Jacob Barnes thinks he has it figured out.
At the very least, the equation to solve his problem.
The Detroit Tigers signed Barnes, a right-handed reliever, to a minor-league contract Dec. 1 with an invitation to spring training. The six-year MLB veteran heard from more than a dozen teams. He spoke to the Tigers’ analytics staffers and minor-league coaches before inking his deal.
“They were very direct,” Barnes said Dec. 8. “I had an idea, when I looked back, of what my mistakes were and what got me in the most trouble last year, and how I can fix that to eliminate that situation again. I wanted to see who was direct and who saw similar things to me as far as the reality of what was going on. I didn’t want to hear a sugar-coat thing.”
Barnes isn’t a lock to pitch for the Tigers in 2022. His journey back to the big leagues begins in spring training in Lakeland, Florida.
But Barnes is a pitcher the Tigers added for a reason. The front office, analytics department and coaching staff thinks he could make an impact, specifically because of his fastball-slider combination.
“Just looking back at it and trying to get better,” Barnes said. “What I have been doing so far is getting a little more depth on the slider and probably eliminating the split-change or finding something that I feel a little bit more confident in. …. Primarily, it will be fastball, a true cutter and more of a depth slider.”
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Barnes has pitched 229 games across six seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers (2016-19), Kansas City Royals (2019), Los Angeles Angels (2020), New York Mets (2021) and Toronto Blue Jays (2021). He owns a 4.61 ERA with 99 walks and 242 strikeouts in 226⅔ innings.
From 2016-18, Barnes posted a 3.54 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 149 games. The Royals selected him off waivers in August 2019 because the Brewers removed him from the 40-man roster. That year, he finished with a 7.44 ERA in 33 games.
Get to know Barnes
Barnes felt tightness in his hip on the first day of spring training in 2019.
He pitched through the pain, which brought about arm issues. As a result, his fastball velocity dropped from 95.3 mph in 2018 to 93.6 in 2019. Barnes ended up on the injured list in late June when he couldn’t endure the pain any longer.
He regrets trying to pitch with an injury.
“My velocity and command both dropped pretty significantly,” Barnes said. “At first, I didn’t know much about it. I knew there was pain, but I didn’t know what the actual issue was. It ended up being a hip impingement/tear thing. We eventually got an MRI, about midseason, and it showed that.”
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The Royals jumpstarted his rehab, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited him to 18 games with the Angels in the 2020 season. Despite the shortened schedule, Barnes’ body felt healthy again. His fastball velocity jumped to 95.2 mph and his command — four walks and 24 strikeouts — vastly improved.
In 2021, Barnes implemented a split-changeup into his arsenal. He registered a 6.28 ERA with 11 walks and 33 strikeouts in 28⅔ innings across 29 relief appearances for the Mets (19 games) and Blue Jays (10 games). His fastball reached 98 mph.
“It got me in some trouble, as far as getting behind in counts and not being able to execute it like I would ideally like to,” Barnes said. “I just got into bad counts trying to throw that as pretty much a fourth pitch. It’s part of development, but in certain situations, I shouldn’t have shaken to it and such. Besides that, I started learning more about pitching.”
The art of pitching is a recent discovery.
Barnes, who threw harder than most of his high-school peers, only pitched his “good arm” would help St. Petersburg High School against top-tier teams in the district. He made pitching appearances in a few games, so his status as a position player dominated his high-school career. He went to Florida Gulf Coast as a two-way player but didn’t throw anything more than a fastball. And he only pitched 113⅔ innings in his three-year college career.
“Early on, I wasn’t really told much about what kind of pitcher I was,” Barnes said. “I just relied on the pitches I had. I wasn’t really developing other pitches. It was what I came up with. And I just let it go. Like that was my thing: I’m coming at you with what I got.”
Based on the analytics, the Tigers believe they can unlock a better version of Barnes by adding more depth to his slider and teaching him more about his strengths. Once he perfects the depth slider, Barnes will consider a fourth pitch to take the place of his split-change.
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Barnes is training this winter at Chadwick’s Fitness in Franklin, Tennessee, where he lives during the offseason. He often travels to his hometown near Tampa, where his agent lives and works out at Diesel Fitness.
In Florida, Barnes visits local colleges to throw and obtain data about his pitches. He is learning more about how to use his slider and fastball together as his primary weapons, as well as understanding when to mix in his cutter.
“During the ’19 season, the hip issue changed how my body moved at the time,” Barnes said. “Then, your body adapts. At that point, I lost what I wanted to do with (my slider). When the Tigers brought that up again, it reassured me, like, let’s get that depth back on the slider.”
If all goes as planned, Barnes could put his refined arsenal and full health on display for the Tigers in 2022.
“I just wanted a true opportunity,” Barnes said. “If I can get to where I need to get to, I think I can give myself a really good chance to make the team. … Between what (the Tigers) see and what I see, we both agree that if we get back to that, it’s going to be fine. The results are going to be where they need to be.”