'To have his trust, it for sure helps': Brad Hand takes step toward rewarding Terry Francona's faith

Tribe closer records save on Friday against Royals

T.J. Zuppe
August 24, 2019 - 12:08 pm
Brad Hand

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) — Former Indians closer Cody Allen was struggling last August. He spent seemingly countless hours working on his delivery, attempting to correct a perceived mechanical flaw that was ailing the Tribe’s all-time saves leader. By the time Allen got to September, he had recorded so many throws in games and side sessions, he felt like he’d tired himself out.

That’s exactly the sort of thing Brad Hand is trying to avoid.

Hand is progressing — that’s probably the nicest way to term it — through a similar stretch of rough outings that have at least momentarily derailed an impressive season. He feels like he’s identified something in his delivery that would help explain why his ERA has ballooned from slightly above one to over three in the span of a couple months, but working to correct it can be a difficult balance for a pitcher that earns just one inning in each close game to work out issues.

“You don’t want to go out there and throw bullpen after bullpen, because you’re going to wear yourself out that way,” Hand said. “You’ve just got to really focus in on your catch game and when you of get up in the game and getting ready, bear down and those things. Once you get out in the game, you don’t really think about anything mechanically. You’re just going out there trying to get outs and finish the game.”

And as a competitor, he was almost begging for another opportunity.

"When you blow a few in a row, you want to keep getting out there," Hand said.

For a closer, there is little to no margin for error. Unfortunately, those “errors" have been more abundant this month for the All-Star, but Terry Francona didn’t let a span of seven runs allowed in four appearances — a stretch that resulted in three consecutive blown saves against potential playoff teams — stop the manager from handing the lefty the ball in a save situation on Friday.

Hand responded by yielding an are-you-kidding-me soft single to Alex Gordon before getting a double play and ground out to finish off the Tribe’s 4-1 win and record his 30th save.

“To start the inning, I didn’t want to see that one get through there,” Hand said, stopping short of rolling his eyes at the baseball gods (Gordon’s grounder past the diving glove of Jason Kipnis had an exit velocity of 78.4 mph and possessed an expected batting average of .110, per Statcast).

“It’s not like I’m thinking ‘Oh, here we go again!’ I’m still bearing down, still trying to make pitches, trying to finish that one off."

He did. Eventually.

Still, Francona's unwillingness to run away from Hand despite the recent lackluster results wasn't lost on the typically sturdy left-hander.

“To have that trust in [Francona] and to keep giving me the ball in the ninth inning is huge," Hand said. "Obviously, I haven’t done well and I’ve cost us a few wins these last few outings but to have his trust, it for sure helps.”

Of course, a save against the Royals in no way signals that Hand has moved beyond the tough days. Recording three grounders with an exit velocity below 80 mph is a nice start. It’s also important to note that there’s over an 80-point difference between the weighted on-base average Hand has allowed this month (.430) and the Statcast’s expected wOBA (based on things like quality and frequency of contact), which sits at .349.

That suggests some bad luck may be at play, but .349 is still worse than average for a pitcher, and the difference only helps explain a small portion of what has plagued the southpaw in August. There’s also the fact that Hand’s swing-and-miss rate — one of several ways to judge how frequently a pitcher might be baffling hitters — plummeted from 35.4 percent in July to 22.2 percent this month.

Brad Hand's 2019 swing-and-miss chart
Baseball Savant

Also, his typically dominant slider, a pitch that has yielded a .322 slugging percentage overall this season, has surrendered a .474 slugging percentage this month.

It’s not all bad, however. 

His fastball velocity has slowly increased throughout the season.

Brad Hand's 2019 fastball velocity chart
Baseball Savant

There has been no sudden drop in release point or any other warning side that suggests a health issue. That could very well point to it being a mechanical issue, as Hand suggested following Friday’s outing.

Whatever it may be, the Indians certainly need it quickly corrected. Being forced into a move at the back of the Tribe’s bullpen would have a ripple effect throughout a group that has exceeded expectations this year. The unit is at its best when Hand is occupying the ninth, and while Carlos Carrasco is seemingly inching his way toward a potential bullpen role in September, he still has several hurdles to clear before anyone can expect he will seamlessly slide into a fireman role.

Oh, and did we mention that every win (or loss) in a pennant race looms large?

[Exhale]

That all points to one reality: The Indians need Brad Hand.

He knows it. They know it. And Hand certainly hopes Friday night was a step forward toward rewarding Francona’s faith.

“This is probably my worst stretch of outings I’ve had in a long time, which makes it a little tougher,” Hand said. “You’ve just got to believe in yourself and keep going out there and grind. Hopefully things will start clicking and going the right way.”