Eddie Butler’s Shrinking Release-Point Gap Could Mean Big Things for Cubs

Eddie Butler was a first round draft pick five years ago, the same class as Albert Almora, but a lot has happened between then and now. Hard throwing with a yo-yo changeup, the 26-year-old weaved his way quickly through the minors before making his debut in 2014 with Colorado. And that’s when the struggles started. Whether he was a victim of Coors Field or legit MLB talent — though it’s likely a combination of both — is unclear.

All we know for certain is that the newest member of the Cubs’ starting rotation owns a career 6.50 ERA and 5.69 FIP. Still, Butler features a basket of filthy pitches that could yield value at the big league level. When we see Butler pitch Friday, flashes of what made him that envied top prospect will be on display. The righty sports a mid-90’s fastball, tailing sinker, sharp slider, and once-praised changeup.

“[Butler has] a beautiful righty-on-righty chang up with devastating fade and drop from the 2013 Futures Game,” said Eno Sarris in his FanGraphs post following the Cubs’ acquisition of the pitcher. “We should remember those times, and that changeup, because it was sometime in 2014 that things began to go wrong.”

Sarris wasn’t kidding; that changeup from the 2013 Futures Game was dirty.

Butler’s story is not unfamiliar, though, as the quantity of highly-touted pitching prospect busts outweigh the number of aces. It’s not always enough to rely on raw stuff, such as Butler and his changeup, and it’s often necessary to disguise pitches in order to make the most of filthy movement. For example, Jon Lester has the most consistent release point across all his pitches in MLB, whereas Butler ranked No. 329 (bottom 15 percent of MLB).

Therein lies one glaring problem: Butler has not been deceptive. In particular, the release point difference between his changeup and fastball has been broad enough for hitters to pick up. Nearly two inches in vertical release separate Butler’s offspeed stuff from his heater. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you consider Kyle Hendricks’ separation between those two pitches was 0.36 inches last year, two inches might as well be the Grand Canyon.

However, and here’s where it gets fun, Butler’s fastball/changeup release point difference was only about half an inch this spring in Mesa. The small sample size certainly means this could just be a fluke. Then again, we got reports out of Sloan Park that pitching coach Chris Bosio had worked with his newest charge to tweak his delivery. If Butler can maintain or even shrink the release-point gap between his mid-90’s fastball and that nose-diving changeup, maybe we’ll finally see the starter tap into his potential.

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