2019 Dirtbags: Zak Baayoun

Zak Baayoun is a low three-quarter LHP that, going into the 2019 season, was seen as a definite top-three round draft pick. His fastball was consistently in the low-mid 90’s and it was merely a compliment to what may have been the best slider in NCAA Division 1 baseball.

A few weeks before the season, Zak was advised to slightly raise his arm angle. This recommendation was made in hopes of helping Zak to develop a plus-changeup to complement his plus-fastball and plus-plus-slider. Unfortunately, these hopes did not come to fruition, and Zak was directed to revert to his natural arm angle for the first week of season.

After going back to his original arm angle, Zak’s fastball was unable to touch 90 mph and his slider was, for the first time in his collegiate career, flat. He felt uncomfortable on the mound and it really showed when he was consistently hit hard at the beginning of the year.

After taking a closer look at Zak’s numbers at around the halfway point in the season, I developed a model for what I believed was happening different in his delivery in comparison to the beginning of the fall. Due to his increased spin rate and induced vertical break in his fastball, along with the decrease in velocity and horizontal movement, it was clear that Zak was falling under the baseball. At release, his fingers were not directly behind the baseball, dropping his force vector to the bottom part of the baseball while replacing momentum with moment force. In other words, Zak was putting his energy into spinning the baseball rather than throwing it.

It was noted that his total pitch break as a whole was running low as well. Zak was reaching about 15 inches of total movement on a fastball that was at a consistent 2300+ rpm. I theorized this to be due to the combination of his across-the-body finish with his finger misplacement, causing him to spin the ball moreso towards the third-base dugout, rather than towards the plate which would yield the most life on the pitch.

The same was happening with Zak’s slider as well. A drop in movement along with a drop in velocity was not a good sign, and that led me to suspect that he was falling under his slider rather than getting around the pitch.

I explained this to the coaching staff and Zak himself and recieved interest in return. Therefore, I decided to bring my personal GoPro to record his next bullpen session and confirm my theories. After seeing the video, the coaching staff and Zak agreed with with my hypothesis, and we all began work on getting Zak’s fingers in the correct place.

Zak and I did further off-the-field work to make his life slightly easier in this return to form. I advised Zak to increase pressure on his pointer finger in hopes of training his hand to pronate correctly again, and this brought back a majority of his movement. We then had a video session where we decided that Zak was lengthening his stride and glove arm too much during his motion. Shortening these both revealed an instant increase in velocity and another slight increase in movement.

Within just a few weeks of work with Zak, his fastball was back up to 91 mph with a horizontal movement that touched 27 inches on a low-and-inside fastball to a left-handed hitter. Zak’s slider regained much of its depth, adding movement on both the horizontal and vertical directions.

With the simple use of Trackman and a low-end GoPro, Zak and I were able to raise his end-of-the-year draft stock and put his name back into the discussion of scouts. The theoretical model that I deduced ended up being correct and helped him return to near-form. His late improvement was even noted in his Baseball America scouting report.

Zak was drafted in the 17th round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies and is currently in Boise, Idaho getting ready for his first professional appearance.

I’m immensely proud of my work with Zak, and it is definitely what made me fall in love with the world of baseball analytics as fast and hard as I did. Any questions and comments are welcomed as always!

Until the next post, all the best.

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