Brusdar Graterol’s off-speed progression sets him up for 2022 breakout

Brusdar Graterol is known for the heat he brings, pumping fastballs that regularly hit triple digits and exciting with the emotion he displays on the mound. However, it could be slowing down that’s key to him taking the next step, as the development of his slider and cutter figure to play central roles in any ascent to the back-end of the pen.

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Graterol has been solid for the Dodgers in his career so far, but there’s been very little evidence that he’s at the level necessary to get the highest-leverage outs. Over the last two seasons, he has a 3.97 ERA, 3.73 FIP, and a poor strikeout rate of 16.8%, but he does throw strikes, keeps the ball on the ground, and avoids hard contact.

Still not an overly impressive resume for a guy hyped to be a back-end arm, but almost all of his issues revolve around not being able to induce the swing and miss, and there’s evidence he could be close to adding that ingredient to the mix. Graterol has generally been a fastball (100 mph) and slider (88 mph) pitcher, but late last year he started to add a cutter (95 mph), and the pair of off-speed pitches were successful when they landed. Of course, they rarely did … until the playoffs, when it really seemed to come around. He gave up just a single run over nine innings in October, walking none and striking out seven, which bumped his K rate to 21.2%. That was enough to look dominant.

Most importantly, his entire arsenal seemed to be elevated because hitters had the off-speed in the back of their mind. And this Spring Training, he has prioritized working on getting even further gains out of those pitches.

If it’s still a work in progress, that bodes very well, because the slider already grades as potentially elite and even the new cutter is solid.

Stuff+ is a rating assigned to a combination of a pitch’s velocity and movement compared to the average MLB pitch of that type (using 100 as average), so basically everything he throws is above average.

In fact, the slider is already one of the better ones in baseball when he can locate it.

That’s, uh, good.

Meanwhile, for a pitch introduced in September of last year, the cutter being where it’s at is also exciting. Not only could it help generate more whiffs, but could more importantly help Graterol solve lefties. For his career he’s giving up a .296/.394/.523/.917 line against them, but righties were at .226/.278/.264/.542, an almost comically large split. The hope is a reliable cutter will get Graterol to repeat what he accomplished during the playoffs, when he faced seven lefties and got six outs, giving up just a single baserunner on a hit by pitch.

Based on his Spring Training work, that does seem to be the plan, and if Graterol can limit lefties to even being average, it would make for a significant improvement.

So mainly Graterol needs to show the improvements he showcased during the playoffs are sustainable over a whole season, and there’s a lot of reason for optimism in his development.

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Many fans understandably already love Brusdar and it’s easy to understand why. But calls to make him the closer have always been premature, as he’s realistically been limited by his inability to avoid contact. However, with Graterol any potential breakout is really just a matter of him finding those whiffs. While every pitcher wants this, not everybody is working with the arsenal that Brusdar has at his disposal, and if he’s finally found an off-speed mix that he’s comfortable using, a leap forward wouldn’t be surprising.

About Chad Moriyama

"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times