Touki Toussaint is Different (and Game Thread)

Touki Toussaint is different from what he used to be. Why? When you’re an out away from seven strong innings of filling the zone and racking up whiffs, coming suddenly on the heels of a couple years of struggling to stay on a major league mound, something has to be different. For Toussaint, it’s always been a matter of locating well enough to let his lively stuff play at the highest level. It’s only a couple starts, but he’s doing it right now. He’s different.

Let’s start with pitch selection and location.

One of the most noticeable changes – something I picked up on in a matter of minutes in his Mets start – was the approach of mixing his pitches differently and utilizing the fastball in a different way. Instead of establishing a sinking fastball down in the zone for weak contact, Toussaint is getting ahead by throwing the curveball, splitter and slider over the plate early in the count more often. He’s showing more command of these pitches to allow him to establish them early instead of going fastball-only early and trying to put hitters away on secondaries off the plate.

This opens up the arsenal to allow Toussaint to mix more effectively. It also sets up an increased usage of four-seamers, which he’s doing in a great way by going up in the zone to change eye levels and take advantage of his mid-90s heat. Toussaint has too much natural arm strength and the fastball pops too much to settle for weak contact on sinkers. Pumping 96 at the letters off a split down is a very effective way to maximize this two-pitch combination.

Toussaint is going to this four-seam/split combination more often against left-handed batters. He’s trading some whiffs on the splitter for increased whiffs on the four-seam, currently at 21 percent compared to just 9 percent last year. However, his putaway percentage on the splitter is a whopping 43 percent compared to 34 percent last year, showing that hitters are being fooled on the velo separation and late fading action for weak contact.

Against right-handed batters, Toussaint is leaning on his biggest strength – a consistently plus curveball that flashes double-plus. It’s his No. 1 pitch against righties, and increased command so far this season has allowed him to both establish it early in the zone and get whiffs off the plate with two strikes. His whiff percentage on the pitch has increased 9 percentage points to 55 percent so far this year. He plays off the curve with more four-seamers up in the zone, which he’s tunneling effectively, while flashing a harder breaker look with a mid-80s slider and mixing an occasional splitter for a right-on-right change of pace.

2019

2020:

The zone plots tell the tale of Toussaint’s approach. In his 41.2 innings in 2019, he relied heavily on the sinker down and arm side while he struggled to spot the four-seamer and curve in a consistent spot off the middle of the plate. He worked the splitter off the plate too much for it to be a consistent pitch for strikes.

So far in 2020, Toussaint’s four-seam usage is primarily up in the zone and arm side. He’s in the zone with the splitter, often down and in to play off the four-seamer by fading below the fastball’s path. He’s keeping the curve down and away but has a hot spot at the knees and over the plate for strikes. When he mixes in the slider, he’s keeping down and on the corners.

What does all of that mean? It means increased command, because he’s locating his pitches where he wants. The four-seamer up and splitter down, both arm side, play off each other. The curveball down gets whiffs against righties and plays off the four-seam up. The slider is a harder look down to keep hitters guessing. Put it all together and you have an effective starter’s arsenal.

Stuff has never been Toussaint’s issue; it’s always been command. Being able to establish early strikes and locate his stuff effectively enough have been the difference between six solid innings and wondering when the right-hander would permanently settle in a bullpen. It’s only two starts and three total appearances spanning 13.1 innings, but Toussaint’s command in 2020 is notably improved so far.

Why?

There’s a difference on the mound. To begin with, Toussaint has moved from the far left side of the rubber to right-center, with his toes basically reaching the right edge. One, this creates angle by making it more difficult on right-handed batters who see the ball in their eyes but are forced to contend with a tunneled four-seamer, curveball and splitter from that closer angle. Two, it’s causing Toussaint to stand taller from the top of his leg kick through release.

2019:

2020:

The second point is where improved consistency comes into play. The first photo of Toussaint in white facing Pete Alonso is from June 18, 2019. As he strides down the mound, his body constricts, his upper half bends over and his back side dips out. You see this sometimes in ultra-athletic pitchers who use lots of moving parts for added torque. But it’s not a clean stride to the plate and forces Toussaint to correct his body at the last second to get into position to release. This causes inconsistent mechanics and release.

The second photo of Toussaint in grey facing Jose Martinez is his first 2020 appearance. You notice the dramatic shift on the rubber. You should also notice that Toussaint is standing taller. His front side is higher, his lead arm is stiff and his lead leg and foot are staying more in line and closed. All of this causes Toussaint to stay on line as he strides down the mound, maintaining a cleaner stride, cutting down on the moving parts, and allowing him to stay on the top of the ball and find his release point.

2019:

2020:

Finally, you’ll notice the difference in release points from 2019 to 2020. The more outward release is due to the change in foot placement on the rubber, but he’s also releasing taller because of the more upright stride. The release point is high and tight, and it’s allowing him to command his pitches and tunnel them effectively.

This is admittedly a lot to take from 13 innings, and it’s not even the first time Toussaint has had a successful start or two in the majors. But it’s clear that he’s commanding the ball better than he usually does, and it’s clear that he’s made adjustments to try to make this a permanent thing.

Toussaint is one of the most athletic pitchers you’ll ever see, and he has the aptitude to apply adjustments quickly. He’s made plenty of them over the years in an effort to be a long-term major league starter. Is this latest round of tweaks the difference-maker? Time will tell.

Data and images from Baseball Savant.

Thanks for reading Touki Toussaint is Different by David Lee. Please subscribe to David’s newsletter at BravesProspects.com and find his other pieces on Braves Journal here.

54 thoughts on “Touki Toussaint is Different (and Game Thread)”

  1. This piece is so great — thanks, David! Amazing what moving to the other side of the bump can do!

  2. Thank you for all of the support! There are several of you that reached out regarding financial help to get the .com back, and many that either upped their Patreon donation or became Patreon members. That means a lot.

    We’ve made progress! I was able to reach out to Clay, Mac’s brother, and found out that he has been renewing the site yearly. He renewed it again and now he’s going to hand it over to us so we can carry on Mac’s legacy. Once this is all resolved, we will migrate back to our original home bravesjournal.com. I don’t know the financial ramifications yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Until then, .com will continue forwarding to .us without any issues.

    As always, thank you for making this place special. I’ll continue to do my best to carry the flame.

  3. David, that is really awesome and I enjoyed reading it. My amateur eye definitely saw something different with Touki’s command, particularly in his second start, and it’s nice to get the explanation for why.

    Side question: what does it mean for a pitch to be ‘tunneled’? I’m not familiar with that terminology.

  4. Great work, David—thanks. I think we’ve all known that Touki’s stuff is good enough that he can be a very good MLB pitcher if he can command it. You’ve shown us why the improved command may just be replicable and not a fluke. That’s very encouraging—but we need to see several more outings in which he repeats the changes you describe.
    Kyle Wright also has ML caliber stuff. Can you diagnose and cure his command issues for us? I have confidence in you, David!

  5. Thank you to everyone for such kind words and for reading. I really appreciate it.

    Regarding tunneling, it’s the ability to make every pitch look the same out of the hand and for an extended period between release and when it reaches the plate. The longer each pitch stays on a similar line out of the hand, the more difficult it is for hitters to pick it up.

    Regarding Kyle Wright, it again comes down to feel and syncing everything up. Wright can have an inconsistent stride and open up early at times. Having a feel for both halves, his release and repeating his delivery are all keys for him. He just needs reps.

  6. A bullpen option anyway. Very good remains an open question.

    How much rope is enough? Is the noose around his neck?

  7. Ok David—how about the diagnosis and cure for Newk? Or are some problems beyond the ken of mere mortals?

  8. Well, that was a solid outing. 1.1 innings, at least 5 runs, two home runs, six hits, two walks, almost killed Bryce Harper.

    UPDATE: Make that 8 runs. I think I’m turning this off.

  9. Get ’em tomorrow.

    And I wish we had the ability to get Newk on the Gwinnett Express.

  10. Our starting pitching is a PROBLEM, lads. Glad we could at least have a week of thinking maybe we could patch it together and be ok.

  11. I am concerned this is actually a criticism of Newcombe, but he is waaay more talented than Reyes ever was. Reyes had marginal ML stuff, Newcombe has all the stuff in the world.

  12. @32, you’re misremembering Jo-Jo a bit. Allow me to quote Mac:

    I am generally reluctant to state that any ballplayer’s problems are mental or emotional. In the case of Joseph Albert Reyes, I am here to say that the guy’s a froot loop. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for him to not be a serviceable major leaguer by this point. He now has three seasons of dominating the upper levels of the minors under his belt, he has great stuff — I doubt there are ten more talented lefthanded starters out there — and he really hasn’t been pushed that hard. And his career record is now 5-15 with a 6.09 ERA, largely because he’s afraid to throw strikes to major league hitters.

    The defense rests.

  13. Robbie Erlin is likely to get DFA’ed after this game just like Rusin. Thanks for taking one for the team.

  14. I’d like to see Tomlin and one of the young guys who haven’t had a start yet, like Weigel or Davidson, given a turn on the mound. Can’t hurt and it’d be nice to see what we have.

  15. I’m reminded of five days ago when I said that it looked like Sean Newcomb had hopefully (maybe) turned the corner and Alex promptly posted a picture of Lucy setting up a football for Charlie Brown to kick. Well played on that, sir!

  16. I forgot that the game started at 6:05 & I flicked on my MLB app, saw the score & grumbled an expletive. Just from the in-game highlights, Newk looked more than a little traumatized.

    A 4-game road split is fine, I suppose. OK, onto The Bronx…

    #33
    I’m pretty sure I saw the greatest game Jo Jo Reyes ever pitched. I remember actually worrying about the power of Rally Monkey as long as he was on the mound:

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ANA/ANA200806130.shtml

  17. @33
    fair enough, I only watched JoJo in the majors, and if anyone ever looked the part of a AAAA pitcher stuck in the majors, it was Horacio Ramirez.

    But Jo Jo also didn’t look good.

  18. Funny story about Jo-Jo Reyes:

    EOF told this story on DOB’s podcast. Reyes was in MLB Spring Training with the Braves and kicked up his feet on a clubhouse couch one afternoon with a plate of nachos. Apparently Chipper Jones saw it and ripped him a new one. 😄

    I guess the future Hall of Famers don’t take too kindly to unproven kids acting King Shit in their clubhouse.

  19. The top of the ninth was a delight to watch…at one time you began to believe it might go on for ever, never mind get past thirteen…contained within it all was a huge homer from Riley which gladdened the soul, a rather more modest one from the Goat…and, towards the end, most appropriately and far more importantly, Nick’s five hundredth double. Roars of approval from the dugout.

    Making something out of nothing. Another Braves virtue, we have learned.

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