When the Twins first selected Ryan Pressly in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2013 season, they were looking forward to what he could do in the future. Armed with a fastball that could touch the mid-90s and two breaking pitches, the hope was that he would eventually turn into a late inning reliever.
Of course, that success didn’t come immediately. Jumping from Double-A in the Red Sox organization to the big leagues at the age of 24, Pressly held his own with a 3.87 ERA over 76 2⁄3 innings. Though he struck out just 15.6% of the batters he faced, it wasn’t a big deal as he found himself in a low-leverage role.
Pressly’s 2014 season also came with a shiny ERA but poor peripherals as he struck out just 11.5% of the opposition. It was odd considering how hard he threw, but with little movement on his fastball, he was succeeding by inducing weak contact. This was evidenced by what I discovered in an article several years ago when I was looking at the best pitches on the Twins pitching staff. Using linear weights (a rating system based on the outcome of every pitch), I found that Pressly rated as having the best curveball and slider in the bullpen. Considering he couldn’t strike anyone out, it was interesting to see that two of his pitches still rated so well.
I’ve been digging and failing to find the evidence, but I recall reading that one of Pressly’s weaknesses - especially during his struggles last season - was that he became far too predictable with his pitch sequencing. Namely, whenever he’d fall behind in the count, he’d turn to his fastball. Hitters knocked him around and Pressly found himself back in Triple-A, searching to rediscover his form.
As you might have expected, the solution lay with doing a better job of mixing up his pitches. By using his breaking pitches in hitter’s counts, batters couldn’t sit on the fastball anymore and he returned to having the upper hand.
Of course, his success is tied to more than just varying his pitches, because his stuff is better, too. When Pressly debuted, he was averaging about 93 MPH with his fastball, 86 MPH with the slider, and his curveball was at 81 MPH. Last year, the velocities were at 95.8, 89.6, and 83.1, respectively, and despite his struggles, he still struck out a career high 24% of the batters he faced and allowing a batting average of .226. This year, in spite of the home run he allowed last night, Pressly has a 1.10 ERA, 2.16 FIP, and has struck out over 30% of hitters.
While Zach Duke and Addison Reed still have dibs on the late innings, Pressly is rounding into a solid third option to lead to Fernando Rodney at the end of games. Not too bad for a former Rule 5 pick.