The waiting game is sometimes necessary with players new to the unaffiliated leagues. Especially those with Major League Baseball experience. Far too often those players show up in an unaffiliated league, dominate for a few games, then hit a wall. They hit that wall hard and more often than not find their way out of whatever new league they’ve joined with great expediency. Early domination from former MLB players isn’t uncommon, but when they can remain good even after the shine has worn off then that is a player to pay attention to. If they are able to not just remain good but sustain their dominance then their name is Dan Straily.
Back in December, I didn’t expect to be writing a lot about Dan Straily. I had Straily pegged as a flash in the pan former big leaguer. He would come into the Korea Baseball Organization, toss a few good starts, and then the league would adjust. I’m happy that I was wrong and it gives me great pleasure to say that with each start Straily not only proves me wrong but continues to show a level of change and adaption that has been most unexpected.
One of the key approaches that separate the former big leaguers who will succeed in the unaffiliated leagues versus those who will not is the ability to adapt. Straily didn’t come into the 2020 KBO season resting on the fact that he was a former big leaguer. What he did instead was to tweak and toy with his delivery. The video evidence has been posted online, the changes Straily has made are small but obvious. He’s worked hard to keep his head more straight and not pull to the side as much. He has straightened his arm angle somewhat leading to more spin and break on his slider. The changes Straily has made have allowed him to maintain his velocity while adding extra movement to his pitches and avoiding bats in and out of the zone.
The result of Straily’s changes has been a sustained run at being the best pitcher in the KBO. Through 63 innings Straily has put together a 3.03 FIP. That in and of itself is good, but it’s not what really stands out about how Straily has changed his game. The changes to his delivery have seen the Redlands, California native post a career-high K/9 (9.29) and career-low BB/9 (2.57). When opposing hitters do make contact they aren’t elevating the ball as much, his 0.43 HR/9 speaks truth to that.
Better control of his fastball has made the movement of his slider even more impactful. Usually, with more movement on your main secondary pitch, you run the risk of losing control. Straily has accomplished the opposite, he’s added more movement to his slider while showing better and tighter control of the baseball. Never in his career has Straily posted a WHIP better than 1.19 until this year when he’s put together a WHIP of 1.03. A 7.2 BB% and 26.2 K% paint a more complete pitcher of how Straily has harnessed his stuff while continuing to display great control.
The Lotte Giants were the darlings of the early KBO season. Then reality hit them hard and they moved to the middle of the pack. He hasn’t been winning much, but the Giants have found a gem in their new ace. He is the building block that will help them to move beyond just the middle of the pack. Straily’s success, his 2.4 kWAR is near the top of the league and his projected full-season kWAR of 7.4 would result in a hell of a first KBO season. Straily put in the work, he made necessary changes and has come out of the process a much better pitcher than he was beforehand. Instead of being an unaffiliated flash in the pan Straily has transformed himself into an ace and appears poised to be a fixture at the top of the unaffiliated world for as long as he wants.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Yonhap News