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Jesse Hahn has made a change

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And that’s neat, hopefully

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Jesse Hahn started the season in AAA Nashville. Then, baseball things happened and now Hahn is roughly the A’s number three because baseball is so stupid and everyone is injured and frankly I’m not sure why I like this sport.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Hahn’s upside is palpable, he was a bonafide #2 for about a year of his short career, and the stuff is still there. It was obvious after a wild 2016 that Hahn wasn’t quite right and needed to make a change, but the raw stuff never departed.

In his first start this season, Hahn looked different. After a rough first inning, Hahn settled down, ending his day with six innings pitched, three runs allowed, and seven strikeouts. He walked just two, one of the best signs from his entire day and while yeah, it was the Royals and their putrid offense, he was beyond solid. Here’s why you can have a cautious optimism while still remembering the baseball gods eat up A’s pitchers like drunks consume bar snacks.

Jesse Hahn and the slightly changed release point

Small samples without a corresponding change are useless. Small samples with a corresponding change are probably useless, too. And here we are looking at the slight change in Jesse Hahn’s delivery.

Here’s Jesse Hahn striking out Chris Carter in 2016.

And here’s Hahn in his first start of the year.

The difference is subtle, enough that I wouldn’t believe it’s real if we didn’t have the means to know for sure. Fortunately we do! Here’s Hahn’s release point for late last season courtesy of Texas Leaguers:

And here’s Hahn’s release point so far this year.

Again, subtle but noticeable difference. His arm slot is lower and to my eye, he’s sitting back more as he moves towards the plate. Hahn missed up and in frequently to righties last year, usually a sign a pitcher’s front side flying open. It’s harder to sty on top of the ball if that happens, and could explain Hahn’s complete lack of command in 2016.

In his start against the Royals, he seemed to move through his mechanics at a slightly more methodical pace, keeping him on top of the ball and thereby helping him find his spots. He’s worked down in the zone and below more this year, a smart move for a groundballer in a league with a still massive strikezone, particularly at its bottom.

This is of course all coming from my highly untrained eye, but the release point data is objective and reflects a slight change. That’s exciting!

Why does that matter?

After a year of scraping by in AAA Nashville and another Spring that saw him demoted, it’d be easy to write off Hahn. While the upside won’t go away, there’s a certain amount of time a formerly solid player is allowed to suck before all hope is lost. Hahn was inching closer and closer to that arbitrary point before his solid 2017 rotation debut.

If Hahn wants to revert back from nausea incarnate into a serviceable pitcher, a change is needed. And a change we may have.

Hahn’s biggest issue of late has been his ability to command his pitches. He threw a lot of strikes last season, but many of them were up in the zone, away from where a sinkerballer would typically aim. Anecdotally, Hahn almost never hit his spots and while his walk rate went down, it felt as though he was constantly behind in the count and never in control. His stuff looked good in terms of velocity and movement, but he never was able to sequence his pitches to truly utilize his talent.

An improved delivery could mean better command and improved counts. More than a third of his at bats ended with the hitter ahead last year, a recipe for disaster. Combine that with his inability to get hitters out when he was ahead in the count (102% worse than leave average) and when the count was even (83% worse than league average) and things aren’t going to work out.

So is Hahn good now?

Aside from being a small sample against a currently terrible team, there are reasons to be skeptical. For one, Hahn has lived more in the middle of the zone this season. A better team will likely make him pay for those balls in the middle of the zone, causing him to nibble more, possibly putting him in the midst of hitter’s counts like he was last year.

There’s definitely been an element of luck involved thus far as well. When Hahn is right, his sinkers will be dug into the ground more than they will be put in the air. So far this year, Hahn is getting groundballs just a third of the time, a statistic that should stabilize fairly quickly. That’s alarming albeit not a death sentence, something to watch in his next start out.

His stuff is moving like it did during his 2015 heyday, some good news. It now comes down to command.

The takeaway

Like the Yonder Alonso swing-plane change, the Jesse Hahn arm slot change makes sense. The arm is there for a competent big leaguer, but what he’s done for the last season and change just wasn’t going to cut it. Dropping his release point to stay in the zone might not work, but adjusting is key and Hahn has done just that.

The A’s might not be good this year, but there’s a story at just about every position adding intrigue to this rebuilding team. Here’s one more.