Josh Beckett isn't the ace he was in 2007, but what about him has changed over the past five seasons?
In 2007, Josh Beckett finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. He led the league with 20 wins. He was a 4.8 PWARP player, good for third in MLB. He struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and finished with 194 punchouts.
Fast forward to 2012. Beckett’s win-loss record is 5-9; more importantly, his walk rate is up, and his strikeout rate is down. He’s been worth 0.5 PWARP, good for 174th in baseball.
Now that the hitters have had their time in the sun, it's time for the pitchers to gain the same recognition.
Best Tools: Utility y Projection (Starters) Fastball: Carlos Martinez (Cardinals) TCF: Martinez can dial it up to elite velocity levels, consistently working in the plus-plus range and reaching back for triple digits when necessary. The pitch doesn’t just ride to the plate on the back of velocity; the fastball has late life and explosion, making it even more difficult to square up. With refined command, the offering will stand above the rest, regardless of the role it is deployed in. It’s a monster pitch, an 80-grader in the making.
Curveball: Dellin Betances (Yankees) TCF: There are quite a few high-end curves in the minors, so the talent pool was deep and the decision was difficult. When polled, lefty Matt Moore’s power curve received more votes (it was close), but Betances had more fervent support, with one source calling it “a career-defining pitch.” It’s a long season, and this particular source has been in the sun for too many months without respite, but hyperbole aside, the pitch is legit. Coming from the arm of a man standing close to 6-foot-9, the tumbling knuckle-curve presents depth that hitters struggle to track, as the vertical dive is extreme and sharp. The command isn’t there yet, which limits Betances’ curveball’s overall effectiveness for now, but it’s still a plus pitch when it’s loose, and when Betances owns it, it’s plus-plus offering full of nastiness.
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Tall guys, short guys, and even starters can all profile as potential bullpen pieces.
Relievers are the byproduct of deficient starters, much like second basemen are to shortstops, or left fielders are to center fielders, or reality television “stars” are to the failures of human development. However, inherent deficiency doesn’t preclude potential value, because let’s face it, somebody has to pitch in relief (and be good at it), and somebody has to slide over to second base, and somebody has to get paid for candid promiscuity and binge drinking for our amusement.
When it comes to ranking relievers, I wanted to step away from the establishedconstruct and craft specific tiers to compartmentalize such an abstract pool of talent. After all, every pitcher in the minors could be considered a reliever, depending on the evaluation linked to each player. For this exercise, I spent a week talking to scouts, asking them about current relievers, current starters that could become relievers, and failed position players that have become relievers. If a scout mentioned a potential relief future, I documented it. If a scout failed to mention a reliever, despite his sparkling numbers, or your admiration for his services, I didn’t force the name into the mix. This article would require 10 parts to properly detail every arm that could have an impact in relief. That wasn’t the goal.
How much does a pitcher's secondary arsenal, mound presence, and poise play into a scout's evaluation?
In part one, I blathered on about fastball evaluation and the three main components of the overall pitcher grade: command, velocity, and movement. About 2,000 words later (200 to set the mood, 200 to make the point, and 1,600 to expose my weaknesses as a writer), I hope that the reader formed a closer bond with my process, though it sometimes seemed like I cared more about the beef industry than scouting. I’m not going to apologize for that. I care about beef. I’m from Texas. I also ride a horse to work and wear a duster. Moving on.
It’s time to shift our attention to what I look for when evaluating a pitcher’s secondary arsenal [read: complementary pitches, e.g., slider, curveball, changeup, etc.], mound presence/poise, and pitchability. While a good fastball can carry the majority of the load and is therefore set up to receive most of the accolades, the secondary and tertiary components of the arsenal will ultimately define the attainable range of success. Outliers always exist, so you might run across arsenals that aren’t built with the bones of a fastball, or arsenals that consist of one super-wizard pitch (Mariano Rivera’s cutter), but for this evaluation, let’s just assume we are scouting a human, and not a knuckleballer or a Panamanian relief wizard.
UCLA's tremendous duo can deal, but how will they do after they're picked in June?
After catching a few tracking sessions on the back fields of Surprise, I made the trek to Los Angeles to scout UCLA’s Friday and Saturday starters: Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Scouting elite talent is always fun, and despite being easier than scouting talent that elicits a wide-range of opinion, it never gets old watching professional scouts, cross-checkers, scouting directors, and writers all look giddy after witnessing something special.
Cole, UCLA's ace, took the loss on Friday, but nobody really cared. He was dominant through six innings, with front-rotation stuff, a major-league body, and more poise and polish than I was led to believe he owned. As inarticulate as this might seen, Cole was just awesome, and seeing him throw three 70-grade pitches made the long drive to worth it.