Here is more insight from pitcher Sam Clay from last week's Zoom call on the psychology of baseball. The free agent left-hander was signed by the Nats on Nov. 18 to a major league contract after spending his entire minor league career in the Twins organization. He had been a free agent for only 16 days before the Nationals snatched him up. Clay boasts an amazing number: only six homers allowed in over 405 innings.
Clay was asked about the numbers of baseball, whether it is the straight statistics from each game or the art of analytics, and how they can help or hurt a pitcher's psyche.
Statistics can get blown out of proportion for pitchers on occasion, especially those times they allow a big inning without recording three outs. As his career started to build, Clay said he forced himself to not get hung up on wins, losses and ERA, instead looking to focus more on his craft after tough outings.
"I like to look into (analytics), but I don't like to look into statistics," Clay said. "I don't like to look at wins, losses, ERA, all of that. I feel like that just breeds a lot of discontent. I feel like it can lead a lot of pitchers to try to pitch outside of themselves. That's where a lot of pitchers have struggled is when they try to do too much outside of themselves and that's what I've done successfully. In the past, always pitched my game. I've never tried to do more than what I know I'm capable of."
Clay remembered his April 7, 2017, debut for high Single-A Fort Myers against the Jupiter Hammerheads. He faced eight batters that game and pretty much everything went wrong. It was an example of small sample size can make an ERA balloon out of control.
"I remember my first outing in 2017. I was playing in high-A for the Fort Myers Miracle, and my first inning, I didn't even make it out of the inning," Clay said. "I went two-thirds of an inning, if that. I gave up six earned runs. So my ERA was (81.00). Pretty high. And if I would've just looked at that, then I would've discouraged myself immediately. It's off of two-thirds of an inning. It's basically nothing. Then I went the next 27, 28 innings scoreless and knocked my ERA down. I didn't even know what my ERA was at the time. It's not something I pay attention to. Those quick innings where you can come in and get one out and give up three, four earned runs, it really inflates it. It's not something I really pay attention to."
He was right. Clay's ERA dropped from 81.00 on April 7 to 2.16 on May 23. That season, he finished with an ERA of 1.38 and went 8-0 with a career-high nine saves over 40 appearances. After allowing six earned runs in that first game, Clay surrendered just four more earned runs in his final 39 games of 2017.
But Clay, 27, does appreciate and respect the value in analytics. As a pitcher who seeks out ground balls, spin rate can do a lot to adjust the look and feel of his pitches to the batter, where he expects the ball to go and how fast it will travel toward the plate.
"I like the analytics," Clay said. "I like to learn about different release angles, launch angles, spin rates, the different axis of spins. I feel like it's a huge tool in baseball and its become more and more prevalent. Its a great tool that we can use to better ourselves as pitchers and as a hitters, honestly."