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July 18, 2014

Raising Aces

Outta Nowhere

by Doug Thorburn

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The vast majority of successful big-league pitchers have been vetted by the baseball analysis community before they throw a major-league pitch, but occasionally a player surprises us with a breakthrough performance despite a modest upbringing. Inspired by Carl Spackler, these players have come outta nowhere to wow crowds across baseball.

There have been a small handful of these Cinderella stories thus far in 2014. Two of them are pitching for the Houston Astros, with Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel garnering the spotlight in this space a couple of weeks ago, but there has been also been some magic taking place outside of Texas. The following players were all drafted after the fifth round, yet they are each being counted on to fill a significant role in a big-league rotation over the second half, so let's examine how the glass slipper fits for this intriguing trio.

Jacob deGrom (age 26, RHP)

A ninth-round pick in the 2009 draft, deGrom fell outside the Mets Top 10 prospects on BP's preseason list, though he did rate a mention as a “Factor on the Farm.” The 26-year-old lacked the youth and flash that tends to elevate one up the prospect boards, but he has doubtless been a factor in Flushing this season, accumulating 1.0 WARP through 12 starts. He also earns personality points for sporting Samardzija-style locks on the mound.

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

AAA

7

38.3

2.58

18.0%

6.2%

24.2%

1.2%

MLB

12

73.7

3.18

23.5%

9.1%

22.8%

1.6%

Nearly all of deGrom's numbers have jumped from Triple-A to the majors. He was playing his PCL home games in the hitter-friendly confines of Las Vegas, an element that makes his stingy ERA all the more impressive. One would expect the walks and homers to rise against advanced competition, but the sudden leap in strikeout rate comes as a surprise (sample-size caveats notwithstanding), casting a shadow of expected regression in the near term. The bat-avoidance was peaking just prior to the All-Star break, with 27 punchouts in his final three starts, covering 19 innings of work.

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type

Count

Freq

Velo (mph)

pfx HMov (in.)

pfx VMov (in.)

H. Rel (ft.)

V. Rel (ft.)

Fourseam

523

43.15%

94.43

-3.82

9.13

-1.22

5.84

Sinker

208

17.16%

93.92

-7.50

6.62

-1.24

5.81

Change

161

13.28%

84.47

-6.66

3.77

-1.22

5.67

Slider

216

17.82%

87.33

1.86

2.97

-1.35

5.74

Curve

100

8.25%

80.06

4.56

-1.57

-1.32

5.80

His velocity was reportedly sitting 90 to 94 mph prior to this season, but he has upped the ante by a couple of ticks, often reaching 96 multiple times in an outing and maintaining the plus velocity even as his pitch count rises. The heat has been especially effective this season, both in terms of generating weak contact and getting punchouts, though his breaking stuff has been knocked around a bit in his first exposure to the league. DeGrom uses a 60–40 split of fastballs to secondaries, and he does a good job of mixing up his repertoire regardless of the count or the handedness of the hitter, preventing opposing batters from sitting on pitches based on the situation.



Mechanics Report Card

Balance

55

Momentum

40

Torque

50

Posture

40

Release Distance

50

Repetition

45

Overall

C

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Power: The right-hander has a relatively tame delivery considering his impressive radar-gun readings. His momentum starts sluggish and slows further as he transitions out of max leg lift, with only a slight uptick as he approaches foot strike. His leg movements have some quickness, which can fool the eyes into thinking that deGrom has an okay pace to the plate, but his center of mass makes quiet forward progress before a late burst that carries his stride into foot strike. The torque involves both an upper-body twist and some scapular load, but the upper half is largely responsible for creating separation, as he has just a slight delay to his trigger.



Stability: The lanky right-hander maintains balance well during the early phases of the delivery, but he starts veering to the glove side once he engages foot strike, often finishing with poor posture. He has a crouch during his stride as well as some drop in his delivery, and he finishes weakly with spine-tilt initiated into foot strike. The degree of tilt varies, yet he sits below average on the posture scale and occasionally falls below the 40-grade seen above.


Drew Hutchison (age 23, RHP)

The former 15th-round selection from the 2009 draft was a rapid riser, especially for such a late-round pick out of high school, and he cracked the majors in 2012. He started 11 games for the Jays that year before a busted UCL required Tommy John surgery and shelved him until last July. He had placed sixth in the organization in Kevin Goldstein's 2012 prospect list, and he hit the same rank on the Blue Jays' under-25 list for 2013, but he was nowhere to be found on the most recent iteration.

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

2013 (MiLB)

9

35.3

4.84

26.9%

9.0%

23.1%

1.3%

2014 (MLB)

19

110.3

4.16

21.3%

8.1%

22.3%

2.3%

Hutchison was a strike zone aficionado in the minors, with a career strikeout-to-walk ratio greater than four-to-one across 270 innings of work. Known more for his excellent command than dominant stuff, he nonetheless struck out over a batter per inning at nearly every stop on his way up the ladder (the outlier, if it can even be called that, was his 8.8 K/9 in Low-A). The walk rate has been merely average at the highest level, but a solid strikeout rate suggests that his stuff might be better than advertised. The ERA fails to impress on the surface, but his minor-league track record and peripheral numbers suggest there is more in the tank.

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type

Count

Freq

Velo (mph)

pfx HMov (in.)

pfx VMov (in.)

H. Rel (ft.)

V. Rel (ft.)

Fourseam

966

52.79%

93.09

-5.39

9.13

-3.09

5.79

Sinker

250

13.66%

92.67

-8.13

7.10

-3.06

5.76

Change

229

12.51%

86.15

-8.37

3.92

-3.08

5.79

Slider

384

20.98%

86.17

2.27

-0.13

-3.19

5.70

The raw velocity is average to a tick above and his fastball has modest movement, but Hutchison's ability to paint targets with the heater allows the pitch to play up. He commands both sides of the plate and is particularly adept at keeping the fastball away from left-handed bats, with the ability to change a hitter's eye-level over the course of an at-bat. The changeup is very much a work in progress, but the slider is a legitimate weapon that Hutchison will throw in any count against same-side hitters, though he pockets the pitch against lefties until he gets ahead. The slider has been his most effective offering this year, both in terms of strikeout efficiency and results on contact.



Mechanics Report Card

Balance

65

Momentum

50

Torque

60

Posture

70

Release Distance

55

Repetition

55

Overall

B

Power: Hutchison has a subtle, yet noticeable, pause in his momentum as he “stops at the top” of his delivery. This element can interfere with command and throw a wrinkle into the generation of kinetic energy, yet Hutchison overcomes these barriers with otherwise efficient mechanics, including a strong initial move to the plate and a relatively consistent gear-shift. His plus torque involves a very heavy delay of trunk rotation after foot strike, utilizing the lower half heavily to create hip-shoulder separation. He also incorporates some upper-body twist to further drive his power and velocity. He does a good job of lining up the gears to find an extended release point, allowing him to overcome an average stride to achieve depth as well as deception.



Stability: Hutchison stays back during the motion, with a lean toward second base that is not egregious, yet can be volatile at times, and he has a tendency to elevate his pitches when the lean-back is exaggerated. Otherwise, he does an excellent job of maintaining balance in the X- and Y-planes, with minimal drop of his center of gravity and lateral stability that is very strong. The right-hander finishes with superb posture, teasing an 80 grade on occasion and consistently showing off a 70-plus with little to no spine-tilt.

Jesse Hahn (age 24, RHP)

Hahn was a sixth-round selection by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2010 draft, and though he never cracked a Top 10 list at BP, he did fall under the umbrella of “Prospects on the Rise” in the 2013 rankings. He moved to San Diego in a winter trade, and after stifling run-scoring for a couple of months in the PCL he was promoted to the Show, where he hasn't missed a beat.

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

AAA

8

38.3

2.11

20.6%

8.8%

21.3%

0.6%

MLB

7

40.7

2.21

28.7%

9.8%

16.5%

1.2%

The Padres brought Hahn along slowly, keeping him at 61 pitches or less and restricting his innings to five or fewer frames in each of his 11 games in the minors (three of which were in relief). He did go 79 pitches in his MLB debut, though he was pulled before finishing the fourth inning, and San Diego sent him back to the farm. He was stretched to 93 pitches in his first outing back in the minors, after which the Friars brought him back and began to extend his appearances, with 87 or more pitches in each of his ensuing starts.

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type

Count

Freq

Velo (mph)

pfx HMov (in.)

pfx VMov (in.)

H. Rel (ft.)

V. Rel (ft.)

Fourseam

175

27.26%

92.32

-5.77

8.96

-1.57

6.31

Sinker

219

34.11%

91.86

-9.69

4.88

-1.71

6.21

Change

34

5.30%

84.63

-7.59

2.52

-1.74

6.39

Slider

23

3.58%

80.07

6.64

-2.80

-1.49

6.23

Curve

188

29.28%

74.77

8.74

-8.30

-1.35

6.34

Hahn sticks to his fastball-curveball combination more than 90 percent of the time, leaning fastball on the majority of his pitches despite having merely average velocity. The curve is the highlight of his arsenal, and when he gets to two strikes it takes center stage, accounting for 28 of his 47 punchouts on the season. It's a loopy breaker that leaves his hand with a different trajectory than the fastball, and though he creates excellent depth of break, his predictable usage pattern and the disparate flight path will likely work as tells as hitters learn his approach.



Mechanics Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

55

Torque

50

Posture

50

Release Distance

45

Repetition

50

Overall

C

Power: Hahn repeats his solid-average momentum well, but he generates a relatively short stride due to a lift pattern that has the front foot hit the ground too soon to take full advantage of the burst. His torque utilizes something close to a 50-50 combination of upper-body twist and a delayed trigger, with a slight edge to the lower-half contribution. His hip-shoulder separation is about average.



Stability: Hahn has a noticeable drop 'n' drive, lowering his center of gravity after max lift with a move that can be abrupt, yet his stability is average overall. He also finishes with fringe-average posture due to late spine-tilt, though he has a tendency to straighten his spine-angle after release to give the impression of better stability. Just about everything with his delivery falls within range of big-league average, a factor that simultaneously limits his performance ceiling and raises the confidence that he can stick at the highest level.

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

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Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (07/18)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Breakout... (07/11)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Shelby M... (07/25)
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