Blake Snell

Why Snell is confident in his unique pitching style

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are more ways than ever to evaluate starting pitchers, and by just about all of them, Blake Snell had a tremendous 2023 MLB season.

While winning the National League Cy Young Award, Snell led the Majors in ERA by nearly half a run, finished first in ERA+ and ranked 13th in FIP. He was second in strikeouts-per-nine and was one of just two pitchers to hold the opposition to a collective batting average under .200, leading the Majors in that category, too. Snell was elite at just about every advanced metric that Baseball Savant presents , and his breaking balls and changeup ranked among the best pitches in the game. He also was well above-average in velocity. 

There's one category you generally don't want to lead the way in, and yet Snell was on top there, too. He led the Majors with 99 walks and was the only pitcher to issue more than 4.6 per nine innings, which doesn't seem to gel with how the Giants operate

As a staff, the Giants had the best walk rate in the big leagues, but in Snell they see someone who can dominate a different way. For the left-hander, being okay with walks might have actually been the difference between being a very good pitcher and being the best in the National League last year. 

"Think about the guys that I'm walking, I'm walking usually guys that can hurt you," he said on Thursday's Giants Talk podcast. "I trust my stuff. I trust that I can get out of situations. I've done it my whole career. I've always been scared of walks because of just, 'Oh, what people will say.' But then I realized they don't know who I am, they don't know what kind of pitcher I am. It's all ideas, it's all opinions that have no impact because they're not with me every day.

"I started realizing that and then when I realized that, I said, 'I don't care about walks.' I'm going to pitch my game, the way I want to pitch, and if I walk people I'm not looking at it anymore. I'm not going to get mad that I walked two guys. I'm going to get more locked-in on did we win the game, did I help my team win, and how many runs did I give up? Those are it. Did I go six innings or more? Those are more important to me than, 'Oh, I walked three guys,' because if nothing happened, what are we upset about?"

In part because of all those walks, and the ability to get strikeouts or weak contact afterward, Snell led MLB pitchers in another category. He stranded 87 percent of the runners that got on base against him, easily the highest percentage in the league. 

It's a high-wire act at times, but Snell has found a way to make it work. His high last season was seven walks against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he allowed just one run. He walked at least five in four other games during the 2023 season, but allowed just six total earned runs in those four starts. 

Snell had a 2.74 ERA in four starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers last year and walked 12 batters in those 23 innings, but he also allowed just 10 hits. That was a huge part of his success overall, as he allowed just 5.9 hits per nine innings. 

Snell was particularly stingy over his final 23 starts, posting a 1.20 ERA that made him an easy choice for a second Cy Young Award. Over that span, he walked 72 batters but allowed just 72 hits, while also striking out 186 batters. Everything locked into place for a pitcher who has learned over time that he has the repertoire to get out of jams. 

"I started just understanding the pitcher that I want to be," he said of that second-half run. "I'm not going to try to be anyone else. I'm just going to be the best version of me, whatever that is will show. Those 23 starts were good, but it's a new year now, so I've got to figure out a way to do it again."

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