Since returning from injury, San Diego Padres LHP Eric Lauer has been phenomenal.
When Eric Lauer made his Major League Baseball debut on April 24th, fans may not have known exactly what was going to happen, but most can probably look back on that start and say they knew nothing good was going to come out of it. A young, rookie pitcher making his debut at Coors Field, with a rain delay mixed in doesn’t bode well, for anyone. Three innings and six runs later, his San Diego Padres debut was over and everyone immediately looked forward to his next start.
Lauer got a deserved free pass after that first start. His next two performances showed the organization what he was capable of doing on the mound. Against two NL West rivals, Lauer gave up three earned, struck out 12, and walked just three across 11 combined innings, including a six-inning shutout performance against the Dodgers.
Over the course of the season, Lauer mixed in true quality starts while taking the occasional shellacking, before ultimately missing a month of action with an injury. Including that start against the Dodgers, Lauer threw at least five innings and gave up two earned runs or fewer eight different times. An 8.2 inning, one earned run, four-hit performance against (I’ll give you one guess….yep) the Dodgers proved to be the most impressive outing of his rookie season, to date.
Post-injury Eric Lauer has been nearly unhittable.
Lauer joined the majors with a fastball that barely cracked 90 mph on the radar gun. The rookie relies on his command and location, rather than blowing heat by his opponent. When the command is off, he has outings like his St. Louis performance.
He emerged with a new cutter, ramped up the velocity to nearly 92 mph, gradually increased his fastball spin rate, and upped his swing and miss rate. Across most metrics, Lauer was showing a slow but steady improvement, however, that injury could have been a problem.
When the news broke that Lauer was close to returning the mound, a few questions immediately came to mind. Would he still have any gas in the tank after a long rookie season and now a month-long injury? What if there are any lingering effects and he gets shelled? What is his mindset, coming back to a team trending towards 100 losses?
Lauer put all of those concerns to bed and turned the lights off on them. In his two starts (August 20th against the Rockies and September 6th at Cincinnati), Lauer has been nearly unhittable. Check out his stat lines from these contests.
8/30 vs COL: 5 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 56% groundball rate
9/6 @ CIN: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K, 75% groundball rate
Per Baseball Savant, Lauer’s fastball sat between 91.6 and 92.1 mph, with an average spin rate of 2233 in his start against the Reds, one of the highest spin rates of his season. There were 30 swings on his fastball, 11 of them were whiffs, while three of the four swings against his slider were whiffs.
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Lauer has also been doing a much better job at placing his fastballs. You can see the difference from pre-injury Lauer to post-injury Lauer, as far as fastball/cutter placement. There’s a lot more consistency and more heat up in the zone.
Overall, Lauer has done a fantastic job of hitting the upper half of the zone in his last two starts. Here’s his heat map from the Rockies/Reds starts. Now compare that to the rest of his rookie season. Night and day difference in location. Combining the increased spin rate and velocity (more rising action) with his new up in the zone approach has helped produce the higher percentage of whiffs and strikeouts. This is the Eric Lauer that can solidify the backend of the San Diego Padres rotation for years to come. Maybe he used that time to watch a few starts of Gerrit Cole?
Expect Eric Lauer’s next start to come next week against the Seattle Mariners.