The Enigmatic Bo Schultz

Bo Schultz delivers a pitch against the Yankees. Arturo Pardavila via Flickr.

Let’s talk about Bo Schultz, the 31-year old pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bo has had an interesting two years here in Toronto, and like most fringe bullpen pitchers, Bo has had trouble being a consistently reliable bullpen piece. 

Since 2014, Bo Schultz has pitched a total of 67 ⅓ innings in the Major Leagues. After going undrafted, Bo bounced around the minors, spent some time in independent ball, before finally reaching the majors at the ripe age of 28. Bo was claimed by Toronto in October  2014 and made his first appearance for the Blue Jays in the following June. 

You Didn’t Know Bo

I’m sure that, like me, many fans were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Bo Schultz, considering how much help the Blue Jays needed in the bullpen in 2015. Here was an out-of-nowhere guy who came up from AAA to show some pretty good stuff, with a very good four-seam fastball, and decent supporting pitches (namely his slider, cutter and less-used changeup).

At the time, the Blue Jays were hurting for bullpen help. Just to jog your memory, here’s a list of pitchers who made appearances out of the ‘pen for the Jays in 2015, along with their innings pitched:

Name IP
Roberto Osuna 69.2
Aaron Sanchez 92.1
Liam Hendriks 64.2
Brett Cecil 54.1
Aaron Loup 42.1
Bo Schultz 43.0
Ryan Tepera 33.0
Steve Delabar 29.1
Jeff Francis 22.0
Mark Lowe 19.0
LaTroy Hawkins 16.1
Todd Redmond 16.0
Scott Copeland 15.1
Miguel Castro 12.1
Chad Jenkins 3.2
Colt Hynes 3.0
Andrew Albers 2.2
Phil Coke 2.2
Rob Rasmussen 1.0

To have a guy come out of nowhere and rack up the fifth-most innings pitched in relief for your team is basically a godsend; and that’s almost incredible knowing that you didn’t draft or develop him, and that only a few years earlier he was out of affiliated baseball altogether.

And in those 43 innings, Bo was actually pretty decent for the Jays. He stranded 75.3% of his runners, kept nearly half of all of his hits on the ground, and produced a pretty solid 6.49 strikeouts per nine. Anytime a guy with only 8.0 prior innings in the Majors can give you a full year of a 3.56 ERA, you’ve essentially won the lottery.

“To have a guy come out of nowhere and rack up the fifth-most innings pitched in relief for your team is basically a godsend.”Now, upon further investigation, a lucky-looking .208 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and a considerable gulf between his 2015 ERA of 3.56 and his FIP 4.86 (that is, his Fielding Independent Pitching, which measure a pitcher’s ERA on only strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs) indicated that a step back was certainly possible, or rather, likely for Bo Schultz in 2016.

Rock Bottom?

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that Bo may have indeed taken a step back; or perhaps, two or three steps back in 2016. His strikeouts per nine was down, his home runs per nine was up, his BABIP was more than sixty points higher than it was in 2015, and even though he induced even more groundballs in 2016, he stranded 12% fewer runners. 

Interestingly, even though Bo’s ERA spiked to 5.51 in 2016, his FIP remained basically unchanged at 4.86, which, perhaps more than anything, could be indicative of what kind of pitcher Bo Schultz really is.

The increase in HR/FB and the decrease in strikeouts could mean that hitters were squaring up pitches with more ease, seeing his pitches better, and that all in all, Bo was missing fewer bats. The Swing% and Contact% on his pitches seems to back that up:

Season Swing% Contact%
2015 49.0 % 77.8 %
2016 46.9 % 82.0 %

Extension, Extension, Extension

Now, perhaps you’re wondering why I’m dedicated 1500 words to a guy like Bo Schultz.

Bo Schultz, admittedly, has a pretty great fastball. Schultz relies heavily on his four-seam fastball (throwing it roughly 50% of the time in 2016), and according to Brooks Baseball, he has “above average velo” on that pitch.

Oddly enough, I wouldn’t even be writing about Bo Schultz if it not for one interesting tidbit: according to Statcast data, Bo Schultz had the second highest instance of perceived velocity (which is, in essence, the velocity of a pitch as perceived by a hitter in the batter’s box) among all Blue Jays pitchers in 2016 (with Roberto Osuna at the top of that list).

Below, I’ve plotted all of the pitches thrown by Bo Schultz in 2016. On the X axis, we have the perceived velocity, and on the Y axis, Bo’s release extension (that is, how far in front of the pitching rubber the pitch was thrown from – denoted below in feet).

While the graph above gives you a sense of varying perceived velocities between his slider, changeup, cutter and four-seam fastball, you’ll notice that Bo’s perceived velocity is consistently higher when he extends further; which makes sense – the further a pitcher can extend towards a batter (decreasing the distance between the release of the ball and home plate), the faster that pitch will appear. 

And if you think about it in terms of gaining velocity on a fastball, the results above aren’t bad; there’s a few instances above where Bo’s fastball looked to be 98+ MPH, and the bulk of his fastballs seem to be clustered between 96-97 MPH in perceived velocity.

Now, compare that graph to the following one, which used the same method to plot all of Bo Schultz’s pitches thrown in 2015:

There’s a few things to note on the graph above: the bulk of his fastballs still appear to sit in the 96-97 MPH range for perceived velocity, however, Bo was able to use his extension to more consistently gain perceived velocity beyond 97 MPH in 2015.

In a less-visually-impressive graph, I’ve plotted the difference between Bo’s actual velocity and perceived velocity (positive being perceived velocity gained, negative being perceived velocity lost) on all of his pitches in 2016.

The linear trend in the graph above indicates that Bo Schultz’s sweet spot occurs when he extends right around 6.6 feet from the mound, as at that point, he more consistently gains velocity on his pitches.

Even just expanding the sample size to 6.5 feet from the mount still shows how effective Bo can be when he extends from the mound; on the 32 pitches he threw in 2016 with an extension of 6.5 feet or more, Bo threw 16 for strikes, 10 for balls, and allowed only a .200 average on balls in play.

The following graph shows his 2015 pitches:

The above is a good indicator of just how many pitches Bo Schultz threw with an extension beyond 6.5 feet last year, and how he was able to more frequently gain perceived velocity when he extended further.

In 2015, Bo’s median release extension was 6.44, and his average release extension was 6.43. In 2016 his median release extension was 6.32, and his average was 6.30, and the differences between his Swing% and Contact% in 2016 relative to 2015 seem to indicate that batters were getting a better look at his pitches, being more selective, and squaring up the ball when they did.

It’s All in the Hip

Of course, I left out the most glaring stat from Schultz’s 2016 season; Bo pitched a total of 16.1 innings, which definitely qualifies as a small sample. But, it is relevant because Bo Schultz didn’t even pitch in a game in 2016 until April 28th for the Dunedin Blue Jays, as he had been rehabbing from offseason surgery “to repair the labrum in his left hip”.

Could it be that Bo’s hip was an issue affecting in his pitching, and release extension in 2016?

Considering I know nothing about labrum repairs, hip surgery, or sports medicine in general, I did some digging to try to understand how hip labrum repair might affect a pitcher, and how it might have affected Bo Schultz in 2016.

The Hardball Times, reporting on how hip labrum repair might affect Tim Lincecum‘s recovery, posited the following:

Assuming the successful completion of their rehab program, pitchers shouldn’t have noticeably worse outcomes after undergoing labral repair, though a pitcher with an extreme wind up—Hideo Nomo comes to mind—and a tear on his back leg would likely need additional time to get his full strength back. Lincecum’s repair was done on his landing leg, but his high lift, trunk tilt, and drive put an atypical amount of strain on the joint, which may help explain why he’s progressing a bit more cautiously.

And Jon Heyman, also writing on Lincecum, noted that a labrum issue can affect the push off and range of motion of a pitcher.

Bo had surgery on his left hip, (which, like Lincecum, is his landing leg) and while this is pure speculation (again, from someone rudimentary grasp of human anatomy, let alone sports medicine and biomechanics), it is conceivable that the decrease in extension in 2016 could have been related to the range of motion in his left hip, and how far he was able to step from the mound.

In Conclusion

In the end, we’re only talking about inches of difference between Bo’s 2015 release extension and his 2016 release extension. If Bo can once again find his 2015 release extension in 2017 season, I’d expect his Swing rate to go up, and his Contact rate to go down. And overall, I believe he can be an effective reliever once again, and a key piece in the Blue Jays bullpen.

P.S.

Here is a list of all of the Bo-related puns I looked for – but unfortunately didn’t find – a way to use in this article:

  • Placebo Effect
  • All in the Elbow
  • Career Limbo
  • Put a Bow on It

Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Dave

Dave is the Managing Editor of BunttotheGap.com. He lives in Toronto, is staunchly #TeamDog, and has been to 18 of 30 MLB ballparks. You can contact him at dave@bunttothegap.com.