Diamond Kinetics Player Perspective: Colin McKee

Right-handed pitcher Colin McKee has risen steadily through the Houston Astros farm system, spending the 2021 season a step away from the big leagues with the Triple-A Sugarland Skeeters. If one looks beyond the surface, they will see that McKee has had a unique path into professional baseball. Lightly recruited out of high school, McKee starred at Mercyhurst University before being drafted in the 18th round of the 2016 draft. Once in pro ball, McKee began to use tech like the Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker to reach his potential.

Diamond Kinetics: You have admitted yourself that you weren’t a big-time prospect in high school or even the early part of college. What changed for you in college to where you became a draft prospect?

Colin McKee: I was a late-bloomer growth-wise, I shot up in height my sophomore year of high school. I went to a bigger high school and wasn’t a big star by any means, I was the third starter (on the pitching staff) and never got a ton of innings or opportunities so I think I slipped through the recruiting cracks a little bit.  Once I got to college I committed more to baseball development. I started long-tossing and getting into the weight room and my freshman year in the spring I hit 90 miles per hour on the mound for the first time. My mechanics improved and getting innings and a lot of reps was what I needed. I never really played travel ball, I just played for the local Legion team and stuff like that, so I didn’t have a ton of high-level reps before college. Getting those reps in college was huge for me.

 

DK: What led you to trying the Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker for the first time?

McKee: I was already in pro ball, PitchTracker was introduced to me and the offseason before the 2019 season and I started using it. I played winter ball in Puerto Rico and took the ball with me down there and that’s where I started using the ball on a more consistent basis and I  saw improvement the more I worked with it.

DK: The Astros have a reputation as a “tech-forward” organization. How did using the PitchTracker fit into the organization’s scheme?

McKee: I never knew what any analytics meant when I got drafted in 2016. The organization immediately started introducing different pitch shapes and what shapes were ideal and stuff like that. Every year they built upon what their (analytic) philosophies were and what my goals should be for every pitch. When I got my hands on the PitchTracker I used the knowledge I already had from coming up in the Astros organization and it really helped me apply the metrics I was seeing.

DK: Did the metrics you were seeing from the PitchTracker change the way you trained at all? Whether from an approach, a mechanical or pitch design perspective?

McKee: Having those numbers changed everything for me. When you know your numbers and know what your (pitch) shapes are, what the spin axis and spin efficiency of your pitches are, you learn the movement profiles of your pitches and how they move. It really helped me know how I wanted to attack batters. For example, if you have a shorter, harder slider versus a sweeping slider, without data you wouldn’t know exactly what the slider is doing, but now with data that shows what the different pitches do. It helped me know how to tunnel pitches to different hitters and ultimately deceive them.

DK: What do you think is the biggest difference in yourself as a pitcher from before you started using the PitchTracker to now?

McKee: I am more confident in myself and in knowing my stuff is above average and plays well in the strike zone. Like now I know, and the numbers back up, that I have a lively fastball that I can throw successfully at the top of the strike zone that will lead to favorable outcomes for me more often than not. I have really been able to improve my off-speed pitches just by knowing the metrics on them. I know what I am trying to do with them and the PitchTracker helped me make the little adjustments to improve them. I have been able to get better spin efficiency on my curveball, throw my slider a little harder and things like that. Honestly, being able to be more mindful of what I am capable of doing and knowing how to translate that in-game.

DK: How important did you find the confidence from using the PitchTracker to be?

McKee: For me, when I am confident on the mound I am aggressively confident. I am able to put myself in good counts and attack hitters. That is 100% (the mindset I have) when I am performing better. I get myself in trouble when I try nibbling at corners or am not trusting my stuff to beat hitters. I have seen a lot of teammates that don’t have the absolute nastiest stuff but they compete and pitch with confidence and have success way more than guys that try to be too fine and don’t have an aggressive or confident mindset. I really think knowing your data and knowing your numbers helps you develop that confidence. 

DK: What feature of the PitchTracker did you find to be the most helpful to you?

McKee: I really liked the auto-record and auto-pitch tagging. It makes throwing bullpens in the offseason so much easier. I set up my iPad behind me on a tripod and I can throw a bullpen without worrying about tagging anything to recording anything, the app just does it for me. Afterwards or between pitches I can review if I need to change anything and really focus on if I need to change anything I’m doing in the moment and I can work on getting better after the bullpen using the information I learned from it for my next mound work.

DK: What metrics from the app did you find to be most important for you as a pitcher? Do you pay attention to spin rate?

McKee: I found that spin rate isn’t something as important for me compared to spin axis and spin efficiency, in my opinion. I can really control the spin efficiency and axis far more easily than I can control the spin rate. For pitches like changeups and splitters I would look at the PitchTracker to try and lower the spin rate, but when you get to my age (27) your spin rates more or less are what they are, they can be increased over a long stretch of time, not session to session. I focus more on spin efficiency and spin axis. I am mindful of my spin rates, and I make sure there are not big fluctuations in them or if there are changes they are positive. But I am not going to see the big jumps (in spin rate) that a kid age 14-18, for example, would see. I think for kids that would be a really interesting and important thing to develop, but not as much for someone my age. 

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