The Dodgers have a history of taking players who have either struggled or outright been given up on by other teams and then turning them into quality contributors. That trend might be continuing.
Jake McGee, signed the day before Opening Day, has been a revelation thus far for the Dodgers. He has a 0.00 ERA, 0.29 FIP, 1.72 xFIP and a 40.9 K-BB%. Not bad for a guy who was released by the Rockies after signing a lucrative, multi-year free-agent deal.
Now, those stats obviously come with the small sample size tag, but the promising thing is that McGee is doing similar things to what he was doing with Tampa Bay.
Despite a few rough years with the Rockies, he has still been one of the best relievers in the sport since his first full season in 2012. But over the last two seasons, everything about McGee’s performance has been subpar. He lost velocity on his fastball, became incredibly hittable and stopped striking hitters out. His fastball was the worst among relievers (minimum 80 IP) over the last two seasons after building a career off the strength of his fastball. He also became susceptible to the home-run ball, which isn’t only due to Coors Field, but he did get lit up in Colorado quite a bit.
wFB = Runs above average from FanGraphs
But in 2020, so far, he has been more like his old self. His average fastball velocity is up to 94.7 MPH — something he hasn’t done since 2017 (94.9). While the spin rate remains relatively unchanged, he’s inducing pretty weak contact and hitters just can’t square it up (88.2 MPH average exit velocity). And he’s throwing the fastball at a ridiculous rate. McGee has made 99 pitches this season, and 95 of them have been 4-seam fastballs. This isn’t like a Zack Britton situation where his fastball is a nasty sinker. It’s a standard 4-seam fastball with unremarkable spin. He hasn’t exactly been living on the edges, either.
Then again, that hasn’t been his MO. Here’s his pitch heatmap from 2012 through last season.
His horizontal and vertical pitch location has gotten better so far this season. It isn’t like his Tampa days, but it’s much better than his Colorado days.
He’s also pitching a little higher — on average — in the zone with it so far, as opposed to the last two seasons.
So, it seems the Dodgers have figured something out with McGee and his fastball. Unlike some pitchers in years past (Scott Alexander, Brandon McCarthy, etc.), LA has encouraged him to throw his fastball more in lieu of his slider. It has paid off.
It must be stressed that the sample size is extremely small and isn’t going to get terribly significant this season due to the truncated schedule. But if McGee is indeed fixed (or at least a lot better off than he was in Colorado), he adds another dimension to an already potent Dodger bullpen.