Is Keaton Winn Too Unconventional?

Keaton Winn's uniqueness might be getting in his way.

Keaton Winn fascinates me. He’s got an unconventional way of going about his business on the mound. Immediately, his pitch usage stands out as being a bit odd. He throws his splitter 43% of the time. This is more than his 4-seamer and sinker combined. This is especially strange given that he does throw both fastball variants with regularity. He also has a gyro slider that he refuses to throw to opposite-handed hitters. I’m struggling to find the right word to describe it, it almost feels… disorganized?

Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but it seems like he’s only scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. He’s got some unique pitches in his repertoire, and I think they aren’t playing as well as they could be. Let’s dive into what he offers.


The Splitter


What I believe is a first for me doing this type of article, we start with Winn’s offspeed pitch. It functions as his primary pitch, as mentioned earlier he throws it 43% of the time. We’ll get into why I think that’s too much later, but it’s undeniably a good pitch. He throws it hard at 89.0 mph, with just 1.4” of iVB, and 15” of iHB. This on its own is a solid start, but Winn also has a slightly higher-than-average release point. The ball leaves his hand at 6.1’ off the ground, which makes the movement he gets on it more effective and unique.

It plays well off of his fastballs and looks the way a good changeup should. However, it hasn’t gotten the kind of whiffs you’d expect from a pitch of this quality. I’m entirely convinced it’s due to how he uses it. He uses it as an early-count pitch pretty often. It’s kind of functioning like a slow sinker to get called strikes and ground balls in these scenarios. He tends to aim for the low glove-side corner like the famed Maddux sinker. It’s just… a really weird way to be using an off-speed pitch. Despite that, it seems to be working anyway.

It’s one of the stranger pitches I’ve come across. It almost works like Jhoan Duran’s splinker in this way. Much like last season, it’s running a ground ball rate of ~68%. He does still use it late in counts as an out pitch but I have to wonder if it would work better if it was saved for those counts.


The Sinker

Winn’s sinker is about what you would expect a good sinker to look like. Nothing unorthodox about this one. He throws it 94.9 mph, slightly harder than average. With 7.6” of iVB, 16.7” of iHB, and the aforementioned release point, it has a very heavy shape with a lot of depth. This is a better shape than you’d expect from his release, as it has a -0.47° VAAAA. I’ve used VAAAA in reference to 4-seam fastballs before, but in the case of sinkers, it being negative is a good thing. This means that its path to the plate is steeper than you’d expect, giving it more ability to induce ground balls.

This pitch has a lot going for it in theory, but it hasn’t performed the way Winn wants it to so far. I think the issue has to do more with his command of the pitch than the pitch itself. Like the splitter, he tends to aim low glove-side a lot. The problem is that when he’s missing with it, it’s slipping out early and drifting up and toward his arm side. When that happens while he’s aiming where he has been, you get pitches that wind up right down the middle. Even good sinkers don’t always get bad contact when thrown there.

This is something he has to clean up. Furthermore, he rarely tries to tie up same-handed hitters with sinkers inside that look like strikes until suddenly they’re breaking the bat. This could be a comfort thing more than a coaching thing, but it’s something I’d like to see him try more of. This has the makings of a decent foundational fastball, but it needs work.


The 4-Seam


In a vacuum, this is not a good pitch. Thankfully, that’s not how baseball works. He’s got good velocity, coming in at 95.9 mph. The movement is where we start to run into problems. 15.7” iVB and 10.8” iHB is just not optimal at his release. It’s not a steep enough path or enough vertical movement to miss bats. There’s also not enough horizontal movement to cause consistent bad contact.

Where does this leave us? Stepping away from the pitch itself to look at how it interacts with his other pitches. The secret to how this pitch can work is hidden there. It spins on a near-identical axis as his sinker. 1:27 and 1:31 spin directions might as well be the same thing to a hitter. They look exactly the same out of his hand, but due to spin manipulation and seam-shifted wake, their movement is completely different. When he throws it above the zone, it looks like a hanging sinker just waiting to be demolished… until it doesn’t sink.

This is a very odd way to make an effective fastball. This is not the same as what I talked about with Bryan Woo, who also has identical spin direction but disparate movement between his fastballs. The difference is that Woo’s are both good on their own. As such, Winn is probably best off using this fastball situationally, and that’s largely what he does. He throws it the same amount as his sinker, both around 21% of the time. With this usage, he’s been able to run a well above-average whiff rate with unimpressive contact on a pitch that looks terrible on paper as well as out of his hand. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.


The Slider


The unsung hero of Winn’s arsenal, this is a fantastic slider. Like everything else he throws, it comes in with power at 87.6 mph. He throws it with nearly perfect bullet spin, just 11% spin activity on average. This leads to very little movement, 0.4” iVB and 0.8” iHB on average. The lack of active spin gives the pitch “late bite” as scouts would call it. It seems to dance a little at the end, it could swing left a little, right a little, not at all, and it’ll look like it’s diving at the end like it ran out of steam. All of this is difficult for the eye to track because it’s not moving the way pitches are expected to.

Pure gyro sliders are one of baseball’s little treasures. Something that looks and seems so simple yet proves utterly confounding to hitters. Assuming they can even make contact with it it’s very difficult to do so effectively. This might be Winn’s best pitch but he throws it the least. Adding to this lack of logic, he doesn’t throw it to opposite-handed hitters. This does not make sense. This type of pitch is generally kryptonite in platoon matchups, yet he isn’t taking advantage of it.



The Outlook


What to do when a pitcher has interesting traits but hasn’t put them all together yet? Scream into the wind in hopes he somehow hears it? Probably not that but we can at least discuss what we want to see from him.

Firstly, as much as I love it when pitchers pitch entirely backward, this is not a case that calls for it. Honestly, I think a usage rate where everything comes in about evenly might be best for him. This would involve more sliders and fewer splitters primarily. I think he would overall benefit and see better performance from his splitter in a slightly diminished and ultimately more traditional role. Setting up the splitter more often than setting up with it should help. His slider shouldn’t see the opposite adverse effect with more usage, however. It’s such a good pitch that increasing its usage shouldn’t come with any issues.

He’s largely been a two-pitch 4-seam and splitter guy to lefties and that’s just not how he has to live. Throwing the slider more there could also lead to improvements for the other pitches as there’s something else for lefties to have to think about. This also means throwing fewer sinkers to opposite-handed hitters, which is generally good advice.

That said, something I didn’t touch on earlier is that his 4-seam and splitter play excellently off of each other. He gets insane movement separation and they should be able to contribute to each other’s whiff rates.

While his current slider should do well against righties, he’d probably benefit from having something that moves to the glove side if he’s capable. A sweeper or a slurvy curveball that leans more horizontally would be a good fit if he can throw it harder than 82 or so.

Overall, I think the answer to the question of whether Winn is too unconventional is probably not. I think he’s unorthodox in a way that has the potential to work but hasn’t yet. I’m confident that the pieces are there, he just needs some time to figure himself out. 

For people reading this for how it affects his outlook in fantasy baseball, I’d recommend just keeping an eye on him for now, maybe streaming every now and then. If you’re in a deep dynasty league, he’s a long-term gain pickup. Things to watch for in the meantime would be sliders to lefties, sinkers inside to righties, 4-seamers at the top and above the zone, and fewer splitters overall.

He’s probably not going to rack up a ton of strikeouts, that’s not really his game right now. I think his best form could run an above-average strikeout rate while also getting lots of ground balls, which sounds like a manager’s ideal starter. I think that’s within the reasonable range of outcomes, he just needs to find that version of himself.

Jack Foley

Jack is a contributor at Pitcher List who enjoys newfangled baseball numbers, coffee, and watching dogs walk by from the window where he works. He has spent far too much time on the nickname page of Baseball-Reference.

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