JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- 96 miles per hour from a lefthander is an exciting proposition. It was intriguing enough for the Cardinals to take a shot on Kevin Siegrist in 2008 in the 41st round. His big arm lifted him to the majors by 2013, and before long he was a critical piece of the Cardinals’ bullpen.
His calling card was velocity, and the alteration of it. He mixed in a breaking ball now and again, but was primarily a fastball/changeup artist relying on a big frame and sweeping delivery to befuddle hitters.
Over his first two years in the league, Siegrist threw 111 curveballs, accounting for just four percent of his pitches. In 2015, the season in which he led the National League in appearances and posted a 2.17 ERA, he didn’t even bother. The lefty threw 1,334 pitches, not a single one of them were a curveball. He mixed in a show slider now and again, but his attack plan relied on speeding up and slowing down.
Major League Baseball is an unforgiving entity. With a few notable exceptions, raw velocity is rarely enough to sustain success. Hitters can time up 120 miles per hour if they have enough reps.
With that in mind, Siegrist endeavored to evolve; to reacquaint himself with the lost pitch.
“It's gotta change how left-handers look at him. There's no reason, with his stuff, that lefties should hit him. There's no reason,” Cardinal manager Mike Matheny said. “They have in the past, because it was very one-sided. One dimensional.”
Siegrist worked with Lance Lynn on the broad strokes of the pitch, then turned to Adam Wainwright to help fine tune it. Tyler Lyons, a fellow lefty with a big curve, helps him maintain it.
“I had to say (the biggest help was) just playing catch with Lyons. Lyons is pretty much my throwing partner,” he said. “I know how his pitches are supposed to be, he knows how mine are supposed to me. You find a throwing partner that you’re on the same page with and it doesn’t matter who it is, it helps out a lot.”
In 2016 the lefty threw 111 curveballs, accounting for 10 percent of his pitches. It was slow progress at first, but as the season went on, confidence grew. By the time spring training rolled around the year, the curveball was part of the family.
“I will probably use it whenever whatever the situation is. I Feel comfortable using it,” Siegrist said. “I just feel like it’s part of my arsenal now that I can just go to it at any time.”
Being able to reliably throw the pitch in any count makes Siegrist an impressive challenge for lefthanded hitters. The fastball has always had horizontal run away from southpaws, but the curveball further expands the zone and his ability to sequence at bats. Siegrist most frequently locates the curve in the lower left quadrant of the zone, down and in to righties and outside at the knees to lefties. He tends to work that side of the zone with his fastball as well, meaning most righties are routinely handcuffed inside and lefties are forced to reach for contact.
The curveball adds another wrinkle as he can start it more centrally in the zone than his fastball, enticing a hitter to chase it as it dives down and out. Batters now have to make a decision, which means hesitation.
“It changed some of the swings. Guys weren’t as ready to hit my fastball,” Siegrist said. “It proved to them that I could actually spin something up there. It made my fastball a lot better.”
Given where the fastball started, that’s bad news for batsmen.
Siegrist’ has positioned himself to become the type of reliever teams covet. A versatile lefty with the longevity for multiple innings and the repertoire to handle hitters on both sides of the plate. Those types of arms are essential, just ask the Cubs and Indians. They’re also worth a lot of money.
“That breaking ball, just to be able to have that, and to show it and to know when to use it--I think it was a turning point for him and his career."
Siegrist has two years of arbitration eligibility left. He also has only half a season with a trustworthy curveball. But the stage is set for his emergence as one of the game’s top relievers, the kind that drew the acclaim and interest from teams looking for game-shortening arms.
Not bad for a 41st rounder with one trick.