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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday October 23, 2014 2:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

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Doug Thorburn can answer any questions about baseball, but keep in mind that when he answers questions about pitching mechanics he is miming them the mechanics as he types.

Doug Thorburn: Apologies if I'm out of breath - I was trapped in an invisible box, miming spine-tilt, and got out just in time to kick off this chat. Let's do this.

jsdspud (My Desk): Doug thanks for the chat. What are your thoughts on two of the Pirates best pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham?

Doug Thorburn: Glasnow has great momentum and a very deep release point that allows his stuff to play up. UIt can be difficult for young players to corral such impressive energy, so it could take a bit longer for him to reach ceiling, but he should be very deceptive along the way. I haven't watched as much of Kingham yet, but from what I have seen he has good stability and a strong baseline of mechanics, though his repetition still needs work.

On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "Can I Play with Madness"

marty (WA): Thoughts on Freddie Freeman 2015+ ? True regression or primed for a Rizzo-esque rebound?

Doug Thorburn: Freeman just turned 25 years old and was sniffing close to a .500 SLG in mid-August before a late-season swoon brought him down below last season's ratios, though the OBP was still a major asset at .386 for the year. The Rizzo comp is fine, though Freeman probably has the higher floor with a slightly less-elevated ceiling. I expect a step forward for Freeman next season, finishing closer to 2013 numbers in the power department while sustaining a .290-ish average.

Jeff (Lawrence): How worried should I be about Yordano Ventura's workload? I am all for chasing the ring, but the lack of Danny Duffy sightings makes me concerned about their rotation next year.

Doug Thorburn: There is some concern, especially for a pitcher who relies so much on power at the expense of stability in his delivery. That said, it is critical to look at each pitcher on a case-by-case basis, and the Royals have the most knowledge of these pitchers' risk profiles. I think that a lot of pitchers break down for a lot of reasons, and though workload is certainly a factor to consider, I believe that the ends justify the means in this scenario.

Aaron (MD): What does Chris Tillman's season look like next year? Asking because it seems like he overperformed his PECOTA projections this year

Doug Thorburn: The lazy answer is that he'll give half of it back, regress some to the mean, but raise his baseline for expected performance, right? Well, I see an upward trajectory for a pitcher going into his age-27 season, who has consecutive seasons of 200-IP under his belt. He could continue his upward trajectory, though a pitcher who has outplayed his FIP for 3 consecutive seasons will have his share of doubters. The fastball is his main weapon, and Tillman has lost about 1.5 mph over the past couple of seasons while upping his usage of the pitch - with progressively better results - a combination that will further confuse prognosticators. I think that it has more to do with his refinement of pitch command and movement, and if that trend continues, then he will outplay his FIP once again in 2015.

On the jukebox: Jimi Hendrix, "Stone Free"

Jarred (Queens): Do you ever see Zack Wheeler finally getting his timing right and achieving his cathedral ceiling? Or will he settle in as what he is now as a mid rotation guy.

Doug Thorburn: I'm not so sure that his ceiling is a cathedral, but timing can click (or unravel) at any time, and he is young enough that the hourglass is still above the point of optimism. I really like the delivery and he is refining his stuff to play at the highest level, and I think that he is ultimately a no. 2 starter who can tease ace-like qualities when everything is clicking.

Scott (AZ): Starting to hear some buzz on Ozhaino Albies, ss, ATL, what can you tell me about him and where might he rank among ss prospects?

Doug Thorburn: I am a bit behind the ball on position player prospects, so I will go ahead and defer to the awesome BP Prospect crew for this one.

Scott (AZ): Better ss prospect, Daniel Robertson or Orlando Arcia?

Doug Thorburn: Ditto

Ryan C (Whitewater, WI): What do you think is the biggest misconception about pitching mechanics, or the thing most often improperly taught by amateur coaches?

Doug Thorburn: This is a great question, and I'm torn between "twister" curves, the slide step, "over the top," and "don't rush." I would say that the slide step is most pervasive and has done the most to retard the development of young pitchers due to the timing implications, while twister curves have caused the most physical damage. Given those evils, I'll say the twister curve - most curveballs (esp in the majors) are thrown with a supinated forearm, not a late snap/twist of the wrist, and young playersi n particular need to avoid the twisted curve like the plague.

twags012 (Chicago): THoughts on Arrieta for next year?

Doug Thorburn: The stuff was already there, and this season he really ironed out the lift-and-stride portions of the delivery to find better consistency as well as more power from his lower half. His ability to make adjustments and maintain those changes throughout the season are both positive indicators for his ability to carry the improvements over into next season.

DetroitDale (Tallahassee (eternal spring)): Steven Moya.... next JD Martinez or the next Brennan Boesch?

Doug Thorburn: One should never expect a career path like that of JD Martinez, who reminds us that there is considerable development and evolution that is required to succeed at the highest level, and that such development can happen a bit later in a player's career. Moya completely broke out in 2014, though I would need to ask the Prospect crew for more info on how his skills at the plate will translate to the highest level, it is a very good sign when a player's performance improves as he climbs the minor-league ladder.

On the jukebox: Neil Young, "Cowgirl in the Sand"

Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Doug, It sounds like Tanaka is avoiding TJ surgery for now. Wainwright avoided it for a while and Santana is still not needing it. Is there something about Wainwright's and Santana's mechanics that helped them further injure their elbows and what might we expect from Tanaka going forward?

Doug Thorburn: It really depends on the size of the tear, as UCL injuries are not created equal, and I would need more info about the specifics of Wainwright and Santana's injuries to answer this question appropriately.

One can certainly understand a pitcher's desire to avoid the operating table, though suppose that you had one ridiculous skill that was better than 99.99% of human beings (call it a super power), and you were in danger of losing that power; you could continue using it at the risk of losing it or you could undergo surgery, be without that power for a year while working your ass off to get it back, and do this with the knowledge that there's a chance it will never come back to what it used to be.

Given that the alternatives are likely "TJ now or TJ later," I get why these guys often turn down the scalpel despite seemingly long odds. I think that he will be fine as long as he is healthy enough to stay on the mound at near-full effectiveness.

ORWahoo (Tigard): Jose Berrios, Tyler Glasnow, Robert Stephenson: three pitchers with different levels of success this year (stat-wise). After what you saw this year, who has the highest/lowest ceiling? Highest/lowest risk of reaching their ceiling?

Doug Thorburn: I might change my answer in another month or so, after having more opportunity to dive into each player's minor-league progression and physical development, but off-cuff I would say: Stephenson has the highest floor, Berrios has the highest ceiling, and Glasnow is the guy who will continue to out-produce expectations

Alex (Anaheim): Can Pineda put together a full healthy season in 2015?

Doug Thorburn: I suppose that he can, but the overwhelming odds have to be against him, right? I'll put the over/under at 110 IP.

jwise224 (DTLA): Hey Doug, can you explain why Archie Bradley is having command issues? Is it mechanical or a lack of feel? Does it come around or, dare I say, does he end up in relief?

Doug Thorburn: Bradley has always struggled to repeat his delivery, which has the undesirable ripple effect of poor command. The expectation was that the FB command would come around along with improvements to his mechanical stability and physical strength, but so far that has not been the case. It certainly extends his timetable, and a lack of command will eventually punch his ticket to the bullpen, but Bradley is still young and has time on his side.

On the jukebox: Nirvana, "Polly"

Scott (Az): Any concerns with Adam Wainwright's elbow?

Doug Thorburn: Not beyond the usual concerns for a guy with a TJ history and a lot of innings under his belt. I talked about this with Sam and Ben on Ep #555 of Effectively Wild - I would need to see more evidence to suggest that there was an underlying injury to explain his hiccups in the postseason.

Scott (AZ): Ok I will start throwing so pitchers at you then. Besides Carlos Rodon, which pithers do you like best coming out of the 2014 draft?

Doug Thorburn: I really like Tyler Kolek, who has awesome power and very strong stability. Touki Toussaint also has a good balance of power/stability in his delivery, though he lacks the power ceiling of Kolek in his delivery, but Toussaint has a very efficient path of kinetic energy. Brandon Finnegan is another high-power guy, and I always appreciate a young pitcher with strong momentum, while holding out hope that his organization let's him keep it.

On the jukebox: Guns n' Roses, "Civil War"

ted (Chicago): I keep hearing Julio Urias doesn't have much projection left in him. Recognizing he hasn't faced serious bats yet, would you waste more than a half season of bullets in AA if you were Friedman? What's left to work on?

Doug Thorburn: It has to do with the fact that Urias is already strong in areas where most young pitchers have holes - such as his mechanical repetition, change-up maturity, and ability to hold runners. But the kid is still growing, still adding velocity, and still refining his craft. It's all relative, but I think that Urias needs to learn how his repertoire evolves against more advanced hitters while at the same time honing the physical aspects of his development.

@outfieldgrass24 (DTLA): Hey Doug, I appreciate the chat and the work you've done at the site. Phenomenal stuff, man! My question is twofold: how can Trevor Cahill find some consistency given the issues he's had with his release point and, on a larger level, why aren't the Diamondbacks able to fix broken pitchers? I'll take whatever insight you've got! Thanks!

Doug Thorburn: Cahill has had some issues with balance after foot strike, with an instability that hampers his release point, including a near-hop near foot strike that throws a wrinkle into the delivery. The biggest issue is in repeating his pace of momentum during the stride phase, and this has been a problem for a couple of seasons.

As far as the D'backs ability to "fix pitchers," there is plenty going on behind the scenes that we are not privy to, and I think that their struggles with pitchers has been a bit overblown. That said, it is critical for an org to be able to identify those pitchers who will work in their system, and the D'Backs appear to have had a bit of a mismatch in that department over the past few seasons.

mike (NJ): Thoughts on Jacob deGrom? Does he have the mechanical baselines to build on his performance? It seems like the heavy scap load and long arm action might make him a bit of an injury risk though.

Doug Thorburn: deGrom has solid mechanical baselines, though nothing that screams out as a huge point in his favor. He has shown improvement in his stability over the past season, which speaks well to his ability to adapt. A pronounced scap load can potentially be an issue - it all depends on how well he is conditioning those back-side shoulder muscles, and whether the scap load results in elbow drag. In deGrom's case, the long arm action combines with the scap load to dance with the invisible wall of late rotation, which can result in elbow drag, so there is some heightened concern. I think that we should temper expectations a bit (Mets pitching prospects all seem to receive the Harvey treatment), but I like his odds of being a solid #3 for the Mets in 2015.

On the jukebox: Tool, "Parabola"

golfer Nacho Elvira (19th hole): Thanks for chatting, Doug. I've been told by someone I trust that teen MWL dazzler Rob Kaminsky is very "late" with his arm action and will suffer the consequences soon. So (1) do you see the same problem; and (2) if the problem exist, is it easy, difficult, or impossible to alter? Thanks again!

Doug Thorburn: From what I have seen, his arm is a bit on the "late" side but not egregiously so. More concerning to me is the very late rotation of the hips, limiting his hip-shoulder separation as he uses a "hip-whip" strategy for torque, an inefficient technique that can introduce obstacles to repetition. This can be altered, but doing so depends on 1) the organization's outlook on mechanics, and 2) the player's ability to adapt.

jason (NY): A lot of Noah Syndergaard's troubles were bad luck this year, but do you think that he would be better served picking up the pace and getting a deeper release point? Or do you think the risk of a command tradeoff is not worth it given his natural size and stuff lessening the need for deception.

Doug Thorburn: I would like to see Syndergaard quicken his pace, both to extend his release point and to find a timing pattern that is more similar between windup and stretch. The command trade-off should be a positive one in the long-term, as most pitchers struggle to repeat a slow delivery and have to master a very different timing pattern from the stretch, but it can take time to master a new pace of momentum. Every pitcher is different - some pick it up in a day, others spend years trying to find a consistent pace to the plate.

On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Bury the Hatchet"

Ryan (#legkick): to pliny or not to pliny that is the question

Doug Thorburn: I don't always drink Pliny, but when I do, I prefer dos Pliny's

Kyle (NJ): Have you thought of doing a writeup on the rapidly ascending Steven Matz? To my untrained eye, it seems like he combines good posture with good momentum in his delivery to go along with his plus stuff and improving command.

Doug Thorburn: Good assessment. His balance has some flaws, as he kinda sits into max leg lift with a lean toward 3B and often finishes out in front, but the lefty does get it going with the 2nd gear of momentum and he finishes with very strong posture. He soundsl ike a good candidate for the off-season Bush League series.

Michael (CT): Any thoughts on Steven Matz?

Doug Thorburn: See above

mark (NY): Who would you take: Syndergaard or Glasnow?

Doug Thorburn: Despite being a mechanics guy, I'm a sucker for stuff, and the nod in this case goes to Syndergaard.

Pelecos (Granville): Out of the copious amounts of #4 and #5 pitchers the Cubs have, who do you expect to start next year? (Felix Doubront, Kyle Hendricks, Wada if he resigns, Jacob Turner, Edwin Jackson, Dallas Beeler, Dan Strailey, Travis Wood)

Doug Thorburn: It's a very interesting conundrum for the Cubs, and the buzz indicates that they will look to sign a front-line SP over the winter. I'm an Edwin apologist, but I think that he has run out of excuses. I think that T.Wood and K. Hendricks will both be a part of the rotation, and Doubront will either pitch his way to the bullpen or earn a spot in the rotation. I would give Beeler more time on the farm, and Turner could be a reliever in the end. Straily is the wild card.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "The Melting Point of Wax"

Shawnykid23 (CT): Who are a few pitchers that you saw take a significant step forward/backward with their mechanics in 2014?

Doug Thorburn: Steps forward: Trevor Bauer with his balance and simplified delivery, Yordano Ventura with his stability, Jake Arrieta with his momentum and transition through lift-and-stride, and Carlos Carrasco with his ditching of the windup and execution from the stretch (esp repetition).

Steps back: Danny Salazar in nearly all phases but especially stability, Justin Masterson with his vertical

The number of current and former Indians on this list is purely indidental

Jeffrey (Covington): What is the impact of Bailey's tendon tear/surgery on his career? How quickly (if at all) could he return to top form?

Doug Thorburn: Paging Will Carroll ...

Flexor tendon injuries are often precursors to TJS, and there are similar risks associated with Bailey's return. He had been on an upward trajectory of stuff, mechanics, and performance entering this year, and his ability to continually make improvements bode well for his prognosis.

On the jukebox: Korn, "Balltongue"

ted (Chicago): Kyle Zimmer has another shoulder soreness issue. Seemingly has the skills but are we at the point where 2016 is a more reasonable timeline to see the bump in Kauffman given the lack of work?

Doug Thorburn: There are so many variables here, from mechanics to conditioning and workloads, but the mounting injuries are certainly a concern that could delay his arrival in KC. He has gone through some major inconsistencies with his momentum, and Zimmer tends to perform much better when he gets a big burst toward the plate, but he will need to find consistency if he is to maximize his performance and minimize his injury risk.

Twags012 (chicago): Any thoughts on Ken Giles and his mechanics?

Doug Thorburn: He is very stable for most of the delivery, with good early balance that stays strong in the lateral plane. He does have some late spine-tilt, but such is to be expected from a pitcher who has the power to pump gas in the triple digits. He has big torque, which again should be expected for such a hard thrower, and most of his hip-shoulder separation comes from the lower half thanks to his delayed trigger after foot strike. Overall it's a very solid delivery that lays the baseline for big velo and solid command.

On the jukebox: Black Sabbath, "Snowblind"

ggwara21 (CT): Doug; the Mets finished 9 games out of the wildcard last year, adding Harvey and other pieces, how many innings would you guess Harvey throws? If in contention all year does he approach 180-200? If they fall out would you expect an early shutdown? what are your expectations for his return if there are no health questions enterting spring training.

Doug Thorburn: The innings-count really depends on Harvey and how he feels as he progresses through his first season back on the bump. Teams have typically kept their pitchers in the 160-IP range in the first year back from TJ and the standings might dictate an adjustment to any plans, but the biggest factor will be Harvey himself - how he performs and how he responds to regular work, whether his mechanics are coming along, his physical condition, etc. Healing is a dynamic process, defying the human desire to put a static number on it.

Kyle (TN): Any pitching prospects you see rising into top 100's/top 50's this time next year?

Doug Thorburn: This is a great question, but one that I am reticent to answer at this point in time. Ask me again in a month, after I've had time to deep-drive the minors, and I will have a much better answer.

Ben (Manhattan): Obviously there are guys who succeed with unconventional mechanics, but is there a definitive source that explains what "good" pitching mechanics might look like, or ought to? Anything similar for swing mechanics? Thanks man

Doug Thorburn: There are many sources that will outline their ideas of "good" and "bad" mechanics, and I have my own thoughts on the subject that are woven into Raising Aces on a regular basis. There is dissension among the ranks of pitching coaches, however, and I tend to be unconventional with some of my views. Overall, my outlook is simple: stay consistent with what promotes athleticism and mechanical efficiency, emphasizing repetition, balance, and power.

For hitting, again there are many schools of thought, but I recommend that you read Ryan Parker and his Going Yard series here at BP.

On the jukebox: Pearl Jam, "Porch"

ted (Chicago): I'm a sucker for the boring good pitchers (e.g. Tanner Roark). Whose bandwagon should I hop on for 2015?

Doug Thorburn: I recommend that you watch some Jose Quintana starts on MLB.tv this winter, while you're keeping warm next to the hot stove. Boring but solid, should be right up your alley.

cracker73 (Florida): What are your thoughts on Collin McHugh? What is his upside?

Doug Thorburn: Big fan, really like the stuff and the delivery, though I think we saw his upside in 2014.

I wrote about McHugh back in June, if you're interested in more details: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=24018

Doug Thorburn: Thanks for the insightful bucket of Q's, everyone. Enjoy the rest of the World Series, and we'll chat again soon. I can also be reached within the Twitterverse, @doug_thorburn Cheers


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