The evolution of White Sox reliever Jace Fry

Jace Fry made his Major League debut in mid-September last year, after spending most of 2015 and 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

In only six innings of White Sox baseball last season, he accrued an unsightly 10.80 ERA, including five walks. It wasn’t the most impressive start to Fry’s big league career. While Fry didn’t break camp with the Major League club in 2018 and became more of an afterthought to most White Sox fans, he’s certainly making an impression in 2018.

Fry is currently making all kinds of heads turn, including batters that he’s baffling with his well-located slider. Fry currently has the lowest ERA in the Sox bullpen at just 2.25 going into play on Monday and he’s striking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings. Moreover, before a blemish in Sunday’s game against Detroit (in which he allowed his first earned run since June 5), Fry had the sixth lowest ERA of any AL reliever with 20 innings or more pitched.

“Just thinking back on my success as of late I’m getting ahead of batters,” Fry said. “The percentages are in my favor heavily. When I fall behind I’ve gotten some knocks and a couples of walks but I would still say getting ahead of the batters has been most successful. My first pitch curveball has been effective at getting ahead of hitters.”

The data certainly supports that claim. Fry is currently throwing his curveball for a first pitch to left-handed hitters 73 percent of the time as well as 49 percent of the time to right-handed hitters — and the pitch is going for strikes nearly 50 percent of the time. That’s a far cry from the small sample we saw in 2017, in which Fry’s curveball was going for a strike 19 percent of the time while he mainly relied on his sinker.

Fry has also lowered the velocity on his curveball by nearly 4 MPH, giving him a excellent repertoire of speeds to work in with deceiving hitters. In 2018, his most frequently used pitches average 93 MPH (sinker), 88 MPH (slider) and 76 MPH (curveball). For any pitcher, the ability to be able to change eye levels and speeds on a batter is key to success.

Fry also claims to feel more comfortable with his slider this season. “Having a healthy season last year and being able to build off of [the slider] and get the reps in with [it] has made me advance with it,” Fry said. “The location of it has been well, the hitters are seeing it as a strike and it’s ending up off the plate so they’re swinging at and chasing a lot of the sliders. I think if you look back at the slider execution, I’ve thrown it to where I want it a lot more than I was last year.”

Not only has Fry added 3 MPH to his slider this season, but he’s also correct in his observation that hitters are seeing the pitch as a strike, prompting them to swing at it. Hitters are currently whiffings on Fry’s slider nearly 34 percent of the time — the highest whiff percentage of any pitches he throws.

One issue that Fry has continued to struggle with his is tendency to walk batters. Fry is currently walking 3.60 batters per nine innings (around 10 percent). While that’s not ideal especially for a bullpen pitcher, Fry claims it’s simply a product of his attempts to pitch around batters and induce soft contact.

“Coming out of the bullpen, I see a lot of times there’s a lefty on deck and a righty up to the plate, and if there are runners in scoring position I’m going to pitch around the righty,” Fry said. “I think I’ve had a few walks this year where I was trying to create some soft contact with the righty by pitching around him and get around to the lefty who’s up next. I think there’s been a couple times where I’ve lost the strike zone, but I feel pretty consistent out there right now.”

Fry has not walked a batter since June 6, and has struck out 10 batters in his last six appearances.

Speaking with the 24-year old rookie who has barely 26 innings of Major League experience under his belt, it’s easy to see he’s very in tune with his craft, with what he needs to improve, and is determine to execute on the mound. So far in 2018, that’s focus has certainly has not gone unnoticed.

“I know it’s a long season and there’s always going to be some bumps and bruises along the way,” Fry said. “But as of now I feel great.”