Talk pitching with Doug.
Doug Thorburn: Hot stove is warming, hot tea is cooling, and I'm ready to talk some baseball. Let's get rolling.
allangustafson (San Diego ): I am an Angel fan and a fantasy player. I was wondering about Jered Weaver's ability to stay healthy in 2014 and continue to induce weak contact with his deceptive motion. Or is this when he was to start to changing his delivery to compensate for aging body. I can only hope his pitch sequence and command will carry him.
The same goes for Cueto. Are they going to change his delivery to help keep him healthy?
Doug Thorburn: Weaver has some injury precursors in his delivery, notably the heavy spine-tilt near release point, an element which could be accelerating the deterioration of his velocity. This makes him a big risk going forward, but suggesting a major change at this stage of his career could be detrimental to his performance. I think the Angels just have to roll the dice and hope not to crap out. I think that Cueto's issues have more to do with physical fragility than mechanical inefficiency, as his delivery is relatively sound (though unorthodox).
On the jukebox: Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsy's, "Them Changes"
Bryant (Oceanside, CA): Did you see anything changes, mechanically, in 2013 that would lead us to believe Tyson Ross can stay healthy, or are the injury red flags always going to be a concern?
Doug Thorburn: Ross relies almost entirely on his upper-body/arm to generate velocity, with almost no momentum or stride to speak of, which will always be a concern for his effectiveness as well as his health.
Max (Charleston): Carlos Martinez: You believe in the ability to be a starter (body, workload, etc.)? Bullpen future? What about for this upcoming season?
Doug Thorburn: I do not adhere to the philosophy that shorter pitchers are unfit for the rotation, as stamina and health have more to do with mechanical efficiency, repetition, and functional strength/flexibility (proper conditioning) than sheer size. There are plenty of big guys who are functionally weak or who struggle to maintain control of their larger frames. I think that ability to stick in the rotation has more to do with repertoire, both quality and depth of the arsenal. In this respect, I think that Car-Mart can stick in the rotation, especially once he starts to mix in the change-up with more frequency.
On the jukebox: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Higher Ground"
baseballjunkie (SF Bay Area): Hi Doug, The FakeTeams site lists the top 5 starting pitcher prospects in the NL (in order) as Bradley, Stephenson, Giolito, Syndergaard and Crick and in the AL as Walker, Bundy, Appel, Gausman and Stewart. If you were to combine the two lists into a single MLB list how would you rank the prospects? Thanks!
Doug Thorburn: Give me Walker, Bradley, Stephenson, Syndergaard, and Gausman, in that order. Bundy would slot into the top 3 if he comes back completely healthy from TJS. More on Gausman in 3, 2, 1 ...
George (DC): Did you see enough "stuff" and mechanics from Gausman last year to expect another step forward next season?
Doug Thorburn: Gausman's raw stuff is excellent, from the velo to the ridiculous depth on his change. The worry with Gausman is that MLB hitters were able to square up and even pull the fastball with little difficulty, which you just don't see very often at 97-99 mph. The pitch is a bit straight, and batters appear to be getting a long look at the heat. Mechanically, Gausman has undergone some radical changes from high school to LSU and now the pros, and his consistency is lacking, but the baselines leave room for a vaulted ceiling. If he can iron out the wrinkes, then I think that he could take a giant leap forward next season.
On the jukebox: Tool, "Parabola"
Jim H (Sphinx Park, CO): Hey Doug. Today's write-up on the Royals says that Kyle Zimmer offers little in the way of deception. Are there ways to improve deception, or is that generally avoided since it would open the whole changing mechanics can of worms? TIA
Now playing: Elephant by Warpaint
Doug Thorburn: Deception can be a double-edged sword. As you note, any blatant alteration to mechanics can often have a negative ripple effect on consistency or function. In fact, many pitchers have been mechanically ruined (IMO) because of blatant manipulations in the name of deception - from closed strides to excessive spine-tilt in the name of creating more downhill plane.
I think the best way to safely add deception is to ramp up momentum and get a longer stride, in addition to solid posture, which combine to extend distance at release point. The net effect is an increase of perceived velocity to the hitter, and break/movement that occurs closer to the plate. Thing is, Zimmer already has plus momentum which is a key part of his delivery - he is at his best when the momentum is humming along. I gave him a peak momentum grade of 65 in this article.
And bonus points for letting us in on your jukebox!
cracker73 (Florida): Why is it that pitchers in this era don't throw the "screwball"?
Doug Thorburn: I think it has much to do with the ever-growing popularity of the sinker/2-seam fastball, as well as the proliferation of change-ups. The screwball is a tough pitch to teach, and it is easy for batters to pick up out of hand, so I think that the novelty is short-lived.
On the jukebox: Bad Religion, "Generator"
higgsboson (Guelph): At 1B next year, who puts up better numbers Matt Adams or Yonder Alonso?
Doug Thorburn: Gimme Adams. Power has always been Alonso's issue (well that and platoon splits), and I am not too confident that the power is going to develop.
Shawnykid23 (CT): Who do you think are the 2-3 best pitching coaches in the game? What kind of an impact do they have? Can we assume all pitching coaches see the same thing when someone's delivery isn't right, or are some really that much better that others?
Doug Thorburn: We really know very little about how individual P-coaches go about their craft, and I would not feel confident ranking them based on the little information that we have. There are different philosophies and areas of focus, and we definitely can't assume that they see the same thing when a pitcher's delivery isn't right. The key is that they DO see that something is off, as the most important attribute for a big-league P-coach is intimate knowledge of his staff, regardless of philosophy. There can be mechanical indicators, stuff indicators, or even the ever-elusive human element (psych factors) that can play a role.
Sara (Tacoma): Lucas Giolito... just how high up is his ceiling?
Doug Thorburn: I am lower on Giolito than most, but his raw stuff certainly raises his ceiling. His delivery is painfully slow, which limits release distance and opens up the window of timing for the rotational elements to fall out of sequence. His balance/posture are better than they were in high school, which is a big plus in general, but his curveball trajectory may have suffered as a result - it's another double-edged sword of pitching mechanics.
On the jukebox: Megadeth, "Hanger 18"
John (San Francisco): Buster Olney said the A's were runners up for getting Tim Hudson. Does that signal they're not confident they can re-sign Bartolo Colon?
Doug Thorburn: It's tough to be confident about anything regarding Bartolo. At his age, with his repertoire of 85-90% fastballs, and with his "interesting" background, I don't think that they can count on anything for next season. Whether that means that he is priced out of their means or they are just penciling in his innings, either way it makes sense to add some depth.
Jess (Aspen): Gerrit Cole v. Matt Moore: Who do you take this year (2014)? Next 5 years? Next 10? Why?
Doug Thorburn: What a great question. Moore has the lefty advantage, though his command has not come around as much as one would hope. Cole, on the other hand, is developing at a rocket pace. My favorite attribute in a young pitcher is the ability to improve and make adjustments, and since Cole has already exhibited that ability at the highest level (despite having less experience), I would take Cole for the next 5 or 10 years. That's no knock on Moore, who has elite potential and has flashed brilliance - in fact I would probably give him the nod for 2014, as we have a better idea of what we'll get from Moore next season.
On the jukebox: Lou Reed, "Perfect Day"
Frank (Queens): Does Jameson Taillon still have a #1 ceiling, or has his stock fallen enough that scouts are more comfortable throwing a lower ceiling on him?
Doug Thorburn: #1's are exceedingly rare, and the ceiling idea is so nebulous that I would shy away from giving just about any prospect that label (exception: Strasburg circa 2009). But I really like what Taillon brings to the table, both in terms of mechanics and stuff, and I remain high on his potential even if his stock has fallen in the eyes of others.
Matt (Seattle): With Danny Hultzen's recent shoulder surgery, should Mariners fans be worried?
Doug Thorburn: I have been worried about Hultzen for a couple years now, as his delivery had a tendency to fall completely off track - there were games in 2012 where it looked like he was playing catch with the backstop. A torn rotator cuff can ruin a player's career, and only time will tell whether he can regain velocity - a factor which is especially troubling for a player who lacked top-end velo to begin with.
On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "On the Turning Away"
nictaclacta (Glendale): Doug, I need your input on long-term value. 10 team dynasty with 7 pitcher slots. Have Strasburg, Sale, Fernandez, Harvey and Chapman. Need to select two from Brandon Beachy, Andrew Cashner, Corey Kluber, Brett Anderson, Henderson Alvarez. Help appreciated. Thank you.
Doug Thorburn: Your top end is ridiculous, even if you have to wait on Harvey. I would hold on to Cashner from the second group, no doubt, while your last guy is a tougher call. Since your 7th slot could change between now and this time next year, you are probably looking for 2014 value (or trade value) with a shot at upside - for that reason I would choose between Beachy and Anderson. Anderson still has the name and the hope, but the faith is all but sapped, so that is a dice-roll for 2014 with prayers for a break-through season that ups his trade value. Beachy is a command guy, and since command is the last thing to return from TJS, I would say that he has the best chance to vault his value next season, though his down velocity in a small sample of 2013 adds some concern.
On the jukebox: White Zombie, "Thunderkiss '65"
JasonPennini (Denver): Hi Doug,
How do you view this year's free agent class for pitchers? Who are the top talents and who are the top values?
Doug Thorburn: It is a very weak class, even by today's revamped standards of free agency. I think the top talents are Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson (already signed), and A.J. Burnett. Burnett will almost definitely be a great value given his desire to pitch only for the Pirates, and I think that Arroyo could be a good sign for a team with a big ballpark. I also liked the Huddy signing for the Giants. I am not big on guys like Garza (dislike his delivery), Ubaldo (worst. delivery. ever.), and Ervin Santana - players whose name value / 2013 performances could push up their prices.
On the jukebox: Drist, "Pollute the Sound"
Rex Little (Big Bear, CA): An article in a recent Baseball America on Michael Wacha said that changeups are more effective against opposite-side hitters than same-siders. (It was talking about changeups in general, not just Wacha's.) In my 50 years following baseball, I've never heard this before. Is it true? If so, why?
Doug Thorburn: It is generally true that change-ups are more effective against opposite-side hitters, and the vast majority of pitchers will show a blatant trend in their approach in which they favor breaking balls against same-side hitters and change-ups with the platoon disadvantage. The reason is that batters tend to do much better on pitches that have movement that comes in on the hitter, but do poorly on those pitches that are fading away. The inner-half is a relative strength of most batters, and there are tons of guys who are relatively hopeless with off-speed/breaking stuff that is moving low-away (the Erubiel Durazo syndrome). This is why it is so critical for starters to have a third pitch in order to be effective against lineups that are stacked with hitters who have the platoon advantage.
On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "Night Flight"
Derek (Palo Alto): Brett Anderson's name keeps popping up in trade talks. The Blue Jays and Royals are apparently interested. And the A's have made no secret of their willingness to deal him. I guess I don't understand why, though. His value couldn't be lower than it is last year -- coming off a terrible, injury-plagued season. And with it unclear whether the A's will be able to re-sign Bartolo Colon, why reduce your pitching depth even more?
Doug Thorburn: Completely agree on his value, especially as he becomes expensive. Anderson's salary went up to $8 million this season (was $5.5 M last year), and his fragility is the worst-kept secret in baseball. The time to move him was last off-season, when there were rumors swirling that Anderson could be involved in a deal for Wil Myers. At least Anderson's injury last season was to his ankle, not his arm.
sitdancer (TPMD): Do you have anything new on Julio Urias? Is it realistic for him to make it to the majors as a teenager?
Doug Thorburn: Urias still has a ways to go, but his combination of youth and advanced learning curve could put him in Dodger Stadium before his 20th birthday. He is an incredible specimen of the pitching order, and I will deep-diving the Urias situation in an upcoming Raising Aces column, coming to a website near you.
Jack (Hoboken): Jenrry Mejia has some seriously good stuff. I would put it on the level of Wheeler's and Thor's. Yet as a Mets fan it frustrates me to no end that he can't stay healthy. Do you think his size and violent delivery keep him from throwing 200 innings?
Doug Thorburn: I am generally not a fan of the "violence" tag, but in Mejia's case it is absolutely true. He has a tornado of rotational velocity that he can't contain, and the volatility of his delivery worries me even more than the sheer magnitude of his ferocity. I also tend to not focus too much on absolute size, but in Mejia's case he clearly lacks the functional strength to stabilize his violence, so his physical attributes are indeed a concern. I see a future in the 'pen unless he makes drastic changes to his physical profile.
On the jukebox: Metallica, "Creeping Death"
higgsboson (Guelph): Two young pitchers with a shot at the rotation in 2014: Alex Wood and Jimmy Nelson. Who has the better shot at getting the job, and who do like more in the big picture?
Doug Thorburn: Both pitchers bring the funk, but with different results. I cal Wood "Taz" due to his ridiculous pattern of imbalance and rotation, and it is shocking that he repeats his delivery as well as he does. Nelson has some goofy glove-side arm action, and he really struggles to repeat the initiation of rotation, leading to tons of walks. I like Nelson's odds of making adjustments better than Wood's, but I could see both players eventually settling into the bullpen, especially since Nelson goes against the Brewers over-arching philosophy with their starting pitchers.
R.A.Wagman (Toronto): Doug - All year we have heard negative reports on the mechanics of Aaron Sanchez? Yet the results have been pretty good, culminating in a great run in the AFL. What have you heard on his form?
Also, is there anything besides height that has you thinking that Marcus Stroman should be in the pen? Thank you.
Doug Thorburn: Sanchez has reportedly straightened his posture and shortened his stride, and though I had not seen much of him prior to the AFL, footage from the Fall Stars game confirms the posture and stride. The improved posture is great (so is his balance), and the slow pace allows him to repeat the delivery, but I really don't like the muted stride. He can survive on the minors on raw stuff, but advanced batters will likely punish him with a shortened release distance. Once again, the Tyson Ross paradigm rears its ugly head - never thought I would use that name so many times in the same chat!
On the jukebox: Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night"
Rob (DC): I remember you expressing the opinion that more pitchers should follow the example of Yu Darvish and pitch from the stretch all of the time. You pointed out that the preferred side-step start to the windup--the alternative to what I learned, the rock and pivot--gave little momentum advantage over simply starting as if from the stretch.
Why do you think more teams don't recommend that their young pitchers pitch from stretch-only, or else adopt an old-school start to the windup that would generate more momentum? Are there any teams that buck the trend and encourage a stretch-only approach or a windup of the old-school sort?
Doug Thorburn: The magnet of conformity is tough to overcome in a game so rooted in tradition, and conventional wisdom forms a blockade to the advancement of so many elements of the game - particularly with pitchers.
Ideally, there will be minimal adjustment from the windup and stretch in order to keep from overcomplicating the timing sequence, and it makes little sense for mechanics to be compromised when pitching from the stretch - esp given that those are the most critical moments of the game, with men on base. So in that sense it is a positive sign that teams have gone to a simpler windup, but I have not heard or seen of anyone (other than myself) advocating that they ditch the windup altogether, at least not for SP's. There are plenty of relievers that do this, though, so perhaps the snowball of discovery is advancing down the hill.
On the jukebox: Audioslave, "Like a Stone"
Kevin (NYC): The Mets have taken high school position players in the first round of the draft for the past three years (Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, and Dom Smith). What are your impressions so far in their development? What do you project the ceiling is for each of them? It seems like Dom Smith is the highest touted of the three.
Doug Thorburn: I wish that I had an answer for this, but I would have to default to our incredible BP Prospect team. Apologies, but pitchers are more my bag at the minor-league level.
baseballjunkie (SF Bay Area): Hi Doug, Do you think Mas Tanaka will pitch in the US in 2014 and what is your opinion on his chances of success?
Doug Thorburn: The politics surrounding the posting system has really complicated the issue, but one can understand the thinking on both sides. The exorbitant fees paid to the parent clubs, in addition to the ridiculous salaries bestowed upon the few international free agents who get to avoid the J2 process, shine a bright light on the chasm that exists between what teams think that amateurs are worth and what they actually shell out in the draft.
Ok, rant aside, I am not that high on Tanaka's ability to transition to MLB. His delivery has holes that could lead to inconsistency and exploitation, especially as teams get multiple looks through the season. I think that he will be overpaid by a wide margin, especially if he requires a hefty posting fee - I know it doesn't count against the luxury tax, but it is still a real cost that comes from the owner's pockets and has to be weighed when evaluating the operational costs of running the business.
MickeyRivers (NY): What are your thoughts on Andrew Cashner and Danny Salazar for 2014?
Doug Thorburn: Huge fan of Salazar. An avg fastball at 97 mph with a killer split and solid mechanics? Yes please. The only concern is Salazar's lack of a breaking ball, which might be a problem in the future. Cashner made great strides with his command, and his delivery is very stable while maintaining top-end velo. His development is a step ahead of Salazar's, but and though Cashner has a deeper repertoire, he doesn't have a secondary pitch that is as effective as Salazar's split. It's a close call, but I'd take Salazar in 2014, though their long-term projections will depend on how they adjust.
On the jukebox: Thrice, "Unquestioned Answers"
Alex (Anaheim): Will the results be better for Sabathia in 2014?
Doug Thorburn: I want to say yes, because much of his statistical issues were on balls-in-play, but then again his declining velocity is a disturbing trend - his avg velo is down 2.7 mph since 2011. The slider has always been his most effective pitch, but CC typically waits until he is ahead in the count to break out the slide, and he could be in trouble if batters continue to take advantage of the FB early in the count. Pitchers can be different animals each season, and I believe in CC's ability to adjust, so I think that he will rebound next season.
Mike (Boise): With pitchers recovering from TJS, the recovery/success rate is pretty remarkable these days. How optimistic can we be with guys like Harvey, Bundy, Giolito, etc., going forward?
Doug Thorburn: I am more optimistic with pitchers who have already grown their workloads and endured the gauntlet of developing pitch counts. With that in mind, I rank my optimism in that order: Harvey, Bundy, Giolito. The advances in modern medicine are incredible, and while not everyone comes all the way back from TJS, the big question is the level of functionality that is regained. If Harvey comes back at 95% of his previous self, then he will still be a top-end starter. If Bundy and/or Giolito come back at 95%, it could throw a bigger wrench into their respected development.
On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "Alexander the Great"
higgsboson (Guelph): Who is the closer for Florida by mid-season Cishek or A.J Ramos or ?
Doug Thorburn: When attempting the folly of predicting closer roles, I say always go with the guy who has done it before, so gimme Cishek. His improved command bodes well for him to avoid a blow-up, and he will likely hold the job until a blow-up occurs. Such is the life of MLB closers.
Frank (LA): With the dodgers pitching being so good now, what can we expect to happen with Zach Lee?
Doug Thorburn: The Dodgers deep pockets and rotation depth should allow them to be patient with Lee's advancement, but he could very well be ready for a big-league look in mid-2014. Keep in mind that the Dodgers were flush with arms prior to the 2013 season, such that everyone was expecting them to unload a few (and Harang was indeed dealt), but within a month both Beckett and Billingsley were on the shelf. You can never have too much pitching, and Lee's MLB debut could be dictated by need as much as readiness.
On the jukebox: Ministry, "Thieves"
Chris Sherwin (Windsor, Ontario): My question is about Marcus Stroman.I've always been a huge fan of his mechanics despite the drop and drive. I feel he has good tricks to make up for lack of size. However, the lack of plane and life on his FB makes me think the closer role is more realistic than starter. I'm not feeling great about adding a cutter either and feel the Jays should have tried a split, 2 seam or sinker instead. What are your thoughts?
Doug Thorburn: Excellent question, and I dig the detail! His balance is actually much-improved, and there was little-to-no semblance of the drop-n-drive during his recent stint in the AFL. I agree that a drop in center-of-gravity is a big problem for a 5'9" pitcher for exactly that reason (plane), especially for a guy with strong posture and a low-ish angle of shoulder abduction, so it is huge that he has stabilized his balance. I do like the momentum and stride that helps to make-up for some of the lack of size. My thoughts on the secondaries - I favor adding a split for basically every pitcher. It's an awesome pitch that is easy to teach and relatively easy to master. The sinker/2-seam can be tougher, but these days it is becoming almost a requisite for success. The development of the secondaries will ultimately determine his fitness for the rotation, though the bias against size combined with his short-burst velocity may have predetermined his path of least resistance.
On the jukebox: Guns n' Roses, "Night Train"
DF (Wilmington, NC): Your long-term view on Eddie Butler's future?
Doug Thorburn: I was psyched to see the development gains last season, and he has the stuff to play at any altitude. I will be taking an in-depth look at Butler later this winter in the Bush League series.
Steve (Houston): Is Shelby Miller essentially a one pitch pitcher or do you see enough to project improvement upon his 2013 campaign?
Doug Thorburn: He's definitely a 2-pitch guy, as both the fastball and curve work in the rotation, but his ultimate value could hinge on the development of a changeup. His tiring down the stretch is not entirely shocking for a 23-year old, and I think that too much is being made of his supposed demise at the end of the season - the microscope of the postseason can overpower the big picture sometimes. He is in a great org to oversee his development, and I have high hopes for 2014.
Paul (Texas ): Is there a way to fix a hitch in a pitchers arm action?
Doug Thorburn: Arm action is the toughest element to adjust, as much of what a pitcher does with his throwing arm is biologically hard-wired. Some things can be fixed over time, and it would depend on the details of the "hitch," but in most cases a coach is better off leaving the throwing arm alone and instead focusing on how to properly prepare the body to deliver the baseball.
On the jukebox: Anthrax, "Startin' Up a Posse"
Moonlight Graham (Columbia, CT): What exactly makes a small market team a small market? Population, revenue/income levels? I ask because I was listening to radio show where it was said Milwaukee is the smallest market in baseball by a wide margin but have a $100+MM payroll. Houston is actually the 3rd largest, yet people act like they are a small market team.
Doug Thorburn: It really depends on the "small market" requirements of the person talking, and often times it is used just to fit a narrative. Milwaukee has the smallest market in terms of surrounding population, but that is not necessarily the only ingredient to revenue and hence payroll. Houston is most definitely not a small market, regardless of what they spend on payroll, and we have to remember that payroll is fluid - the Dodgers market didn't expand just because they started spending tons of cash (it has always been huge), but the combination of a multi-billion dollar TV deal and a new ownership group that was willing to invest in the roster changed the public perception. We have an interesting situation in the SF Bay Area, where the A's and Giants essentially share the same market, yet several factors lead to widely disparate revenue streams (and thus payrolls).
Bubba (St. Louis): How long does it take you to write your Raising Aces column?
Doug Thorburn: Ha! Fun question. The answer: probably too long in terms of being a productive/efficient sportswriter, but I enjoy the process way too much. The Bush League series probably takes about 10 hours per article, between watching games/taking notes, capturing/creating GIF's, and writing the actual words.
And as you may have noticed from my chat responses, I am a long-winded bastard who often takes awhile to formulate a cohesive thought.
On the jukebox: Stone Temple Pilots, "Crackerman"
Ian (Texas): Why can't all pitchers learn to throw like Syndeergaard? He looks so casual throwing the baseball
Doug Thorburn: Casual, efficient, and explosive. He provides a solid template, though he could actually be more efficient with utilizing his body to throw the baseball. Syndergaard is blessed with unreal arm strength, such that he doesn't require a ton of torque (hip-shoulder separation) to pump mid-90's gas - but it makes one wonder what he would look like with better torque. I would also like to see more momentum to generate power from his lower-half and get a deeper release point.
On the jukebox: Dredg, "Intermission"
Brett (Vicksburg): Five years from now who you got: Kyle Seager or Brett Lawrie?
Doug Thorburn: Gimme Lawrie - he will be 28 in five years, right in the middle of his theoretical prime, while Seager will be 31 and potentially beginning to fade a bit physically.
Shawnykid23 (CT): Who has your favorite delivery/mechanics of all-time?
Doug Thorburn: Awesome question. In my generation I have to say Randy Johnson. His ability to get the most out of his biological advantages - while not being hindered by his unique size - was a revelation. His adjustments made throughout his career were beyond impressive, as well.
All-time, my favorites are probably Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson, for completely different reasons. Walter had a delivery that looked mysteriously like a right-handed Randy, while Gibby had more raw power than any other pitcher that I have ever seen.
Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): Do you think Josh Johnson can do well in San Diego, or is the jam done?
Doug Thorburn: The injury concerns get most of the press - well that and the friendly San Diego environs (go marine layer!). But his stuff has really changed over the last few years - he has lost a couple ticks since his peak, which is common for a pitchers his age, but he has pretty much abandoned the change-up as it has lost effectiveness. JJ has added a curveball in its stead against lefties, with decent results, but his effectiveness in SD will likely be determined by his ability to repeat a consistent delivery both from the windup and the stretch.
On the jukebox: Incubus, "Echo"
Paul (DC): What year does Mark Buehrle's streak of consecutive 200 innings pitched seasons end?
Doug Thorburn: He's on 13 years running, but he has walked a tightrope over the past three seasons, coming within 6 frames of falling below the 200-IP hard deck each year. His finesse delivery and low reliance on power bode well for injury risk, but all it takes is a two-week stint on the DL to derail his quest. I'll take a guess and say that he has one more 200-IP season left, but falls short in 2015.
Chris (Phoenix): Did Jose Fernandez have the most rediculous slurve you have seen in the last year?
Doug Thorburn: Yes. The Defector should be illegal - and there is no way that a human being should have such outstanding command of a pitch with so much movement. Check his DNA, because I'm pretty sure that he is rocking at least 8 base-pairs with a triple-helix.
Matt (Albany): Fantasy question: Thoughts on Wily Peralta's future (ability, success, numbers)?
Doug Thorburn: Peralta has the Milwaukee curse of horrific posture in the quest to find an over-the-top slot, the implication of which is a very shallow release point that gives batters a long look at the ball. The upshot is that his balls/strikes are less sensitive to timing - he will miss up or down when his timing off, rather than inside/outside, which is good for the walk rate. The fact that he still walks so many batters is a concern, especially with the dwindling K's, and I worry about the batted-ball numbers - especially the direction of his HR rate given his tendency to elevate.
On the jukebox: Green Day, "walking Contradiction"
Joseph (New York): Going off on what you said above about Syndergaard: do you think him not using his body due to his unreal arm strength takes away some velocity?(he has more than enough) Might it also increase the stress on the arm? Do you think it is possible to tweak his delivery at this point?
Doug Thorburn: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Scary thing is that he has more velo potential, and/or that he could maintain velo while taking some of the stress off his arm. Torque and momentum are a couple of the "easier" tweaks to make, though there are conditioning elements that are intertwined with improvement. Also, altering momentum requires an adjustment to the new timing pattern, so there are hurdles, but it might be worth it.
That said, he is in pretty good shape mechanically, and has an above-average delivery overall, so it is a bit of a nitpick. But my philosophy is that we can always improve, and the best pitchers of all-time had an insatiable desire to get better which drove them to elite levels, hence the nits to pick.
On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Ashes in the Fall"
Jay (NJ): If you had to keep 3 of the following in a fantasy keeper league, who do you keep for next season? Harper, Puig, H-Ramirez, Encarnacion, F-Hernandez, J-Fernandez, Wainwright.
Doug Thorburn: Oh wow, I can only keep three? If it's an all-time keeper with no restrictions, then give me Harper, Han-Ram, and Big Fern. But wow that's tough - I would say Puig if not for already having Harper in the OF - Ramirez positional value is too important and both he and Puig carry risks. Also, Wainwright/Felix are probably better bets for 2014 alone, but the next 5 years of Fernandez is just too tantalizing.
Larry (Hartford): Hey Doug,
Rank these pitchers in terms of who you think will be better and if possible give reasons: Wheeler, Miller, Cole, and Tehran
Doug Thorburn: Cole, Teheran, Miller, Wheeler. The incredible improvements of Cole and Teheran give them the best long-term prognoses in my opinion - there is nothing more impressive than a talented young pitcher who already possesses the raw stuff for success and then displays the ability to make adjustments and improve his game. Miller and Wheeler still have hurdles to overcome - Miller needs an off-speed pitch and stamina, Wheeler needs repetition and refinement.
On the jukebox: Black Sabbath, "Snowblind"
Greg (Jacksonville): Between Cole and Fernandez, who has the highest ceiling and best chance of touching it?
Doug Thorburn: I'm convinced that Big Fern has no ceiling - if we had tried to put one over his head a year ago then he would have smashed right through it. There may not be a better two-pitch combination in the game right now, and his change-up is no slouch.
Tim (NYC ): What books on pitching do you reccomend me reading? I'm still working on Dollar Sign on the Muscle though
Doug Thorburn: Dollar Sign is amazing, so finish that up first. Apologies for the homerism, but if you want to know about the fundamentals of pitching as well as the gory details, then I recommend Tom House's "The Art and Science of Pitching." And if you are interested in high-speed motion analysis and the flaws inherent in the conventional wisdom of pitching coaches, then I have to throw in a shameless plug for the book that I co-authored with Tom - "Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch"
Ryan (Boston): Bourjos just traded for Freese. FYI.
Doug Thorburn: Interesting, especially with the positional ripple effects. Bourjos in CF means that Taveras can take over Beltran's vacated spot in RF and Jay can take on a 4th OF role. Moving Freese opens up 2B for Wong by sliding Carpenter to 3B. It also opens up the door to regular playing time for Schuck in Anaheim while filling a big need at the hot corner for the Angels. Sounds like a good deal for both sides.
On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "Pigs (Three Different Ones)"
Chris (Arizona): With Bourjos getting traded to SL. Does this give Kole Calhoun a full time role and is he an average player?
Doug Thorburn: Ah, good point with Calhoun. They could easily plug him into RF. I was impressed with his ability to jump a level from A+ to AAA without missing a beat, and he could provide some solid offense.
Jason (New York): When watching Syndergaard I notice that he sometimes tends to tip his pitches by leaning back when he delivers the curveball. Is this easily fixable or do you think it hinders Syndergaard's success? Or is his stuff good enough to overcome this(Doc Gooden tipped both his pitches)
Doug Thorburn: Synder does exaggerate the spine-tilt on his curve, and advanced hitters might be able to pick up on it if he consistently repeats those two different slots. He probably won't have any issues with it in the minors, but MLB hitters who have better visual windows will pick up on it if it is repeated consistently. That said, his curve is good enough that some batters might see it coming and still struggle to make solid contact - also consider that the "tip" will be at release point, giving batters a very narrow timeframe to read and react.
On the jukebox: Van Halen, "Hot for Teacher"
Matt Adams & Allen Craig (St. Louis Ripple Effect): Matt: Play me at 1B; I have so much power to give you.
Craig: No. Play me at 1B; Paul Sporer loves me, he even nicknamed me "The Wrench!"
Doug Thorburn: The Cards have a good problem on their hands - how to fit both of those bats in the lineup. I prefer Craig as well, but Adams is more than a bench guy. Was STL lobbying for an NL DH at the GM Meetings?
richardkr34 (Saint Paul): Do you think Alex Meyer will find enough mechanical consistency to be a starter?
On the jukebox: Year of the Cat by Al Stewart
Doug Thorburn: Meyer has a starter's repertoire and the type of frame that tends to give guys multiple chances, but you are right on that consistency will be the key to his fitting at the beginning of games rather than the end of them. He has some work to do, but that's why the prospecting game is so much fun - the essence of player development is on that second word.
Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): When a pitcher comes back from a long injury layoff, such as let's say Drew Hutchinson right now, what are some of the key things that you look for before you say that they are truly back?
Doug Thorburn: Mechanical repetition, especially balance, is a key indicator of returning to physical form. With elbow injuries you look to see how the command is coming along, while shoulder guys usually involve a longer look at the radar gun.
On the jukebox: Queens of the Stone Age, "No One Knows"
Darryl (Illinois): With the recent trade of Kinsler unclogging the MI of the Rangers, and the Cardinals needing a shortstop. If they called for Tulo, would the conversation start with Wacha?
Doug Thorburn: It is tough to see the Rox motivation to move Tulo, given their commitment to players being the face of the franchise (and Tulo's skills). I understand the impetus to make anyone and everyone available for discussion, but I think that Colorado will have to be overwhelmed to pull the trigger. The Cards certainly have the org depth to make such a trade, though I imagine that the Rockies will be reticent to center a trade on pitching given the extra-curricular challenges of pitching at altitude. There is a greater-than-average risk profile in that scenario.
Oscar (Detroit): Does Bruce Rondon have a chance at being the closer in Detroit next year?
Doug Thorburn: He certainly has a chance, and you have to think that he is being groomed for the role long-term. The issue is pitch command, as having a volatile closer is a disaster waiting to happen, but I think that Rondon made positive strides last season toward a more permanent role finishing games.
On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Bury the Hatchet"
Joe (Minnesota): Kyle Gibson looked so good in the minors, but then blew up in the majors after his first start. Do you think he will ever turn into the top of the rotation starter he was supposed to be?
Doug Thorburn: I don't see Gibson as a top-of-rotation guy, but he could very well settle into a no.3 or 4 role, which is better than it might sound at first. With Meyer, Stewart, and Berrios on their way up, Gibson doesn't have to be more than a 3-4 in order to be a huge part of the next contending Twins' squad.
Ben (Newark): 2014 closer (or team SV leaders): CLE: C. Allen, NYM: V. Black, OAK: R. Cook...
Look good or does someone else get the job(s)?
Doug Thorburn: I think that Parnell will stick in New York (NL), assuming a full recovery from the herniated disc. I could also see Doolittle closing for Oakland, despite his lefty-ness, given that he has actually had an inverse platoon split over the past two seasons.
On the jukebox: Primus, "John the Fisherman"
Derek (STL): What are your thoughts on Brandon Belt for the upcoming season?
Doug Thorburn: Belt made tremendous strides in his age-25 season, and he was a beast in the second half. I could see a .280/.365/.490 line or thereabouts if he stays on track.
Jack (FL): How much have you seen of Alex Colome? Do you think he could fill a rotation slot if David Price is traded or should the Rays transition him to the pen?
Doug Thorburn: I really like Colome. He has a starter's repertoire and the mechanics to profile in the rotation. The only question is pitch command, as his timing and momentum can be inconsistent at times. The Rays have the luxury of pitching depth, so they can be patient as Colome refines his game.
Tom (Turkey): What's on your thanksgiving Menu this season?
Doug Thorburn: I am lucky to have a wife who is a whiz in the kitchen and a bro-in-law who is a chef, and the two of them whip up some awesome concoctions - most of which I don't learn until the actual day. The staples will be there of course, and a family tradition is grasshopper pie.
Ok, Pavlov's bell must have started ringing, because I'm salivating like a dog.
Chris (Phoenix): Did Archie take the more 'safe' route as opposed to Bundy who was pushed through extremely quickly. Or did the circumstances just dictate that Bundy was light years ahead at the time?
Doug Thorburn: There are many nuances to the specifics of each pitcher, and one can certainly understand the motivation to put Bundy on a fast-track. He was incredibly advanced for his age, though I personally think that his delivery wasn't QUITE as advanced as most of the reports suggested. He still has some elements to work on - that said, his injury was absolutely not an indictment of his mechanics, which were still much better than those of the typical teenager. Bundy finished with an almost statues
Shawn (Cubicle): You aren't leaving us for an MLB team yet are you??
Doug Thorburn: ... oops, technical difficulties on the Bundy question. Just wanted to say that he finishes the delivery with an almost statuesque position after release point, with stoic balance that caused some to label his pre-release mechanics accordingly.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate Jason Cole (Rays) and Zach Mortimer (Cards) on their new scouting positions. Jason and Zach are both incredible evaluators who have not only the scouting chops, but also the passion and enthusiasm to succeed at the highest level.
As for me, my winter calendar is full of pitching evaluations for the big BP club, but I am always looking for opportunities to immerse myself in more baseball.
On the jukebox: Antonio Vivaldi, "Summer"
David Price (Parts Unknown): What uniform am I wearing Opening Day 2014?
Doug Thorburn: You still have two more years of arb eligibility, and I can see a scenario where you are wearing a Rays cap on Opening Day but donning new duds by mid-summer.
On the jukebox: Cream, "Crossroads"
Shawn (Cubicle): Not a pitcher question, but do you think Machado's off-season surgery is anything to worry about long-term?
Doug Thorburn: I always worry about knee injuries for any athlete, given the importance of proper stability and flexibility in the joint in order to do everything on the field - from running to fielding and hitting. The knees are part of the foundation for every physical act in baseball, and given the severity of the injury, I do have concerns. Machado is such a special talent that I hate to think that his skills would be compromised in any way, so fingers crossed.
Alex (Bridgeton): What are your thoughts on the Hudson signing for San Francisco? With a projected rotation of Cain, Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, and XXX, do you think they will make another signing for their 5th spot (Arroyo? Haren?) or stay within the organization (Petit)? Thanks for the chat!
Doug Thorburn: The Giants have done well with pitcher development regardless of the player's style or repertoire, though most of their success stories were high-end picks, and the cupboard is relatively bare at the higher minor-league levels. I think that Petit is a fine choice at #5, but the team likely needs more depth given the departures of Vogey, Gaudin, etc. I could definitely see another signing in their future, and both Arroyo and Haren make some sense, but I could also see a lower-priced option. Actually, Phil Hughes would be a great fit for that ballpark, and still has some theoretical upside left in the tank.
On the jukebox: Slayer, "Seasons in the Abyss"
Paul (DC): Talk to me about Randall Delgado of the D-Backs. What's to like about his pitching and what's not to like about it? How much room for improvement does he have?
Doug Thorburn: I am encouraged by the improvements he made with balance (early in the delivery) and repetition in 2013, turning down the drop-n-drive a bit. That said, his balance is still rough after foot strike, and though he has solid momentum, he struggles to harness that kinetic energy. I don't like the posture, as he tries to force elevation on his release - his natural/biological arm slot is near sidearm, and even with spine-tilt his functional arm slot is pretty low, so he is compromising his delivery for minimal gains in plane. I am encouraged by the year-over-year changes, and he needs to continue to improve his balance and functional strength in order to find consistent success.
On the jukebox: The Clash, "Police On My Back"
Chris (Phoenix): Is Profar the same player that was the top prospect prior to last season or have evaluators bumped him down at all?
Doug Thorburn: What impresses me so much about Profar is the combination of athleticism and instincts - I continue to be surprised at the quick wrists and his reactions on both sides of the ball. I think that he is the same player that made him the top prospect in the game, and the only slight from last season is that his athletic gifts didn't start on a prodigy track at the highest level. The leap to the majors is exponentially tougher than any other between levels, especially at the plate, and pitch recognition will be the last piece of his puzzle. He now has a season's worth of experience under his belt and a clear path to consistent playing time - one can only imagine how moving all over the diamond impacted his ability to strengthen the other parts of his game. I expect Profar to take off in 2014.
Alex (LA): How does Michael Roth get such great extension on the mound? Is that natural or was it taught to him
Doug Thorburn: Roth has solid momentum throughout the delivery, and finishes with strong posture, but the most impressive part of his mechanics that contribute to his extension is that he continues the forward progression of his body after foot-strike. At the National Pitching Association we called it "Stack and Track" - a pitcher who maintains a stack upper-body (good posture) while tracking towards the target after foot strike can achieve great extension. It requires strong functional strength and good balance with flex in the front knee (as opposed to a stiff landing leg), allowing the center-of-mass to drift closer to the plate. Finally, Roth has a naturally late release - he has a closed stride, and the only way to reach full extension is to release the baseball at a later point in trunk rotation than the average pitcher.
Another pitcher who is great at this is Madison Bumgarner.
On the jukebox: Yardbirds, "Happenings Ten Years Ago"
Zack Wheeler (Georgia): The easiness of my mechanics help my fastball explode on hitters right? Do you think they might also land me on Dr. Andrews' table along with Matt Harvey?
Doug Thorburn: Actually, your mechanics aren't really that "easy." There's a bit too much up-down with balance during the lift phase, and your arm action has a lot of extra movement during the "pick-up" phase prior to initiation of rotation. There are also times when your timing is off and you suffer from elbow-drag, and THAT could potentially land you on Dr. Andrews table. But your prognosis will not be the same as Harvey, who had all-around solid mechanics yet serves as an example of the multitude of variables that contribute to the injury equation.
On the jukebox: Aerosmith and Run DMC, "Walk This Way"
Trevor (New York): Wheeler or Syndergaard? (You might as well give your thoughts on Rafael Montero too)
Doug Thorburn: It's close between Wheeler and Syndergaard. Synder has better repetition and stability as well as the superior physical profile, while Wheeler does better on the scale for power grades on the mechanics report card. Pitchers tend to improve on Wheeler's specific weaknesses more often than those of Syndergaard, but I feel that Syndergaard is actually an easier fix from a coaching standpoint. Tough call, but give me the guy who is already succeeding at the highest level.
Montero is definitely behind the other two, and his more-extreme combination of high-level power and rough stability could be a ticking time bomb. He's fine into foots trike, but his delivery falls apart once the rotational elements kick into gear, and I would personally leave him in the bullpen until he learns to contain his delivery.
On the jukebox: Zamfir, "The Lonely Shepherd"
Dennis (LA): Thank you for the chat, Doug. Do you see Dan Haren being a solid #4 the next couple of years? Does he have more upside than Bronson Arroyo?
Doug Thorburn: Haren vs Arroyo is a great example of risk/reward vs relative predictability. Haren has higher upside in theory but also the higher potential to crash, especially considering the injury history. Arroyo is less exciting from the standpoint of expected performance, but you have a better idea of what you're going to get - but his high rates of contact make him a better fit for a smaller ballpark. At least with Arroyo you get the sexiness of the showgirl leg-kick, the beach bro haircut, and the ridiculous array of arm slots that range from straight sidearm to almost over-the-top with minimal adjustment to spine-angle.
On the jukebox: Kyuss, "Mudfly"
Brian (California): What do you think of Rafael Montero's stuff and ceiling? Do you think his mechanics overshadow his size and allow him to pitch 200 innings?
On the jukebox: Beach Boys, "Surfer Girl"
Doug Thorburn: This question just fits too perfectly (Arroyo thanks you for the jukebox nod). As you may have gathered from the Wheeler/Synder question, I think that Montero's mechanics are a big problem. The blatant over-the-top might overcome the height restrictions of his size, but his delivery is definitely not built for a big workload. Besides, I would prefer that a pitcher have extension at release point rather than downhill plane (which is often overrated) - and such egregious spine-tilt actually robs him of that extension. We had a saying at the NPA: "Every one inch of inappropriate head movement costs two inches at release point." I wouldn't make a trade-off of distance for height at 1:1, and definitely not at 2:1.
On the jukebox: Dredg, "Tanbark"
Jay (Poughkeepsie): Going off that last question: Syndergaard may have better mechanics, but who do you like better stuff wise? Wheeler may have better stuff now cause he is almost 3 years older but can you see Thor having better stuff when he is done developing?
Doug Thorburn: The mechanics are almost a toss up, depending on whether you prefer power or stability. They both have top-end velo, but I prefer Syndergaard's curve. Neither has a great changeup, though Thor's is more functional. Wheeler has the advantage of depth of repertoire given his slider. Add it all up and again it's pretty damn close right now, but I agree that Syndergaard has more room for improvement.
Zack Wheeler (Georgia): Hey I'm back. So what hurt brother Matt then? Was it his really hard slider which put a ton of stress on his elbow? Does this mean I should throw my curveball more than my slider especially since my curveball is better?
Doug Thorburn: It could have been any number of things - workloads over time, conditioning, genetics, bad luck. Mechanics are just the tip of the injury iceberg, the part that everyone can see even though there is a lot more going on below the surface.
I will say that Harvey's increase of velocity actually worked to increase his injury risk - throwing harder means more energy flowing through the system, placing greater stress on joints. The slider may have contributed, but Harvey threw a supinated slider, which is much safer than the "twist the wrist" technique. What scares me about Wheeler is that he might be using the wrist-twist for his breakers, particularly the curve. I don't know for sure, but the loopy trajectory of the curve out-of-hand suggests a wrist-twist, which itself is a big precursor to injury (it is also easier for batter to detect out-of-hand than a supinated curve). So NO, for the love of Pete, do not throw more curves if you are using a wrist-twist.
Also, it is a huge misconception that sliders hurt elbows but curves do not - curves involve a higher degree of supination (when thrown correctly) and even greater wrist-twist (when thrown incorrectly), so if anything, they are more dangerous than sliders. But sliders get a bad rap because they are thrown with greater frequency than curves in general.
On the jukebox: Jack Johnson, "Swing Ashore"
richardkr34 (Saint Paul): How are Berrios's mechanics? Do you see a bullpen role for him in the future?
Doug Thorburn: I fear that Berrios will either a) be robbed of his excellent momentum for fear that he is exuding "too much effort," or b) will be pushed toward the 'pen if he continues the momentum pattern. Personally, I see the makings of a dynamite starter in the Roy Oswalt mold, but that is predicated on his keeping the delivery that got him drafted in the first place (while adding strength and flex). I'm a huge fan of Berrios' mechanical baselines, but time will tell whether the Twins have him make major adjustments that alter his mechanical profile.
jimbeau (left coast): Hi Doug. Thanks for the chat. My favorite pitcher growing up was Luis Tiant - all 50 different versions of his delivery (at least it seemed that way to me). Have you ever looked at his mechanics? Was his delivery really all that different all the time, or just a lot of deceptive fluff thrown up around a basic set of mechanics? If they were all rwally different, how could he possibly that effective with that much inconsistency? Thanks.
Doug Thorburn: I wish that I could say that I had seen every manipulation of the Tiant twist, but I have only seen a handful of clips. But I dig it. Funny thing is, that despite all the crazy funk, his delivery was actually really efficient. He flared the glove all crazy prior to starting his delivery, then looked at the plate before turning/twisting the complete opposite direction - but his momentum was movin on a straight line toward the plate during his twist and goofy leg kick. Then he would finish with friggin' awesome posture and a low/sidearm slot, occasionally tossing that butterfly curveball that invoked some hilarious swings. The key was that Tiant maintained the essential elements of athleticism - balance and momentum - with consistency, even as he added layers of funk to his delivery.
Thanks for invoking memories of El Tiante!
On the jukebox: AC/DC, "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)"
dan (Valhalla): What is your take on KC's Big 3: Ventura, Zimmer, and Almonte? I know you've discussed Zim quite a bit, but how do the other 2 compare?
Doug Thorburn: Ventura is fun to watch. His torque is ridiculous, with a huge upper-body load as well as a good timing component that lets the hips open after foot strike prior to firing into rotation. He also has decent momentum, though I could do without the pause at max leg lift. Ventura maintains balance well, especially after foot strike when the high-velocity rotation kicks in, keeping his head centered over his body through release point. Lots to like here.
Unfortunately I have not watched Almonte pitch yet, so I have to leave his comment field blank. But Zimm-Vent might just break the MLB.tv flame-graphic in future KC telecasts.
On the jukebox: Helmet, "Ironhead"
Doug Thorburn: Thanks to everyone for the amazing queue of q's! There's another 50 questions in the hopper so I hate to call it quits, but the huskies are giving me the stink eye and begging for a run. I hope that ya'll enjoyed the last five hours as much as I did.
'Til next time