This past season, BaseballCloud had the privilege to work with several college players who were selected in 2021’s Amateur Player Draft.
One of the players we wanted to highlight is Tommy Mace, hailing from Florida. He was recently selected by the Cleveland Indians in the second round (69th overall) in 2021’s Amateur Player Draft.
This isn’t the first draft Mace is involved in. If a once-in-a-century pandemic didn’t disrupt 2020’s Amateur Player draft, he would have likely heard his name called. Whether it had to do with the timing of the pandemic or other reasons, the right-hander was not selected, instead heading back to Florida to finish his education.
Coming into the 2021 season, Mace’s reputation was one of a sinkerballer. Never one to strikeout out many, he instead relied on soft contact and ground outs.
His repertoire coincided with his game plan. In past seasons, he relied on a sinker/slider combination, designed to induce a large amount of ground balls.
However, he changed it up in 2021.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mace utilized the time off to attend Driveline Baseball, working with their staff to optimize his arsenal. MLB Pipeline reports that Mace improved the spin rate of his fastball, opting to employ it higher in the zone to induce more whiffs.
Using data gleaned from BaseballCloud’s trademark product, BCTeam, we’re able to confirm Mace was able to optimize his arsenal to employ a more whiff-heavy approach last season.
He threw his four-seamer more than ever in 2021, a result of the work put into it over the offseason. By improving the tilt and spin rate on the pitch, he made it a legitimate weapon to use in the upper half of the zone.
Throwing his four-seamer more often added a nice complement to his usual sinker/slider pairing. By implementing a four-seamer with a high spin rate into his arsenal, he appealed to data-driven teams that could help him optimize the pitch.
The heatmap below indicates his willingness to throw more pitches in the upper quadrants of the zone.
Although he added a four-seamer, his overall profile remains similar; his bread-and-butter is still his sinker/slider combo.
His fastball/sinker is his most utilized pitch, throwing it 55% of the time. He uses it to get ahead of hitters and can throw it in any count. His delivery allows him to generate solid extension on his pitches, with his fastball being released 6.9 feet away from the mound. The amount of extension on his fastball helps it perform better in the upper half of the strike zone, giving the pitch an appearance as if it is rising.
When locating his sinker in the lower half of the zone, he generates plenty of BBEs with low launch angles. His release point of his fastball is tight, as well, with a deviation of only 0.28 inches.
His slider/cutter is considered his best offspeed pitch, rotating at an average of 2385 rotations per minute at 85 mph (28.0 Bauer Units). It shares some features with a cutter and our pitch movement charts would agree with that assessment.
Looking at his pitch usage charts, it’s evident how much those two pitches matter in his arsenal. He throws his fastball and slider a combined 82% of the time. After a first-pitch fastball, he then throws his two best offerings, a fastball at 62%, followed by a slider at 23%.
Rounding out his arsenal is a curveball with some quality features and rarely-used changeup. His curveball gets nearly 45 inches of drop, is thrown at almost 2700 RPMs, and has a VAA of -8.8.
Accompanying his arsenal is above-average command; it’s a nice package of skills that Cleveland just drafted.
The changes to his pitch mix paid dividends.
Mace quickly emerged as the ace of the Gators’ staff, enjoying a productive 2021 campaign.
From a results standpoint, Mace hurled 90.1 innings, a team-high. In his 90.1 frames, he pitched to a 4.38 ERA, a 11.3 K/9, and a 2.1 BB/9. His K/9 represented a career-high, besting his previous high mark of 8.7 K/9 from 2020.
As Baseball America wrote in June 2020, Mace is still new to the analytics approach of baseball. Being exposed to a data-driven team like the Indians should help him with his development. He’s already made strides with his repertoire, even after playing around with data for such a short amount of time.
Mace is an archetype that, in this author’s opinion, is undervalued in the big-leagues. While at Florida, Mace followed the trajectory in fellow feisty Floridans Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar in employing a sinker/slider heavy approach, deigned to induce ground balls. Considering Singer and Kowar both making the big leagues already, I’m hopeful that Mace can follow their path.
In Mace, the Indians gained another high-end arm to their litany of pitching prospects. With Mace joining first-rounders Daniel Espino, Gavin Williams and Ethan Hankins, the Indians are setting themselves for a strong future staff.
Baseball Cloud‘s own Anthony Franco noted that the Indians selected eight pitchers with their first eight picks; all pitchers with strong command. It’s worth noting Shane Bieber’s pre-draft report read similar. Could lightning strike for Cleveland twice? Considering their reputation for maximizing their hurlers’ talent, never count them out.
Cover Picture Credit: Perfect Game