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August 23, 2013

Raising Aces

The RP-Funk All-Stars

by Doug Thorburn


Starting pitchers tend to receive most of the attention devoted to pitchers, both in Raising Aces and within the general community of baseball evaluators. Yet some of the most intriguing pitchers in the major leagues hail from the bullpen. Starters tend to adhere to a prototypical build designed for stamina, but relief pitchers come in all shapes and sizes, often earning their roles as a direct result of the perception that they cannot withstand the rigors of a 200-inning season or a seven-inning appearance.

There are a multitude of reasons why a pitcher might be assigned to relief work, including body type, pitch selection, and/or mechanical trends. When it comes to mechanics, a pitcher with a funky delivery can be sent to the pen just as quickly as one whose motion is perceived as dangerous. These attributes can be intertwined, as the same elements that make a delivery look goofy can also present the risk of injury. Other times, a pitcher's mechanical approach is geared toward deception, creating strategic angles that are designed to exploit platoon splits or to exaggerate downhill plane.

At the Sabermetrics, Scouting, and Science of Baseball conference that took place last weekend in Boston, former pitcher Brian Bannister spoke glowingly of the advantages inherent in an eccentric motion. The potential downsides of an unusual delivery are minimized in the bullpen, with lower workloads and short stints acting to minimize the risk of overexposure. So with a nod to Bannister and George Clinton, I present the RP-Funk All-Stars of the 2013 season.

Jordan Walden

“Hip Hop”

IP

ERA

WHIP

K%

BB%

H%

HR%

43.7

2.47

1.01

29.7%

7.4%

17.7%

1.1%

Walden's delivery is pretty normal during the lift phase of his delivery, but just when it looks like he’s about to hit foot strike, the right-hander’s back foot leaves the ground. The bunny hop acts to extend Walden's stride, but the disruption to his balance is a precursor to inconsistency at release point. He essentially leaps onto the front foot, with all of his weight coming down on the unstable foundation at foot strike, while the back ankle looks like it might snap as it touches down.

Walden also has some flail to his delivery, with heavy flexion and a soft glove side into release point, but the hip-hop stride is trademark funk. One would expect that he would never hit his targets, and a lack of command did define the first several years of Walden's career, but he has been able to harness the leap of faith in his first season with Atlanta. His walk rate is three points lower than his previously established mark of 10.5 percent, yet he has maintained a strikeout rate a tick above his career average.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (08/23)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Elevator... (08/16)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: A Closer... (08/30)
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