A close look at the mechanics of two starters who've taken steps forward in 2014.
Pitcher breakouts are one of the most exciting aspects of each baseball season, but it’s hard to get riled up about them until we have a healthy chunk of the season in the rearview mirror. The halfway mark of the 2014 campaign has revealed a handful of players who have made great leaps in terms of value, both to their teams and on the stat sheet. Two of those pitchers are particularly intriguing. The Indians’ Corey Kluber and the Angels’ Garrett Richards have ascended to a higher plane of pitching performance this season, so let's dig into the components of each player's improvement.
Looks at the mechanics of two of the Astros' surprise successes, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh.
The Astros have unearthed a couple of legitimate All-Star candidates in their rotation this season, and though neither pitcher fits the “high-ceiling prospect mold” that has become characteristic of the franchise, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have quickly ascended from afterthoughts to valuable assets for the organization. Is their performance merely a blip on the radar, with regression looming to take each of them down a peg, or are there legitimate reasons to get excited about either of these two pitchers? Let's dig in.
The best of times for Clayton Kershaw coincide with the worst of times for Justin Verlander.
Just 15 months ago, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander were neck-and-neck in any discussion of the top pitchers in the game. The Motor City right-hander owned the American League, and the west coast southpaw ruled over the senior circuit, with each having finished first and second in their respective Cy Young races from 2011–12. They entered the 2013 campaign as the unquestioned aces of competitive clubs, poised to stage another season as kings of the mound, but their careers have taken dramatically different trajectories since then.
A mechanical look at the debuts of a trio of promising pitching prospects: Sonny Gray, Danny Salazar, and Jarred Cosart.
In the week leading up the All-Star break, a trio of American League pitchers made their respective MLB debuts. The rookies were summoned from the minors in a span of three consecutive days and immediately sent into action, only to have each of their tours cut short with a return trip to the bush leagues. The call-ups were well-covered by my BP colleagues, and though the sips of coffee were brief, you can bet that the memories from their first taste of the majors will last a lifetime. Let’s take a mechanical look at what we can expect when this trio returns.
July 10 – Sonny Gray, Oakland at Pittsburgh
The A's tabbed the Vanderbilt product with their first pick in the 2011 draft (no. 18 overall). He was promoted aggressively, receiving an assignment to double-A Midland within two months of being drafted and after just two innings of rookie ball. The numbers from his first full season were less than inspiring, but he has rebounded this season with a sub-3.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in over 100 frames for triple-A Sacramento. The All-Star break precluded the need for a fifth starter in the Oakland rotation, so the A's called up Gray to pitch out of the bullpen while Dan Straily stayed on turn with the River Cats.
Searching for the source of the struggles of Matt Cain and Jeremy Hellickson this season.
Matt Cain and Jeremy Hellickson are similar pitchers, with a likeness that extends to stuff, mechanics, and stats. Both pitchers have fastballs that average 91-92 mph on the gun, with plus command of great off-speed stuff to keep opposing batters off-balance. Each uses a 77-mph curveball around 12 percent of the time, but while Hellickson uses an 80-mph changeup at a 30 percent clip, Cain is a 15 percent cambio guy whose off-speed pitch comes in at a heavy 86 mph on average. He also adds a slider with the same frequency and velocity as his change. I have touted both pitchers for their excellent balance and strong posture, the underlying ingredients of top-notch pitch repetition, although the hurlers also share an affinity toward slow momentum.
Hellickson might be lower on the totem pole and several years Cain's junior, but the negative connotations associated with his profile are eerily reminiscent of those that Cain endured early in his own career. Armchair analysts who choose to focus solely on certain stats and eschew batted-ball numbers due to their inherent volatility have screamed “luck” in a reach to explain the consistently low BABIPs of both pitchers, with constant calls for regression to the league mean. Those same analysts can now be found basking under a cloud of smug, as both Hellickson and Cain are currently in the midst of the worst seasons of their respective careers.
Jason outlined some of the statistical differences in Masterson's 2013 performance, particularly noting his split stats versus left- and right-handed batters. Left-handed batters have accounted for 43 percent of all plate appearances league-wide since 2011, yet they tend to receive the majority of the attention when it comes to pitching strategy. Lefty hitters enjoy multiple advantages, ranging from the head start toward first base they get out of the box to the lesser gloves that typically populate the pull side of the infield (one of whom is tethered to the first-base bag).
Bryce Harper's supernatural baseball gifts have been evident since before he could drive. Today he’s a 20-year-old super-freak who is slugging over .700 in the majors. His rare combination of competitive intensity, Las Vegas moxie, and otherworldly talent has set the stage for a legendary baseball career as the next lightning rod in the game. His raw power grades out as a pure 80 on the scouting ledger, and though such elite marks are extraordinarily rare, the legit five-tool player also has a throwing arm that ranks at the top of the 20-80 scale.
What role have mechanics played in the Nationals' strong starting staff?
The ingredients of success for a Major League Baseball team are rooted in scouting and player development, where carefully-crafted strategies dictate the growth patterns of in-house talent. Converting draft picks into major-league production is the engine of a successful franchise in today's game, and the pressure to develop players through the organizational pipeline has intensified due to the league-wide trend for teams to lock down homegrown talent for the long term.
The new-age baseball market features a thin free agent pool, which places additional emphasis on player evaluation, as teams assess trade targets and identify the select free agents whose flaws are perceived to be correctable. Pitching mechanics can play a major role in a team's approach to the acquisition and development of players, whether through the draft, free agency, or trade. As we saw in last month's breakdown of the mechanical trends of the Rays and Brewers, the on-field habits of a big-league staff can provide a window through which to glimpse an organizational approach to pitching.
Eight starters who combine top-flight results with suspect mechanics.
One of the coolest parts of this job is the interaction with the readers of Baseball Prospectus, who consistently drive the discussion with in-depth questions and insightful observations. Half of my articles have been inspired by reader comments, and I greatly appreciate the creative spark provided by the BP audience. One of the most frequent questions that I receive relates to good pitchers with poor mechanics, and though a basic tenet of pitching is that the best pitchers have excellent mechanics, occasionally there are players who find success in spite of an inefficient delivery.
When a top-flight pitcher has a major flaw in his delivery, the player typically compensates for the deficiency with plus grades elsewhere on his mechanics report card. For example, a pitcher with heavy torque might struggle to maintain posture during the high-energy phases of the delivery, and the extra zip that results on his fastball can serve to cover for the corresponding shortcoming in pitch command. Occasionally, a pitcher will find success despite a laundry list of mechanical flaws, but these pitchers are fighting an uphill battle to succeed at the highest level of competition.
Timing issues held Yu Darvish back in his first big-league start, but sound underlying mechanics suggest that he'll soon put those struggles behind him.
Monday night in Arlington featured the most anticipated pitching appearance of 2012, with Yu Darvish taking the mound in his stateside debut against the Seattle Mariners. The right-hander came to Texas preceded by a $111 million price tag, scouting reports that told of a seven-pitch arsenal, and a reputation as Japan's greatest pitcher. The Rangers held him back until the fourth game of the season, unveiling their hired gun at home against a light-hitting Mariners club that just happens to have a legion of Japanese fans, cranking up the media hype for Darvish's first start.
Darvish wore the stoic mask of a Man with No Name as he took the mound, though he must have been saturated with adrenaline once he toed the rubber. He walked leadoff batter Chone Figgins on four consecutive pitches, the last three of which missed badly outside the zone as his throwing arm failed to catch up to the rest of his body. Darvish came back to strike out Dustin Ackley on a nasty slider, surviving a seven-pitch battle and setting up the ultimate face-off of Japan's legends, with Ichiro striding to the plate to face the phenom. Darvish took the opportunity to show off multiple variations of his fastball, chucking six consecutive heaters that ranged from 92-96 mph with assorted levels of sink, cut, and run through the zone.