Back in January, Triston McKenzie announced via Twitter that he needed a Rolex.
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman took notice. He replied to McKenzie’s tweet, offering to buy the Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher a Rolex if he finished the season with a 3.70 ERA or better after logging a minimum of 160 innings pitched.
McKenzie’s response: “Done.”
You have to respect and admire his confidence. McKenzie was coming off his second big league season, which saw him finish with a 4.95 ERA over 120 innings pitched. He was walking batters at an alarming rate, averaging a career-high 4.35 walks per nine innings. McKenzie also gave up 21 home runs in 2021, his highest single-season total at any level. Handing out free bases and then serving up home runs isn’t exactly a recipe for success as a starting pitcher.
Fortunately, McKenzie found a better recipe this season.
He ditched his changeup, which had proven to be ineffective against big league hitters, and reduced his pitch arsenal to a four-seam fastball, slider, and curveball.
McKenzie’s fastball does not benefit from elite velocity, averaging 92.5 mph this year, but more than 20 inches of vertical break make it an effective weapon in the top of the zone. His curveball was his most lethal pitch this season, boasting a put away percentage of 31.1%. Most impressive was McKenzie’s improved ability to locate his curveball and spot it for a strike. That contributed to the chase percentage on his curveball increasing from 33.6% in 2021 to 40.4% in 2022.
Most importantly, he cut his BB/9 down from 4.35 to 2.07. While his HR/9 only decreased from 1.58 to 1.18, fewer baserunners helped limit the damage of those dingers.
The turning point in his season seemed to be a July start against the Yankees.
Triston McKenzie, Nasty 80mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/LYPHYZHNj0— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 3, 2022
The Guardians had lost five straight games to the Yankees and were on the verge of getting swept in the season series when McKenzie took the mound on Sunday, July 3. He pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven and only issuing one walk en route to a narrow 2-0 win. This was after getting shelled by the Twins in his previous two starts, allowing a combined 17 hits, including five home runs, and 13 earned runs over 10.1 innings.
After shutting down the Yankees, McKenzie turned it up the rest of the way. Over his final 17 starts of the regular season, he pitched 111 innings and averaged 9.49 K/9, 1.86 BB/9, and 0.73 HR/9. McKenzie recorded a 2.19 ERA and 2.71 FIP over that stretch. One of the highlights of that stretch was a dominant start against the Astros, during which McKenzie pitched eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits and one walk while striking out eight.
Then of course came his first playoff start. Against the Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS, McKenzie spun six shutout innings, recording eight strikeouts. He only allowed two hits and a pair of walks, keeping Tampa Bay off the board to set the stage for a 1-0 walk-off win in the 15th inning.
Time after time, Cleveland handed McKenzie the ball and he produced like an ace, shutting down some of the best lineups in baseball to give his team a chance. There’s not much more you can ask of a 25-year-old with a 6’5”, 165-lb. frame in his third season in the big leagues.
Guardians fans can only hope this is the start of something special.
As for the Rolex? Well, Marcus Stroman is a man of his word.
Last one of the regular season today. Let’s finish strong!! Thank you pic.twitter.com/On3Q1aXtgC— Triston McKenzie (@T_eazy24) October 3, 2022
Triston McKenzie’s 2022 Stats
Total MVP points: 47
First-place MVP votes: 0
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.