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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday December 20, 2013 2:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

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Talk pitching with Doug.

Doug Thorburn: Baseball is the gift that keeps on giving all year long, so let's put down the gift-wrap and talk some pitching.

Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): Out of all the top pitching prospects out there at the moment, are there any that truly excite you to see how they progress next year?

Doug Thorburn: Julio Urias, whom I wrote about today for Raising Aces. He is incredibly advanced for his age, yet he still has some growth and maturation ahead in terms of physical development, refinement of his arsenal, and honing his mechanics.

Rex Little (Big Bear, CA): Over the past few decades there have been a number of changes aimed at reducing pitcher injuries: the 5-man rotation, pitch count limits, innings limits, defined bullpen roles, etc. Is there any evidence that these have had the desired effect? It seems to me that pitchers get hurt now as often as they did 50 years ago, but that could be selective memory.

Doug Thorburn: This is a great question, Rex, and the reality of the modern-day pitcher is that they are ill-prepared to stack up to the hurlers of even 30 years ago, let alone 50. All of the limits have been a double-edged sword, in that they might shield from overuse, but they also prevent players from building the strength and stamina necessary to handle such workloads. Pitching used to follow more Darwinistic principles, with survival of the fittest in a war of attrition. Today's pitchers are rarely given the opportunity to prove that they are fit for survival, and they are molded to last 100 pitches rather than 120 or more. So I think that we have competing effects from the well-intended changes, and the net result has not been optimally productive. Throw in the fact that our methods of injury detection are far advanced from 30 or 50 years ago, and that the success rates of certain surgeries are far better, and we also have a natural confluence where more pitchers are going under the knife.

On the jukebox: Van Halen, "Panama"

Josh (Chicago): Do you think Tyler Skaggs can return to the form that made him a top prospect last year?

Doug Thorburn: I have never been a big fan of Skaggs, as his delivery poses a ton of roadblocks to success. His closed stride and blatant over-the-top limit his release distance, and he has a tendency to release the breaking ball very early in the rotational sequence. Topping it off, he shortened his stride this past season, which further shrunk his release distance. The net result of these elements is that batters get a very long look at the baseball, which more than counteracts any advantages imposed by his deception. He did make some improvements to balance last season, so he could be on the road to improvement, but he has a steep hill to climb and his stuff is not enough to cover for the mechanical lapses.

Brose Canseco (Chiraq): What do you make of Matt Moore's command issues? He seems to have a pretty clean/simple delivery.

Doug Thorburn: Moore's command issue seem rooted in timing, which is often the last element to come around for a young pitcher. The simplicity of his delivery is a point in his favor, but proper timing is an extremely fine-grained element that even the best pitchers can lose from time to time. He defies convention by starting on the third-base side of the rubber, and yet he still struggles to hit the inner edge versus rightihanded bats, which suggest that he might need to alter his starting angle on the rubber in order to find ideal extension at release point.

On the jukebox: AC/DC, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"

Geoff Young (San Diego): In August you expressed concerns about Josh Johnson's poor fastball command. What, if any, reasons are there to believe he can re-establish that and his value in San Diego?

Doug Thorburn: Hi Geoff! The best point in Johnson's favor is that his delivery was more consistent in the past, which led to better command overall. Given the injury issues of the past, it is understandable that he could not find his ideal delivery last season, and the degradation of stuff made it tougher to survive without command. I find it interesting that he essentially scrapped the changeup, leaning more on a curve last season with left-handers at the plate. Pitchers are different beasts each season, and Johnson has the baseline profile to rediscover at least some of his previous success.

On the jukebox: Metallica, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

RotoLando (Cloud City): Who would you choose for fantasy: Tyson Ross or James Paxton?

Doug Thorburn: I simply can't trust Ross, given a delivery with one of the shortest strides in the game and minimal momentum. The statistical step forward last season was intriguing, but his stuff has to be crisp in order to succeed. So give me Paxton and pray for the upside of youth to shine through onto the stat sheet.

Mlbeastmode (St. Louis): What are your views on Lucas Giolito? Can he be better than Stephen Strasburg?

Doug Thorburn: The hype on Giolito is skyrocketing right now, but I am not yet on board, and he has a long way to go before gaining Strasburg comps. Don't get me wrong, I dig the stuff, but he has an extremely slow delivery into foot strike, after which he just explodes with unheard-of ferocity. I don't think that he uses his lower half well enough to maintain efficiency and high workloads at the highest level, and the short-ish stride is also working against him.

On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Bury the Hatchet"

SJE (Canada): Blue Jays have implemented a weighted ball program, what is your opinion of it? You talk about functional strength, does this address it? Thanks

Doug Thorburn: I am a huge fan of the weighted ball program, which has been spearheaded in the Toronto organization by Jamie Evans, who is an NPA guy (National Pitching Association, my former workplace). We actually developed the weighted ball program at the NPA with Tom House, and the key is to keep the differential weights within a narrow range - under-weighted baseballs at 4oz and over-weighted at 6 oz. There is also a conditioning and training program that goes hand-in-hand with the weighted ball program to safely build velocity.

Sara (Tacoma): Two questions actually... 1) Does Matt Harvey's profile (arsenal and mechanical profile) suggest that following a [successful] TJS surgery, he can repeat or put up a comparable line in a future season? 2) Harvey's teammate Zack Wheeler has oft been compared to Harvey (sometimes favorably!). I've noticed that his strengths seem to be a better arsenal than Harvey, but less command/control than Harvey. Is this something you see him improving, or is Harvey just that much better that Wheeler will never match his "older brother?"

Doug Thorburn: 1) Asking anyone to put up a line like Harvey's 2013 is a tall order, but he has all of the mechanical and stuff baselines to rediscover the magic if he comes back to 100% following TJS. He kept getting better throughout his development, which bodes extremely well for his ability to come back and make any necessary adjustments. 2) Wheeler has a bright future, but he is not in Harvey's class IMO. I prefer Harvey's stuff as well as his mechanics, and a lack of repetition is what often separates the what from the chaff in the bigs.

On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "Bring It On Home"

Francois (Toronto): In a dynasty draft, trying to decide who to take with my pick. Provided both are still there, how would you compare/contrast Archie Bradley and Jonathan Gray? Ceilings, mechanics, floor, arsenal, risk, etc? Who would you want, why?

Doug Thorburn: Bradley and Gray make for a very interesting comparison. They both have plus-plus fastballs and excellent breaking pitches, while the change-up is still a work in progress for both pitchers. They both carry the rare combination of great posture paired with a high arm slot due to naturally-elevated levels of shoulder abduction, traits that make coaches and scouts happy. Bradley has had some issues with controlling the strike zone, but such is to be expected from high school arms. Gray might be behind on the minor league ladder yet ahead on the development curve due to his college pedigree and having been recently drafted. This is a really tough call, and they might reach the majors around the same time. Give me Bradley for now, since he is more of a known commodity at the pro level, but I could change my mind within the next 6 months.

Greg (Houston): Just how nasty is Danny Salazar's stuff? His fastball scares me if I'm a hitter.

Doug Thorburn: Love his fastball-splitter combination, as that particular duo of pitches can be nearly impossible for a batter to distinguish. His slider was coming along last season, and if that pitch becomes a legit weapon then Salazar could frighten children, fans, and major-league hitters.

MickeyRivers (NY): What's your best guess for Hyun-Jin Ryu in 2014? Better, worse, or about the same?

Doug Thorburn: The big question is whether the league can adjust to him. Ryu pitched somewhat backwards last season, leaning on his change-up in hitter's counts in order to take advantage of over-zealous bats. It was extremely effective and made him a weapon against right-handed bats - he had a reverse platoon split - and a lefty who can't be platooned against can be devastating.

On the jukebox: The Doors, "The Crystal Ship"

Spirou (Montreal): Kung Fu Panda on a training program .Appears to have lost some weight already.Contract year.Is a comeback for real this time around ?

Doug Thorburn: Your guess is as good as mine. Being in shape in December is not the same as being in shape in July, and there is a sizeable ripple effect on his defense at 3B. He will have plenty of incentive to stay in top form, no doubt.

Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Doug, After returning from the DL Price seemed to become less of a power pitcher and more efficient with his pitches. Was he being a bit more careful coming off injury or do you think this signals a permanent transition in pitching style? Where would you rank him among ML starters for 2014?

Doug Thorburn: One of Price's greatest attributes is his ability to hone his game and make adjustments. Leading up to 2013, he had improved his stuff and mechanics in every season, which is incredible given that most pitchers will pinball from season to season. I think that he was making adjustments last season to compensate for his shoulder injury, and doing so may have spared him from deeper risk from the injury cascade effect. He will be among my top starters in the rankings for 2014.

On the jukebox: Sepultura, "Ratamahatta"

Ryan (Newport Beach): Do you and Paul plan on making any off-season TINSTAAPP's? Or does the format pretty much rule out that possibility until real baseball resumes?

Doug Thorburn: Lots of TINSTAAPP questions, which brings a smile to my face. Paul and I will be recording new episodes for TINSTAAPP after the new year, with a revised format to replace the Game of the Week. The episodes will be a bit shorter than the in-season craziness of 3 hours, but it will retain the long-form style. I have been itching to get back into the podcast groove, but the craziness of the off-season (BP annual, SP Guide) has filled both of our plates this holiday season.

Ken Rosenthal (Down Here!): Question about short starters. Marcus Stroman, Carlos Martinez, and Yordano Ventura are all vertically challenged... not that that's a bad thing. Bur with height comes the ability to create plane with your pitches, These guys will have to work low in the zone to achieve that. Are you a believer in them as starters, or do you feel they are destined for the bullpen? Also, it could be a lazy comp, but aforementioned short guys who throw *really* hard deserve at least a cursory Kimbrel comp, no?

Doug Thorburn: In general, I think that shorter pitchers too often get pigeon-holed into relief roles, and I further thing that downhill plane is largely over-rated.

Plane matters, but it is far more important to impact the angle of the pitch at the point of contact - on other words, stuff! The impact of initial trajectory is minimal - in fact, if you raise a pitcher's release point by a full foot of height, you only increase the angle of declination by ONE degree. In a vacuum, this results in 0.5% more groundballs. I would much rather that a pitcher has an effective sinker than a tall release point. Great point on the low-in-the-zone, Ken, but this is true of all pitchers - it is much easier to coax grounders with a pitch at the knees than one at the letters, regardless of plane.

I think that the bigger issue for shorter pitchers is one of release-point extension, with shorter arms and legs that limit release distance. Almost all of the successful starters who were of shorter stature also had excellent momentum to help overcome for the height deficiencies - including Lincecum, Oswalt, and Stroman!

On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "Two Minutes to Midnight"

TheKernel (Pasadena): Carlos Martinez and Yordano Ventura. Can you give us your thoughts on their chances of stardom, flameout, starter/pen chances and overall how you think their careers will turn out? Do they have enough plus pitches to make it as a starter? Martinez looked really good in the playoffs. I haven't seen much of Yordano. Thanks for your insights.

Doug Thorburn: These guys are popular topics today, and I'm not done ranting on short pitchers, so here goes.

I think that the durability concerns of short pitchers are way overblown, but that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the majors. If a short pitcher struggles in his initial exposure to the rotation, then he is generally jettisoned to the bullpen. But a pitcher with a prototypical build will be given several chances to fail before a team gives up and places the reliever tag on them. Shorter pitchers essentially have to have immediate success in order to stick, and since most pitchers need to learn how to pitch at the highest level, only the most advanced pitchers of smaller stature will survive. What is often overlooked, from a physical standpoint, is that bigger pitchers often have a tougher hill to climb in terms of conditioning to achieve the functional strength and flexibility to find consistency with their mechanics.

Of these two guys, I would leave them both in the rotation for awhile and go 'pen as a last resort. They both have the arsenals to succeed in the rotation, with impressive secondaries in addition to the electric heat.

On the jukebox: Audioslave, "Like a Stone"

Ryan (Louisville): Tell us everything you can about Robert Stephenson.

Doug Thorburn: How about 2000 words? I wrote about Stephenson in-depth here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22290

Ben (Baltimore): First three things that come to mind about Kevin Gausman?

Doug Thorburn: 1) Change-up is unfair.
2) Elite velocity, but batters can square
3) Excellent ability to make mechanical adjustments

AMetsGuy (NYC): I was wondering if you could compare Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard. How will the differences in their deliveries affect their futures?

Doug Thorburn: Wheeler has momentum but can lack balance, a combo that disrupts repetition. Syndergaard has balance but lacks momentum, a combo that is good for repetition but may limit his ceiling. Harvey has it all.

Wheeler's issue's are more likely to be fixed over time due to improvements in functional strength. Syndergaard's issues are an easier fix, but are less likely to be addressed. So I think that Synder has the higher floor but WHeeler the higher ceiling. A healthy Harvey is a true ace.

On the jukebox: Urge Overkill, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon"

Adam Hennedy (Oakland): How can you tell if a pitcher is flying open? Like from watching on TV ... what do you look for? Location or body or?

Doug Thorburn: It's all about the upper-body/trunk when watching on TV, and isolating the moment when the pitcher begins to fire into rotation of the shoulder-axis. A pitcher who fires too early - either before foot strike or just after - will be "flying open." The "flying open" description is based on the batter/catcher POV, as it appears that the front/lead shoulder is opening up prematurely from that angle.

Shawn (Office): What exactly is the "slide-step" when pitching from the stretch?

Doug Thorburn: There are variations of the slide step, but essentially it is a drastically lowered leg-lift when pitching from the stretch. Rather than lifting the knee high, anywhere from the waist to the letters, a pitcher with a slide step will keep the knee below the waist and get into foot strike more quickly in order to rush the delivery with runners on base. I personally abhor the slide step - like nature abhors a vacuum - because it simultaneously shrinks a pitcher's release distance and throws a fat wrench into repetition of timing. The most common result is a pitcher who has a late arm, which causes him to elevate pitches - and the last thing that you want with men on base is an elevated pitch that can be more easily jacked out of the yard.

On the jukebox: Dredg, "Intermission"

tbwhite (San Diego): Can Jeremy Hellickson be fixed ? Can Henderson Alvarez keep it going ?

Doug Thorburn: Helix can certainly be fixed, and it starts by killing the slide step. He used to throw in the slide step every once in awhile to keep runners honest, but last season he invoked the slide step every friggin' pitch with a runner on base.

An interesting element for Alvarez was that he scrapped the change-up last season, a pitch that had been roped in previous years. His excellent command of raw 93-95 mph velocity with good sink is the main ingredient to his success, with a solid slider that gives hitters another look.It will be interesting to see what he brings to the table in 2014.

Jon KK (Elkhart, IN): Trevor Bauer -- Progress, hopelessness, projection, shrug?

Doug Thorburn: Definitely not hopeless - he has too much raw talent and #want to give up on him. I think the key is that he gets on the same page with a mechanically-oriented pitching coach whom Bauer trusts and respects, so that they can find a healthy balance between his attempts at mechanical exploitation and the need for consistency and mechanical repetition.

Spirou (Montreal): Have the Cards really soured on Shelby Miller or is the story made up ? What's the next step for him ?

Doug Thorburn: I think that a lot is being made of his tiring down the stretch, and the magnifying glass of the postseason has blown the story to unreasonable proportions. He should be a key cog in the rotation in 2014, and only the Cards insane pitching depth would generate any questions to the contrary. He does need to develop a third pitch to attack lefties, as his change-up is still in the early stages and he was basically a two-pitch guy last year with the fastball and curve.

On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "Hey You"

Matt Trueblood (The Frozen North): Hi Doug, It may be an empty or incorrect observation, but I feel like more pitching prospects of late are featuring curveballs, and fewer featuring sliders, than, say five or 10 years ago. Do you share that sense, and what's your feeling on curves vs. sliders, generally, when it comes to prospects? It seems like good sliders translate more reliably to the big leagues, but again, I could be talking out of turn.

Doug Thorburn: Good question, Matt. The funny thing is that the general scouting opinion on curves vs sliders seems to change in a cyclical nature every five years or so.

My personal feeling is that they are all breaking balls, and semantics can unjustly taint one's opinion of a pitcher's arsenal. One pitcher's slider is another's curve in terms of velocity, trajectory, and break - only slow curves and hard sliders (ie borderline cutters) really fall into a certain category. For a pitcher who has two legitimate breakers, then I go with the slower one as the curve (ie more supination).

At the NPA, we would tell a pitcher to name his breaking ball based on which pitch was more desired at the time. For awhile, everyone wanted curves, so we would tell pitchers with harder breaking pitches that to call it a "power curve." When sliders were in vogue, we would tell curveball guys to name it a "slurve" or a "sweeping slider." Frankly, he can call it the Defector if he wants to, so long as it generates outs.

Aidan (SoCal): Will Stephen Strasburg ever turn out to be the world beater everyone thought he would be, or do his injuries/mechanics limit him to just being very good? Have we already seen his peak?

Doug Thorburn: I actually think that Stras' mechanics are awesome, and only when he becomes fatigued does it become an issue - basically his function is top notch, but he has some weak links in the kinetic chain when fatigue compromises the system. I also think that "world beater" is subjective - the guy had a ridiculous K rate above 30% in 2012, and though it slipped to 26% last season, it was by design. The Nats vastly prefer pitch-count efficiency over excessive strikeout totals - just ask Jordan Zimmermann - and in the case of Stras it is particularly critical given the issue of fatigue with respect to his mechanical risk factors. I'll take the 3 ERA and K-per-inning every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and the Nats don't really care if my fantasy team is a little disappointed. I am not ready to say that we have seen his peak, but if we have, then it is more a reflection of just how crazy-good he was pre-surgery than any indictment of his current skills.

On the jukebox: Guns N' Roses, "Mr. Brownstone"

marjinwalker (nether regions of time ): Hi Doug. When you look at pitching mechanics, does the fact that a very young pitcher who is expected to mature physically (get taller, gain wait, build muscle mass, etc) mitigate your evaluation a bit? Call it "the awkward teens" syndrome-- kinds are just figuring our how to orient these changes to the real world around them.... Love the jukebox selection, btw!

Doug Thorburn: A pitcher's age and potential growth patterns are certainly part of the evaluation, but they play no part in the grades. The grades reflect their current mechanical traits relative to the 20-80 scale, and I make sure to note when there is room for physical improvement. For example, young pitchers typically lack functional strength and therefore balance and repetition.

allangustafson (Fun Diego): As part of my off season studying, I was hoping you could narrow my field of pitchers to look at. After the top 36 pitchers, what pitchers have mph difference greater than ten between their fastball and changeup pitch? Breaking pitches, I want to include the other off speed pitches in a later question after I have done some studying on my own. Thanks for clarity as always Doug. I love your work.

Doug Thorburn: Players that come to mind: Jeremy Hellickson, Randall Delgado, Jarrod Parker, Scott Kazmir

higgsboson (guelph): Can Liriano come close to the numbers he put up last year, or is it sell high time?

Doug Thorburn: Sell high if you still can. His success last season was largely due to burying his slider under the zone, so it's not like he suddenly was hitting precise targets. His repetition is still sketch, and he moves on the rubber based on the identity of the hitter, further dampening his consistency. I would not pay anything close to 2013 value for his 2014 services.

On the jukebox: Tool, "Parabola"

Greyson (Richmond): Do you think Justin Verlander's mechanics will allow him to hold up for the majority of his contract, and do you think he will figure out how to pitch like his former self at a diminished velocity?

Doug Thorburn: I think that Verlander's mechanics are more than fine, and the only wrinkle is a stiff landing leg. He did lose his delivery for a stretch last season, in which it looked almost as if an invisible wall was pushing him off his line of kinetic energy, causing him to veer to the left (glove-side) of his ideal delivery. He fixed the issue by September, and his velocity was vintage Verlander in September-October ... considering that most pitchers lose velo near the end of the year, his high-octane performance late in the season indicates that he is just fine in terms of velo.

JJ (MPLS): Do you see Bartolo Colon coming anywhere near his #'s from last year in the Big Apple?

Doug Thorburn: It feels almost impossible for Bartolo to repeat, but I said the same thing at this time last year. Much has been made of his 85% fastball frequency, but he throws multiple variations (4- and 2-seam) with precision, which helps to thwart the velocity-based predictability. Colon has an immensely wide range of potential outcomes in the Big Apple, and no, that's not a fat joke.

dianagram (VORGville): Hi Doug ... How soon before we see protective headgear for pitchers allowed in the Minors/Majors?

Doug Thorburn: Great question, Diana. MLB tends to be reactive rather than proactive, so unfortunately, it will probably take a sudden rash of serious batted-ball injuries for something like that to take place. It would also require a specific type of headgear, one that did not interfere with any aspect of what a pitcher does on the mound. It could also be problematic that a pitcher's face is just as vulnerable as his dome - we aren't likely to see a full-face helmet-mask anytime soon.

Mr. Beef (Chicago): Thanks for the chat, Doug. I find your pitching insights very interesting. I feel a little guilty that all I can do is ask selfish fantasy questions, but which do you see reaching their potential: Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, or perhaps Julio Urias?

Doug Thorburn: No guilt necessary, Mr. Beef - I'm a huge fan of the fantasy game.

Your question is a good one, as these are three VERY different pitchers. Appel is most likely to reach his potential, because he is almost there already. He has a very high floor, but I feel that his ceiling is limited (he lives in a small room). I think that Gray has the most upside of the group, and he doesn't have too big of a hill to climb in order to get there. Urias might have the greatest potential in theory, given his age and right-now stuff (and left-handedness), but he also has the longest distance to go before reaching ceiling, and I think that he will need some refinement of his breaking ball in order to approach Gray's ultimate potential. But Urias' change-up is sick.

Oh, and how many times in one chat can I make a reference to climbing mountains and hills in order to reach a ceiling? I need to come up with some new phrases, or perhaps find an indoor mountain to climb.

On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Know Your Enemy"

AAAA Pitcher (Timbuktu): So, your saying that by calling my curve Otis I have created a branding problem for myself ? If I rename it my death curve, I'll be in the show in no time ?

Doug Thorburn: Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. Except for the "show in no time" part - your curve could be called the obliterator, but if you can't crack 90-mph on the gun, then nobody will care.

Nate Eovaldi (Miami): Hi Doug, Do you envision me being a solid #2 for the Marlins in 2014? What sort of projections do you predict? Thanks

Doug Thorburn: You have an electric profile, from the ability to pump high-90s gas to the wipeout "slider," and a rare combination of plus momentum and plus posture. I could see a near-repeat of last season's 3.39 ERA with better peripherals, including a healthy bump to the K rate. One wonders if your low arm slot will end up giving an advantage to lefty bats, but it was not a problem last season.

Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): Given how you always share your music selections with us, I'm curious as if you have any favourite albums or tracks from this past year?

Doug Thorburn: I wish I had some good recommendations, but I'm kind of an old fogey when it comes to music. I am slow to come around to new music, and I tend to listen to the same old stuff for years. Basically when I find something that I like, I stick to it. I am also a fan of music that is fast and heavy, which is tougher to find these days.

On the jukebox: Motorhead, "Damage Case"

dianagram (VORGville): Do you think we'll see Trevor Rosenthal starting for the Cards by 2015, or is he going to turn into another Papelbon "they needed a closer" story?

Doug Thorburn: I would love to see Rosenthal in the rotation, but teams are so reluctant to move a guy who has had that level of success that I fear that he may be stuck in the role. His best shot to start might actually be to get lit out of the pen for a couple of months, but he's in the wrong organization to wait for an opening in the rotation. There is a glimmer of hope in the form of Adam Wainwright, who closed for the Cards for a short stint in 2006, but he was quickly moved to the rotation. In that sense, 2014 could be a do or die season for Rosenthal's future role, as another successful season of relief might get him stuck in the 'pen.

On the jukebox: Drist, "The Scalpel"

Mlbeastmode (St. Louis): Martin Perez never had the stats in the minor leagues to show he was ever going to make it in the majors, but last season he performed well in his first year proving all the "makeup" scouts raved about. Can he continue to get better, is this what we can expect from him, or was last year a fluke?

Doug Thorburn: Never underestimate a young pitcher's ability to improve, but never bank on it either. I was skeptical of Perez heading into last season, but he made the necessary adjustments to his delivery that allowed his stuff to also take a step forward in terms of effectiveness. The stats never really matched the raw, but he had mechanical barriers to his success that Perez overcame last season. So I wouldn't call last year a fluke, and he may just keep getting better. On the other hand, pitchers go through a natural deterioration of velocity over time, and he will need to keep making adjustments in order to find sustained success.

Jason Cashflow (H-Town): I recently read something about command v. control. The author said he is not sure about a pitcher having good control but bad command and that this particular diagnosis may be overused. Do you believe in good control/bad command?

Doug Thorburn: It absolutely exists, but is also overused as a blanket explanation. Defining control as the ability to throw strikes and command as the ability to hit targets, there are many pitchers who can come close to repeating their timing on most pitches (which allows them to find the zone more often), but these players often struggle to find their ideal release point (and thus hit precise locations). This is actually a huge issue, as there is a big difference between good strikes and bad strikes, and a pitcher with strong command will allow his catcher to setup in a wider variety of locations in order to better exploit pitch sequencing patterns.

The best way to see this is to focus on just the catcher's glove during a game, and see how far he has to move in order to make the catch. You will be shocked at how many hard-hit balls are the result of pitches that found the strike zone yet badly missed their intended locations, and how many called strikes result from great execution of command. Watch the catcher's glove for a bunch of games and the distinction between command and control will become clear.

On the jukebox: Bad Religion, "Punk Rock Song"

Alex (Anaheim): Will Sabathia bounce back in 2014?

Doug Thorburn: He certainly has the ability to bounce back, even if his velocity does not come back all the way. The slider is the key to his success, but he will need to execute fastball command in order to get himself into the right counts in order to unleash the slider. I believe in CC's ability to make adjustments and regain much of his previous value.

Guancous (Silver Spring): Is Travis Wood's 2013 success sustainable? Who are the 2014 breakout candidates?

Doug Thorburn: I think that Wood is in for a steep fall in 2014.

Lots of questions about 2014 breakout candidates, and to be perfectly honest, I would have to do some significant research to come up with a list that I liked. But that sounds like an awesome article idea for a future Raising Aces, so I might have some much better answers in the near future.

In the meantime, check out Paul Sporer's list of fantasy sleeper pitchers for 2014, posted today at BP: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22450

Mario66 (Pittsburgh): You often hear of pitchers needing a third pitch to stick in the rotation (or to become a star, etc.), yet there are a few exceptions that prove this rule (Unit comes to mind). Can you think of any young pitchers (Wacha?) who will be able to survive and thrive on two pitchers?

Doug Thorburn: It's very tough, unless the second pitch is effective against batters on both sides. This is the reason for the third-pitch phenomenon, as typically a Fastball/breaking ball combo works for like-sided hitters, but something off-speed (ideally with arm-side run) is more effective against platoon bats.

I would recommend that every young pitcher work to develop three usable pitches in his arsenal, not just for the platoon phenomenon, but also to take advantage of effective velocity. There are many more sequencing options when a pitcher has three different weapons at his disposal, especially if they have solid velocity differentials. In Wacha's case, he began mixing in more breaking balls in the postseason, and that will most certainly be a part of his development plan for 2014.

On the jukebox: Jimi Hendrix, "Pali Gap"

Drew Smyly (Detroit): Hey Doug, do you think I have the stuff to stick in the Tigers rotation long term or is my future a shutdown reliever in the back end of the bullpen?

Doug Thorburn: You definitely have the stuff, though I am not sure that your delivery is cracked up to hold over 200 innings, and your shallow release point could get exposed multiple times through the order. You might also want to re-name your pitches to gain more respect as a starter - your cutter is 6 mph slower than the fastball and could be renamed a slider (esp given the movement), and your "slider" has curveball velocity at less than 80mph. FB-CUT-SL sounds like a power reliever, but FB-SL-CB is the Kershaw-approved plan for southpaw success!

Doug Thorburn: Thanks for the great questions, everyone - you guys brought it today! I will be stopping by hot stove again soon for some more chatter, and TINSTAAPP will re-enter the air-waves in early 2014. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays and satiate your baseball cravings by watching some old games on MLB.tv.


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