Josh James is the ’19 poster boy of pro-rata mania for what he did in his brief major-league stint late last year. He was terrific: 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA, 0.96 B/I, and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Unlike 80% or so of these late season flashes, James does not come with a minor-league track record that douses cold water on the excitement. Most such players who do well in callups, especially the pitchers, turn out to have done less well at lower levels, leaving us perplexed and unsure what it all means. The usual explanation is that a one-trick pitcher (e.g. a lefty with a changeup) was having fun with batters who hadn’t faced him before, against lineups riddled with late-season callups and veterans who just want to finish the season and go golfing, all the while the newcomer is juiced on adrenaline from having his parents and friends watching. In James’ case there are real and cogent reasons to explain why he soared in ’18. That’s the question with any dramatic change in performance: Were there reasons to explain it, or could it have been random or just not indicative? James has reasons galore. He added velocity to his fastball, and not just 2 or 3 mph (and 2 or 3 mph can be a big deal for most pitchers). James added 5 or even 6 mph in one year, lifting his fastball from the adequate 90 to 92 type, to the explosive 95 to 98 type. He’s reached 101. That’s one reason, and it’s adequate by itself. But there’s more. James had what seemed like a minor sleep issue due to apnea, and we all know there is no minor issue in pitching performance. He finally found and used the right treatment (CPAP). Better sleep, better pitching, reason number two. He’s added both movement and command to his slider, which on many days is his out pitch, reason three. Finally, his change is becoming more of a weapon, with the bigger difference in velocity due to his faster fastball. That’s four. We could say smoother mechanics, a more deliberate mental approach, and more effective coaching, but those are input changes rather than output changes, and it’s already fair to say, yes, there are reasons.
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