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Getting to Know Tanner Roark’s Arsenal

An in-depth look at the pitches thrown by the Blue Jays starting pitcher

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Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies 
Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies 
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In the interest of getting to know the Blue Jays’ new starters, I thought it would be interesting to look into their pitch arsenals and the ways they like to use them to attack hitters. I decided to start with Tanner Roark because, while he wasn’t the big ticket addition this winter, he possesses many of the same skills, and I thought shedding some light on the way he works might indicate something about what they Jays were looking for in the starting pitchers they targeted this winter.

Last week, the Athletic’s Eno Sarris wrote a fascinating piece on the Blue Jays’ rotation. In it, he notes that only 12 pitchers in the major leagues used at least five different pitches 10% or more of the time. Only five of the 12 had significantly above average command, according to Stats Perform’s video review based Command+ metric. Two of those five were Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark. Chase Anderson, the other MLB starter added this winter, meets the above-average command requirement but only threw his fifth pitch (his sinker) 7.5% of the time. Clearly, the Jays were betting on guys who can hit their spots with a broad array of pitches.

In order to get a better feel for Roark’s pitches and how he’ll use them, I downloaded the StatCast data for all the pitches he threw in 2019 (excluding one game he started in Mexico City, which has no StatCast system).

Tanner Roark’s Stuff

As previously mentioned, Roark throws five pitches. The graph below shows the horizontal and vertical break he gets on each of them. The small dots are pitches he threw in 2019, and the big diamonds represent the average movement that other MLB pitchers with similar velocity get on pitches of that type.

Tanner roark pitch movement

These are pretty typical pitch characteristics for a righty. His four-seamer, sinker, and change all have a little less drop than average, and the fastballs have a little less horizontal run than average, while his change is about average there. That’s probably good four his four-seamer, where smaller drop (or more rise) leads to popups and swinging strikes. In terms of breaking balls, his slider has less than average break in both directions, while his curve has pretty great depth and is his only clearly above average pitch by movement.

It’s a pretty vanilla arsenal, with the possible exception of the curve. It is deep, though, with a lot of different movement profiles in terms of both side to side and vertical break. Next, let’s look at his release points:

Chase Anderson Release Points

It’s kind of hard to make much out here, but then that’s the point. His two fastballs and his change-up come out of just about exactly the same place, then move in three different ways at two different speeds (his sinker and four-seamer at 92, the change around 84). The two breaking balls come out a few inches farther out to the side compared to the fastballs and change, but are very similar to each other. It doesn’t look like it should be easy to guess what’s coming out of his hand, as each pitch overlaps almost completely with at least one other.


The theory is that the Jays liked Roark for both his arsenal and his command. We’ve seen what he can throw, so now let’s look at where he throws it. The first image below shows where he likes to place his four-seamer.

Roark four seamer placement

I’ve broken it down by batter handedness and count. It looks like he likes to throw the four-seamer to his glove side, up and in to lefties or away from righties. An interesting note is that he seems to like to throw it down and away to righties early (0-0, 0-1, 1-0, and 1-1 counts), then come up higher when using it to put guys away (any two strike count with less than three balls). He also doesn’t seem to throw it much when he’s behind (2+ balls and 0 or 1 strike) or in full counts.

Tanner Roark sinker placement

The placement of his sinker is kind of the opposite of what he does with the four-seamer. He likes to throw it down and away to lefties early, then come up and in with two strikes. The location to righties doesn’t have an obvious pattern, but there’s a lot of green in the middle-in zone from a right handed point of view. That doesn’t seem like a great plan, and indeed righties slapped his sinker around in 2019 to the tune of a .356 OBA.

It also looks like there’s more blue and red on this chart than the one above, suggesting he feels more comfortable with the sinker when he’s behind or the count is full and he needs a strike.

tanner roark change placement

His change-up is the only pitch with a really strong handedness split. While he’ll throw any of the other four to batters of either handedness in most counts, it looks like his change is usually just an early-count pitch to try to get a chase down and or away from a lefty. He seems to do a pretty good job locating it (note the dense cluster right off the low and away corner), but doesn’t throw it hardly at all when he’s behind. To righties, he hardly throws any but will drop one in or just below the zone with two strikes every once in a while. This is probably an attempt to surprise a hitter guessing breaking ball.

tanner roark curve placement

The curve is Roark’s best swing and miss pitch to righties, and is roughly tied with the change for lefties. As you’d expect, he uses it mostly with two strikes to right handed hitters, and almost always low and away. To lefties, he seems to like to try to back door it early in the count for called strikes and back foot it late for whiffs.

tanner roark slider locations

Last but not least, the slider. In his article, Sarris notes that Roark had the fifth-best slider command grade among all pitchers last year. You can see that in the strong clustering of sliders he throws to righties. There are very few on the inside third. He seems to throw it mostly early in the count and almost always either in the zone on the outer half or just outside. He’ll also throw it when he’s behind or in full counts far more than either of his other offspeed pitches (though a little less than the four-seamer and a lot less than the sinker) and to batters of either handedness, indicating that he trusts his ability to drop it in the zone when he needs to.

That’s the book on Tanner Roark. If there’s a theme, it’s probably the lack of a theme. He’ll throw all five pitches early in the count and for strikes. With the exception of the change, he’ll throw any of them to either lefties or righties. When he’s ahead, he’ll attack relatively more on the four-seamer, change and curve, and when he’s behind he’ll lean a bit on the sinker and slider. He can pretty reliably shade any of the five towards whichever corner of the zone he wants it in. Most of these pitches aren’t anything to write home about in terms of velocity or movement, but he relies on variety to keep hitters off them and location to make them hard to square up when hitters guess right.