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Keaton Winn Is A Small Town Kid With A Big Time Splitter

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Keaton Winn is a rare major league pitcher, and not just because he's the only one who grew up in Ollie, Iowa, which has a population of 201 in the 2020 census. The San Francisco Giants 26-year-old right-hander's primary pitch is a splitter, and it's important genes. Through seven starts this season, Winn's usage breakdown is 42.2% splits, 23.3% four-seamers, 20.4% sinkers, and 14.1% sliders. No starter in baseball has thrown a higher separation percentage this season.

With one notable exception, his atypical approach has yielded positive results. Winn failed to get out of the first inning against the Phillies in his most recent start, on May 4, but even with that tumultuous outing — five runs in 2/3 frames — he has a respectable 4.41 ERA and 3.97 FIP. In each of the three starts before the debacle, he went six innings and allowed just one run. His next start is scheduled for this afternoon against the Rockies in Colorado, at 3:10 pm ET.

Win's mix was very heavy last year. He made his MLB debut last June and continued to throw his signature eye-opening strikeout 55.1% of the time in 42 1/3 innings. It's understandable that he would prioritize the pitch — last month, our future writers Eric Longenhagen and Travis Ice called Winn's splitter “devastating … one of the worst in pro ball” — even if such an approach is unprecedented among starters. San Francisco's fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Iowa Western Community College is typical in the way he attacks hitters.

Winn discussed his splitter when the Giants played the Red Sox at Fenway Park earlier this month.


David Laurila: Let's start with your full repertoire. What was it when you signed your first professional contract, and what is it now?

Keaton Winn: “When I signed it was a four-seam, a curveball, a slider, and maybe I was throwing like five pitchers. There is no change. Now it's a four-seamer, a sinker, a splitter, a slider. “

Laurila: Apparently he throws a ton of splitters. Considering how much you rely on it, would it be fair to say that you probably aren't in the big leagues right now if you haven't invented a separator?

Winn: “Yes. It definitely crossed my mind before. I mean, I think in the end I would have entered the competition to participate, but having the splitter made it so much easier. “

Laurila: What is the story behind you?

Winn: “I kind of copied Kevin Gausman's grip – he was with us for a while – but I made a little change to it. His split is slower, and he's still a pick-up guy while I'm a pitch guy. I talk hard about everything. That's why I changed the grip and tried to make it look like a sinker at first – I tried to spin it like a spinning machine – and then take out the bottom.

Laurila: I believe you read the splitter after Tommy John surgery?

Winn: “I actually read it before, I worked on it with COVID, and I went to training and blew out my elbow there. I didn't really focus on it until I restarted my TJ.”

Laurila: Why throw in so many dividers?

Winn: “It's the pitch I'm most confident in, whether I'm batting or bowling. And my voice is the best, so why not throw your best voice? That's my thought process on it. And we haven't come across anything where it's said, 'Hey, you need to cut back on your consumption.' It's like, 'It's working, so let's try to stay where it is.'

Laurila: Is it basically the same pitch that stays the same, or do you change it in any way?

Winn: “It depends on the place. I always think the same thing, but when I throw it on the glove side, it usually goes straight down. If I throw it to the side of the arm, it usually runs faster. I can't control it, but that's usually what happens.”

Laurila: Splitters are often thrown as a swing-and-miss pitch, but that's not the case for you…

Winn: “I use it early, I try to get low balls. I like ground balls as much as strikeouts, honestly. To me, it's like 'Why don't you take them out early?'”

Laurila: About half of your fastballs are sinkers. How is your sink different from your sink?

Winn: “It has a lot of carry and usually has a horizontal run. Profile wise, I think it's more like 6 to 8 [inches] vertical and 16 to 18 horizontal. The split is usually -3 to 1, and maybe 12 to 14 horizontally. In terms of speed, I like to split between 88-90 [mph] wide, and the sink is usually 94-96.

“I also don't really try to run the sink down when I'm facing the right person. I'm trying to get more hands on. That way I have a little space to work separately, on the floor.”

Laurila: What is your four-seam profile?

Winn: “Maybe 15 [vertical]-10 [horizontal], so it's not very good. I think it's enough if I throw it hard, though.”

Laurila: Why is your breaking ball a slider and not a curveball?

Winn: “I used to throw a curveball, but not anymore. They destroyed that a long time ago. It didn't really work in my mix. A slide works better, because it's sharper. I also throw it hard, about 88-90.

“I'm trying to be the striker of the decision to swing. I want everything to look the same and fall or stay true. Like, I don't want to get a curveball at 78 or 80, I'd rather let them decide to swing or not. “

Laurila: That method worked well for you…

Winn: “So far. Knock on wood.”

Laurila: You mentioned copying your splitter grip from Kevin Gausman. Has anyone modeled your overall setup?

Winn: “I really don't know if there is anyone who makes a difference. I think I'll probably say Gausman, if there is one. I used to go back and watch his outings – this last season I watched them all again – thinking about what he was trying to do.”

Laurila: You're obviously a liberal, but are there any similarities between you and John Duran?

Winn: “Ha. You are very different. I can't throw 100 with that splinker thing he has. “

Laurila: What's the highest you've ever washed?

Winn: “I've hit 100 a few times, but I think 99 is the hardest he's ever had in the majors. I'd like to think that if I'm in the 'pen I can get it there more often, but that's not very sustainable as a starting point. I'm fine with 95-97, and I throw a lot of splitters. “

Laurila: Splitters are not as common as splinkers, but at the same time, they are very different. Do you like to be different?

Winn: “Definitely. That's a good thing, isn't it?”

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