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September 12, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Sofa Scouting: Darvish vs. Archer

by Jason Parks

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A few weeks ago, I tore the ACL in my left knee, which seems to happen every 12-15 months, a pattern that has unfortunately been the norm since 2004. So this past Saturday night the streets of Brooklyn were alive with inebriated chatter, yet I was alone on my couch, my leg engaged in a physical relationship with a bag of ice. I own MLB.tv, which is to say it owns me, and together we tackle the difficult questions in life, such as: should I watch whatever I want whenever I want it, or should I just pretend that technology is a burden and complain about the remarkable access to game action? My plans for the evening were simple, and I succumbed to the sweet allure of a matchup between Yu Darvish and Chris Archer, which I partnered with the occasional cocktail to help placate the physical pain of having a cadaver graft tear apart under your skin.

In order to get the most bang for my television watching buck, I grabbed some required tools for the scouting experience, starting with my AX725 AccuSplit stopwatch and ending with a Nambe Tilt Double Old-Fashioned glass filled with a delightful blend of quality bourbon, fresh ginger, and a splash of club soda, always served with a lime wedge to tease the mood up to a playful level. From my seat, products in hand, I spent my Saturday night sofa scouting. These are my notes:

Top of the 1st:
Archer’s physical affect and wardrobe identity make him appear aloof or disinterested, but he is focused and heavily invested in the task at hand. His arm works very well and features incredible speed, but his action is long and the journey from pickup to release is lengthy. His fastball has impressive movement and explosion, sitting 95-96 and touching 98 early with big arm-side movement. His slider is so sharp that his hat tilts to the side; it’s a monster pitch when left long at 86-87 mph. He also shows a tighter, shorter slider that pulls in around 83. I’m so impressed with his slider that I accidentally eat a lime wedge thinking it's an ice cube. He’s also offering a decent changeup, but it’s a little deliberate out of his hand and it looks pushed. I wish the action of the changeup was more arm-side than sinking because when he puts it in the zone it hangs around and finds barrels rather than escaping. With a runner on, Archer was ~1.33 to the plate with a secondary pitch. I’m not going back to check. He crushes Hamilton’s soul with a slider that snuck inside on him. It was an easy 70-grade pitch and I’m 70-grade excited about it. Not a bad first inning. I was more focused on Archer’s mechanics than the actual game.

Bottom of the 1st:
Darvish is my best friend. He seems to feel more comfortable with his current delivery, and his approach looks more streamlined and executable. He is throwing strikes early and often, and the assortment of fastballs look very good. From the 90 mph cutter that bores into lefties and away from righties, to the low-90s two-seamer that runs to the arm side, to the four-seamer that he likes to elevate above the letters, the hard stuff is of high scouting quality. After Sam Fuld hit a hanging slow curve into right field for a single, Darvish sped up his delivery to the plate without sacrificing his command or stuff, which was very impressive. Because of the lengthy delivery, Darvish doesn’t give his catchers many opportunities to assist in the running game, but he was 1.06 to 1.19 to the plate with runners on, allowing Soto to participate in the action. Speaking of Soto, with a ~1.86 pop time, he was able to erase the leadoff single. His release was fast and the throw accurate, all made possible by a fast delivery to the plate from Darvish. The Rangers end the inning and decide to hug it out.

Top of the 2nd:
Archer showed a good changeup to Beltre that moved off to the arm side as it approached the plate. It was a very good pitch. It was used effectively as a set-up pitch, as the following offering was 96 and in the dirt and Beltre couldn’t resist its charm. He tried a similar sequential move to Nelson Cruz but elevated the changeup and Cruz just missed hitting it back to Texas. Just as Michael Young was about to use his leadership for good measure, my phone range and I missed his at-bat. It was my delivery order calling to say it would be there in 10 minutes, and no, they wouldn’t be taking it up to the third floor for me, so I would have to hobble down the stairs to retrieve it. I let out a junior high sigh and told the kind woman on the phone that I hated her policies. I didn’t rewind the game to watch Young’s at-bat.

Bottom of the 2nd:
Darvish is getting a little lucky with his location, but the stuff is so good that he has the wings of an eagle. I actually wrote that down. No idea what it means. He’s working with good pace and good tempo, and even though he’s a little loose, he’s filling up the zone with all of his offerings. I like it. He’s not pitching cute. He’s pitching handsome. Big difference. I really like Matt Joyce. Am I supposed to like Matt Joyce? He seems to track the ball well, and I like the way he swings. He’s not going to hit for a big average, but he can put the barrel on a ball. He goes down on strikes and I’m left playing the fool. I still like his swing and his approach. Nelson Cruz is an awkward athlete. He’s ripped and strong, and he looks like a top-flight athlete in his uniform, but his body parts act like they disagree with each other on the proper way to execute a body movement. He runs like the awkward kid in school that might have a physical disability but you can’t confirm it because he would slaughter you. His arm is an 80-grade weapon, but every time he runs to a ball it has a fighting chance of finding the ground. It’s just odd and fascinating.

Top of the 3rd:
My food arrives and I fumble down the stairs like Nelson Cruz on rollerblades. The delivery driver is upset at my pace, and I reward his extra patience with a friendly reminder that I didn’t force him into this profession. I think he mentions something about a curse or bad fortune, but then he departs into the night and I return to the televised fields. I opt to wait on food consumption until after the third inning, as I want to focus on Archer vs. Profar. Not much to report. Profar has excellent baseball instincts, and seems to have the ability to slow the game down at the highest level. He tracks pitches like a seasoned veteran, and he is so aware of his own strike zone that he can let borderline pitches go by without first triggering the hands. Archer gets him on a slider, but that pitch in that sequence is going to get the majority of hitters in baseball. Archer is dealing at a high level, and despite the fact that Profar is an extremely gifted young player, he can’t be expected to hang with the stuff Archer is shoving down their throats. He is tickling my insides with every pitch.

Bottom of the 3rd:
I wish the ray tank in the Rays’ outfield that sparks the curiosity of fans was a shark tank and people were allowed to make ridiculous decisions at their own peril. People can be very stupid, and stupidity can be very entertaining, and if you allowed people to stick their hands into a shark-infested tank located in the stands of a major league park, you would no doubt get to see an idiot attacked by a shark on a regular basis. Watching the foolish acts of a fool is the real American pastime, and I think we should embrace this form of natural selection and let dangerous animals attack people who are willing to put themselves into situations where they can be attacked. Who’s with me? On the baseball front, Jose Molina isn’t a fast man. I’d like to see him in a footrace with social progress.

Top of the 4th:
I’m eating my dinner, which is just a cheeseburger with large cut crinkle fries of an acceptable consistency, and I get mustard on my notes from the 4th inning. I think it says that the Rangers are able to track Archer’s changeup, either recognizing it early and avoiding it or putting the barrel on it but failing to keep it fair. Elvis walks. He has a very good eye at the plate. I don’t think he gets enough credit. He’s going to be nine-figure rich in two years. Hamilton stays back on a hanging change and hits it out to dead center. Archer has been very sharp so far, but you can’t make mistakes like that to hitters like Hamilton and avoid the sword. Speaking of Hamilton, if your son or daughter wanted to date a guy with poorly executed flame tattoos on their forearm, would you let them? I don’t have kids, but it seems like a deal breaker for me. This is a pretty solid burger. I’m happy with it. This game makes it even better. I’ll make another drink. Who’s the loser now, Saturday night? This is better than going out.

Bottom of the 4th:
BJ Upton’s bat looks longer than the bats of other players. It’s long and sleek, and even though he isn’t hitting for a high average, he knows how to swing it. I like watching him hit. If he can put the whispers of questionable #want to rest, he could be a big bargain for a team next season. He still has a dynamic skill set. Cruz once again has an adventure with a baseball hit in his general direction. At this point it’s comical. I’m glad I’m not the manager because I would rather keep Cruz and his deer rifle arm out of the field and in a designated hitter role rather than risk disaster when a key game is on the line.  He turns routine, missionary flyballs into complicated role playing adventures. It makes me uncomfortable.

Top of the 5th:
Michael Young can hit fastballs that are left out over the plate, but so can everybody else in baseball. His bat speed is clearly diminished, and when he cheats the bats into the zone, you can get him to expand and chase on the outer half. If I were scripting a Michael Young at-bat, I’d challenge him inside with velocity and force him to keep his hands in.  He likes to hit out in front and extend, so I would attempt to take away that option. I’d follow it up with something that slides off the outer quadrant of the zone. His eyes will fall in love with something he can extend on, and I think you can get him to reach for the treat. Archer is holding velocity well, continuing to work in the 94-95 range and touching higher. With one out and two on, Archer is struggling a bit as Profar steps to the plate in a key moment. He lines a hot shot to second, and pulls a ~4.25 to first as he is called out and the double-play is executed to perfection. This brings up a good point: people are under the impression that Profar is a burner, but from a scouting perspective, he’s not a guy with plus speed. He’s quick and his impressive instincts make him appear even quicker, but he’s not a player that is going to make your stopwatch feel special. I think he’s a 5 runner that can play up in game action.

Bottom of the 5th:
Darvish is once again working quickly, and he gets Longoria on a 91 mph cutter that is barely street legal. He’s mixing very well at this point, continuing to pitch off his fastball, but throwing strikes with the entire arsenal and forcing weak contact. Darvish isn’t impressed by Luke Scott’s comic book facial tribute, and he strikes him out with a fastball. Luke Scott knows his powers are of the faux variety, so he retreats to the dugout while Darvish mocks him with a silent stare. At least I thought I saw him stare. I need to cut up another lime and make another cocktail.

6th-8th Innings:
Missed all three innings because of a phone call about Brewers’ prospect Clint Coulter. I was researching for the Monday Ten Pack and a scout called to give me the lowdown on the 19-year-old catcher. We giggled on the phone for longer than necessary, and I’m a bit embarrassed about it. I didn’t rewind the game to watch the missed innings. Did I miss anything? #slack.

Top of the 9th:
The game is now tied and I blame a number of factors for my current situation. Fernando Rodney is in the game, and he’s a joy to watch. He’s a very casual human being. I think he borrowed Chris Archer’s hat. Mechanically, Rodney is a statue that comes to life and turns violent. He is very stiff in his setup, but then explodes towards the plate with a lighting-fast arm and a follow-through that leaves him in a good position to coach first base. His heater is nasty, a mid-upper 90s offering with excellent movement. It scares me to think about facing him. Then he drops a changeup that could save the world. It’s thrown from the same violent action, only it arrives in the 83 mph-range with some run. With a combination of slot/action deception, movement, and velocity separation, you don’t have a chance. It’s an X-rated pitch. It’s full frontal and then some. He gets Hamilton, Beltre, and Cruz 1-2-3. You know, no big deal. He’s a beast.

Bottom of the 9th:
Mike Adams has awkward limbs. His delivery looks like Vince Coleman’s batting stance. It’s not attractive looking, but he gets the job done. He gets great extension, and is able to put movement on every pitch, so he’s difficult to square up and time. He doesn’t miss a lot of barrels in the inning, but he avoids damage and escapes the innings to send it to extras. I’m barely scouting at this point. Cocktail, anyone?

Top of the 10th:
I’m convinced that Kyle Farnsworth has murdered before. I don’t have proof. He has a very smooth delivery, and the stuff is still quite good, as the 94 mph fastball is very lively down in the zone. He has the tribal tattoos of someone who has killed before. Zobrist continues to make quality plays, either coming in or going out, he puts himself in good positions and shows a big arm with a quick release.  He’s very good player. Hopefully Farnsworth doesn’t kill him.  With two out and the bases empty, Geovany Soto rips a 1-2 offering for a double off the center field wall. Farnsworth goes quiet and the stadium is paralyzed with fear. Profar steps to the plate and Farnsworth attempts to kill him with the baseball. The 19-year-old turns on the next offering for a double down-the-line and the Rangers regain the lead. Farnsworth drains the blood from a human body before stepping back on the mound to face Kinsler, who can’t believe that the umps didn’t stop the human sacrifice that just took place. After walking Kinsler and allowing an infield single to Elvis Andrus, Farnsworth hits Josh Hamilton with a sweeping inside offering that allows a much needed security run to score. Speaking of much needed security, someone should call them because Farnsworth just dissected a young child in the stands before retiring Adrian Beltre to close the inning.

Bottom of the 10th:
Joe Nathan is set to close out the game for the Rangers, and I recall the time we had fish together during Spring Training. Luke Scott hits a ball into the infield shift, and Joe Maddon blows a kiss to Ron Washington. Instead of making quick work of the Rays, Nathan decides to make it a laborious effort, and I definitely don’t need another cocktail. Nathan walks Roberts and the game won’t die. Somebody call Farnsworth. Finally, Nathan gets Pena to not swing at an obvious ball and the game ends on a called strike. Pena is upset, but I’m thrilled because I’m drunk. Sofa scouting shouldn’t be the norm, but when the mood strikes and the situation is right, pulling up a comfortable seat and scouting a game on MLB.tv is the finest way to spend a Saturday night. I’m using the term scouting very loosely.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Major League Baseball,  Scouting,  Humor

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