging, but he throws strikes so you can’t go down that path with him,” Moskos said. “It’s the hard part, like, he’s coming right after you. So it’ll be interesting to see as obviously the league adjusts with you, but I’m not sure what the adjustment is going to be like right now.”

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