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RHP Louis Head
- Acquired via trade from the Rays on November 14, 2021 in exchange for a player to be named later
- Entering age-32 season (second season in the majors and first in the Marlins organization)
- Pre-arbitration eligible with two minor league options remaining
The Major League Baseball Players’ Association spent much of this past winter fighting for players exactly like Louis Head. Brazenly exploiting a flaw in the league’s collective bargaining agreement, the Rays optioned Head to the minors 12 times during the 2021 season, even though he was pitching effectively at the highest level. All those transactions enabled the club to maintain its roster flexibility while suppressing the right-hander’s service time.
Although Head insists to David Laurila of FanGraphs that he “loved everything” about being with the Rays, he understandably expresses excitement about getting a real opportunity to establish himself in Miami.
Head had been a non-roster invitee at 2020 spring training with the Mariners. He only appeared in one game before COVID struck and got released rather than brought back for summer camp. After that setback, Head decided to move on from his baseball career and began working as a solar panel salesman. But then the Rays reached out to him in January 2021 and proposed one crucial adjustment to his breaking ball.
“It made a lot of sense how Tampa had explained it to me when I first came over,” he told Laurila, “just creating more sweep to the slider and how it’d be more beneficial from where my arm slot was and how it’d just match the plane of my fastball better.” His old breaking ball release point made it too easy for batters to recognize coming out of his hand.
“Tilting the spin to spin sideways versus top spin just created more side spin to the baseball and then caused more horizontal break on it,” Head added. “It started matching up the plane of my fastball better, started getting more swings-and-misses on it, started getting more swings-and-misses on my fastball because of it. It made a lot of sense and it started clicking once I started figuring it out.”
On April 23—his 31st birthday—Head was selected to the major league roster for the first time. He debuted on April 25 with a perfect inning of relief work. By April 29, he had been sent down to Triple-A Durham, only to return the very next day. That should give you a taste of what his year was like.
On the mound, Head alternated pretty evenly between his four-seam fastball (52% usage) and slider (47%) overall. He leaned more on the heater against lefties and went slider-heavy against righties. Both offerings limited slugging (.217 SLG and .233 SLG, respectively). Even accounting for hit by pitches, he allowed less than one baserunner per inning.
lowest WHIP in 2021 (min. 30 IP):— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) November 15, 2021
Jacob deGrom: 0.554 (lol holy shit)
Casey Sadler: 0.719 (hell yeah Casey Sadler)
Liam Hendriks: 0.732 (yup)
Josh Hader: 0.835 (duh)
LOUIS HEAD: 0.857 (LOUIS HEAD!!!!!!!)
Max Scherzer: 0.864 (of course)
Ryan Tepera: 0.880 (MVP) https://t.co/72GCTV05A5
Going by Baseball-Reference’s average leverage index, 24 of Head’s 27 MLB appearances came under below-average pressure conditions. It was still notable to see him succeed in a variety of roles like pitching on back-to-back days or going through an entire lineup.
Head was not among the 13 pitchers chosen by the Rays for their ALDS roster. That mostly speaks to the extraordinary quality of their pitching staff, but also suggests they had doubts about whether his stuff would continue yielding good results if opponents carefully game-planned for him.
2022 ATC Projections: 48.0 IP, 4.08 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 14.2 K-BB%, 1.31 WHIP in 44 G
Head’s rookie season stats are not fully reflective of his ability. Otherwise, the Rays could’ve gotten far more in return for his six remaining years of club control.
In 2021, Head was the beneficiary of a super-low .216 batting average on balls in play, and more specifically, getting outs on balls that shouldn’t have stayed in play at all. He allowed nine barrels—as defined by Statcast—but only two home runs. Even at the pitcher’s paradise of LoanDepot Park, approximately half of barreled balls turn into homers (134 of 272 last season).
Head tells Laurila that his changeup has been “coming along pretty well” and could become a more substantial element of his repertoire in 2022. That should be treated as more than just a throw-away comment considering the Marlins’ recent track record of teaching pitchers how to maximize their offspeed pitches.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, MLB active rosters in April will be expanded to either 28 or 29 spots to compensate for the rushed spring training. That gives Head an extremely strong likelihood of making the cut on Opening Day. What happens from there will be much different from 2021 regardless of his performance because the new CBA prevents players from being optioned more than five times per season.
Over/Under 2.5 times that the Marlins option Louis Head to the minors this season?
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