LA Angels' RP Raisel Iglesias is the most unlucky closer in baseball

Cleveland Guardians v Los Angeles Angels; Raisel Iglesias
Cleveland Guardians v Los Angeles Angels; Raisel Iglesias / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages
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The first issue plaguing Raisel Iglesias at the moment is actually something in his direct control.

The LA Angels closer is currently getting killed by his sinker and slider like never before.

One possible cause for the bad luck affecting Raisel Iglesias is regression of his sinker and slider.

Throughout his career with the Cincinnati Reds and LA Angels, Raisel Iglesias has always struggled to make his sinker work, as it usually ends up generating the worst whiff rate and opposing AVG and SLG of any of his pitches. Pitch data from Baseball Savant shows that after lackluster results with it during his first few seasons, Iglesias dropped it from being his number one pitch to his fourth pitch by 2019.

In 2022, his sinker is seemingly worse than ever, generating an opposing BA of .389, opposing SLG of .611 and the worst whiff rate of any pitch in any season of his career at 8.8% (the previous worst was his 2015 sinker at 15.3%). To put this in context, of the 18 hits Iglesias has allowed this season, his sinker is responsible for more than any other pitch at seven, despite it only being his third most used pitch.

What makes all this truly mind boggling, however, is the fact that Iglesias is actually using his sinker at its highest rate since 2018 while simultaneously using his other three pitches at their lowest rates since 2018. From 2019-2021, he never used it more than 10.6% of the time as it remained his least used pitch. In 2022, however, he’s now using it 19.5% of the time, slightly more than he uses his super effective changeup.

Something to consider here is that Iglesias’ sinker and changeup are his most effective pitches at generating ground balls. In 2022, he currently owns the worst groundball rate of his career at just 29.4% due to his sinker losing even more effectiveness and using his changeup less. Keep this in mind for later.

Moving on to Iglesias’ slider, this pitch is currently the epitome of boom or bust. Unlike his sinker, the slider is typically his best pitch and, at first glance, 2022 doesn’t seem much different in that regard. With batters hitting just .214 against it, Iglesias’ slider is currently generating the second highest whiff rate of any pitch in any season of his career at a whopping 50.0%.

The problem, however, is that when batters actually do make contact with it, they are absolutely crushing it. From 2015-2021, batters never slugged higher than .366 against Iglesias’ slider. In 2022 they are slugging .714 against it.

Ignoring Iglesias’ 2015 rookie season when he was primarily a starter, at no point over the next six seasons did batters ever hit more than two home runs or two doubles off his slider. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Baseball Savant shows that in that span he threw anywhere from 303-396 sliders each season in around 70 total innings each year.

So far in 2022, having thrown just 93 sliders across 21.1 innings, Iglesias has already surrendered two home runs and one double. If we assume he ends the year throwing roughly 370 sliders in total, Iglesias’ current pace has him allowing at least eight home runs and four doubles on just his slider this season. Unsurprisingly, the average exit velocity against his slider this year is the highest it’s ever been at 88.2 mph (in 2021 it was 82.1 mph).  

This new development is the main reason why Iglesias is currently putting up the highest fly ball rate (47.1%), hard hit rate (38.5%), barrel rate (13.5%), HR/9 (2.11), and HR/FB ratio (20.8%) of his entire career, and all by wide margins. The result is that of the 52 balls put in play against Iglesias this season, nine (17.3%) have been for extra base hits (five home runs, four doubles).

Now, consider Iglesias’ increased fly ball rate and decreased groundball rate together and recall how low his SIERA and xFIP are compared to his ERA. This all culminates to reveal the potential source of all his bad luck this year.