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January 3, 2014

Hot Stove Scouting Report

Grant Balfour

by Ryan Parker

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See our introduction to the Hot Stove Scouting Report series here.

Player Name: Grant Balfour

Date Filed: 1/1/2014

Throws

Role

Arm Angle

Wind Up

Rubber

R

CL

OV

Middle

Delivery/Mechanics

High-energy mechanical profile. Uses full windup even as a relief pitcher. Accelerates through delivery but is athletic enough to where nothing is flying open or yanking his body offline. Has exaggerated spine tilt late in delivery but as a reliever this is less of an issue. Allows him to attack both righties and lefties. Hides ball much better than expected, leading to fastballs that appear to jump on hitters. Issues in his mechanics come from his lower half. Sinks into backside shortly after maximum leg lift. Front leg can betray mechanics either by landing too short and allowing arm to get ahead of body or by landing with a stiff front leg as arm lags behind. These issues come either early in his appearance or in the first few pitches from the stretch. Fixes mechanics quickly in game and is able to reclaim release point.

Breakdown of Pitches

Fastball

Velocity

Sits:91-93

Peak:95

Great life on his fastball. Ball jumps on hitters even though the velocity is not elite. Appears to throw two types of fastballs. The movement on his two-seam is late and often shows up as a four-seam on pitch tracking systems like Brooks Baseball. Throws both types of fastballs to righties in any count and to either side of the plate. Will throw both types to lefties on the outer third but only works with the four-seam on the inner half.

Pitch grades out higher than velocity would indicate thanks to the utility Balfour brings with the pitch. He will challenge hitters both north-south and east-west. Balfour loves to go after hitters with his fastball. He is comfortable enough with the pitch to work long, drawn-out at-bats using only the heater. He will mix locations and not get fixated on a spot. When behind in the count Balfour will get back into the count with fastballs.

The concerns with his fastball show up early in the count. Balfour loves to get that first-pitch strike. He is aware many hitters late in the game are in a mentality where they are taking until they get a strike. Given this combination it can get dicey watching a grooved 92 mph fastball catch the heart of the plate. These piped fastballs show up far more often the first time Balfour is facing a team and/or he has a multiple-run lead. Balfour is mature enough to not serve up a fastball over the plate in a tight game against a team that has already had some looks at him. This whole paradigm is not a huge concern. Teams want a closer who will slam the door and Balfour makes it possible, albeit unlikely, for opponents to get a foot in the door at the last second.

The other minor concern comes with fast runners on base, particularly second base. Usually Balfour will use a leg lift similar to what he uses out of the windup when runners are on base. With faster runners (and even average runners who are on second) he will go to more of a pure slide step and his velocity and command will fall. His lower half will get ahead of his arm leading to fastballs missing the zone to his arm side. If his mechanics aren’t timed out perfectly he can find himself behind in the count with runner(s) on base.

Balfour’s velocity is not quite what it used to be but there are still several productive seasons left in his tank. As previously mentioned he has evolved into a pitcher who can spot his fastball anywhere in the zone. He doesn’t rely nearly as much on his fastball as he used to but his other peripherals are holding solid. His ability to generate swings and misses on his fastball have been consistent for the past three-plus years. Hitters still haven’t figured out his fastball as they still have loads of trouble squaring up the fastball and creating line drives.

Slider

Velocity

85-87

Balfour’s slider is thrown hard and shows hard vertical drop on its trip to home plate. Even though the break is vertical the pitch does not have a “round” shape. Even good hitters have trouble laying of the slider in the dirt thanks to the pronounced movement. It’s not a wipeout slider but it’s a great breaking ball nonetheless.

Like his fastball, Balfour’s use of his slider has improved over time. He can throw throw it to three distinct locations; glove side between thigh and knee high, glove side in the dirt, and arm side at the knees. The first two locations are used against righties and the last two are used against lefties.

Righties see the slider more than lefties. Against power-hitting righties Balfour can start counts off with a slider on the outer third to keep those big bats from sitting on the fastball. Righties will see the slider at any point in the count. Lefties tend to only see the slider in the middle of counts. Against lefties Balfour will start with fastballs and finish them with either fastballs or curveballs. He uses the slider against lefties mainly as a bridge to get to his other offerings he is more comfortable with.

Balfour has great feel for his slider. It is a rarity to see him hang a slider. He will speed up his arm making sure that even if he does miss he will pull the pitch off the plate to his glove side. Out of the slide step, where he would seem likely to hang a slider, he makes doubly sure to get the arm out in front. A 55-foot slider is better than a cement mixer over the heart of the plate.

His use of slider has increased over the last few years. He gets the same percentage of whiffs now that he has been getting for the past three years. Balfour does not get beat on his slider. Hitters really have trouble doing any real damage against the pitch.

Curveball

Velocity

80-82

Like his slider, Balfour’s curveball has hard vertical drop but comes in at a slower speed with a rounder trajectory. The break on this pitch isn’t as aggressive as his slider but still enough to get a handful of swings and misses. He throws this pitch either over the middle of the plate but in the dirt or knee high to his arm side.

Balfour’s curveball shows up nearly exclusively to lefties and late in the count. Righties only saw 11 curveballs over the season. Hitters really had issues hitting his breaking ball but this is due more to the counts in which it is thrown. The curveball also helps throw off hitters’ timing so they can’t just sit on the fastball and hard breaking ball.

This is Balfour’s newest breaking ball and it is clear from his usage he doesn’t have as much confidence/feel for the pitch. Look for increasing use of this offering over the next few years. He is only using the pitch to lefties now and doesn’t appear to trust the pitch as much as he essentially goes to a fastball/slider pitcher with runners on base. The break on the pitch is good enough to be thrown to righties at a higher rate.

Change-up/Split

Velocity

85-88

Too firm and too hard to really be a useful pitch. Doesn’t have much movement. Only thrown six times over the year and never put into play. Balfour can technically throw four pitches but in reality he is a three-pitch pitcher as this cambio is better served remaining in the bullpen.

Pitch Usage

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHH

vs. RHH

Total Usage

Total Usage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

456

103

66

1

855

-

715

6

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

64.47

85.4

72.7

100

54.65

63.6

74.2

60

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

7

19.4

12.1

0

12

9.1

17.9

0

Approach

Attacks hitters. Has the ability to mix up locations with his fastball. Makes sure to mix up approach enough to not give away games. For example he loves to pound the zone with fastballs but in tight games against power hitters he will keep them on edge with early breaking balls. Balfour really understands how hitters work which helps explain his pitch sequencing. His slider is his best breaking ball for swings and misses but lefties won’t see it down and in (typical spot for righties to get lefties to chase) because he knows they could drop the head of bat and run into a double. His approach his improved and matured over the years, allowing him to put up great stats without a single elite pitch.

Makeup

Balfour’s competitive nature is well documented. Fans “rage” when he comes into games and he can enrage opponents with high-and-tight fastballs. Balfour seems built to be a closer. Beyond his demeanor on the mound his makeup continues to be outstanding. He has continuously improved over his career and really turned into a pitcher rather than a thrower. Every athlete wants to win but Balfour seems hyper-focused on making sure his team snags a W. See his four straight appearances against Texas with the division on the line in 2012 for a prime example of his drive.

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

First Division Closer

Will continue to close games for the immediate future. Best case scenario he is Joe Nathan. Worst case he is Mike Timlin.

Years expected to perform at current level: 2-3

Strengths

Three solid offerings, two of which (fastball and slider) he can spot to multiple locations at any point in the count. Peripherals are holding solid and his more traditional stats continue to be exceptional as well. Great competitor and is a guy who wants to be in that high-pressure moment. Will succeed in any city at any stadium. Gets righties and lefties out at similar rates. Clean bill of health for the last five-plus years.

Weaknesses

While three pitches are good none of them is elite. At-bats can become drawn out because hitters can foul balls off in bunches. Has some trouble with fast runners on base. Doesn’t hold runners well and relies on speeding up mechanics at the expense of velocity and command. Can give up cheap runs in games where he has a multiple-run lead. Age is an issue as his best raw stuff is already behind him.

Means of Exploitation

Look for early fastballs which catch too much of the plate. When Balfour falls behind he will get back into counts with his fastball independent of whether he previously missed with fastballs or breaking balls. Fast runners can throw Balfour off his game. Won’t hang breaking balls so hitters need to be ready to hammer fastballs.

Conclusion

It is thoroughly confusing as to why Balfour is still a free agent. Even with a multiple year deal, Balfour is a safe bet to perform at a high level through the life of the contract. He has matured into a real pitcher and has a third offering (his curveball) waiting to really come into his arsenal. Makeup is not an issue. He is competitive on the mound but he knows how to control it and not let the game get away from him. Even if Balfour falls from closer status after two or three years he will still be a valuable bullpen arm.

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

Related Content:  Scouting

1 comment has been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

terpspe

Yet, he is still a free agent. With a reasonable contract demand and all the pluses you laid out I think it suggests that the Orioles medical staff may not be as crazy as everyone wanted to believe.

Jan 03, 2014 19:13 PM
rating: 4
 
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