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.
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Close looks at the mechanics of first-round picks Kyle Freeland, Kodi Medeiros, Sean Newcomb, and Brandon Finnegan
We wrap up our mechanical look at the draft's top pitchers this week, and after tracing the BP mock draft for the first twoeditions, this time we will shine the spotlight on the top selections who were drafted ahead of expectations.
Mechanical looks at four more first-rounders selected in the first round of the amateur draft.
The first round of the 2014 draft was saturated with arms, as teams popped pitchers with 13 of the top 19 picks. It may have been the result of an arm-heavy draft class, or perhaps teams are stockpiling moundsmen in the wake of the UCL epidemic of 2014; either way, the plethora of pitcher names called on day one of the draft was anticipated by the BP Prospect Staff in their “whom would you draft” mock that was conducted throughout the month of May. The exercise produced a match with reality at the top of the draft, nailing the identity and order of the first three players (and pitchers) picked: Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, and Carlos Rodon. I tackled that big three last week in Part One of the “Under the Hood” series, along with Jeff Hoffman, whose recent trip under the knife did little to drop his stock, as the Blue Jays snapped him up ninth overall.
The book on Abreu said that he'd struggle against inside heat. Has the book been right?
When the White Sox signed Jose Abreu for $68 million over six years, responses ranged from optimism to skepticism about how the Cuban rookie’s swing might fare in the United States. In this year’s Baseball Prospectus Annual, for instance, we wondered whether Abreu possessed a swing that could “be tamed by well-placed fastballs on the inner half.” Baseball America’s 2014 Prospect Handbook included another knock: “Some scouts worry about his double toe-tap stride and average bat speed, fearing they will inhibit his ability to catch up with premium velocity on the inner half.”
Mechanical looks at big-time pitching draft prospect Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, Carlos Rodon and Jeff Hoffman.
The 2014 first-year player draft is loaded with arms who are projected to fly off the board in the early going. The BP prospect crew recently conducted a mock draft of next Thursday's action, with each evaluator answering the question, “Whom would you draft?” The first edition covered the top 10 picks of the draft, and when all was said and done, the participants had chosen pitchers with eight of the first 10 selections, including the top four players overall. The only time in the history of the draft that the first four names announced were pitchers was in 2011, with the quartet of Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, and Dylan Bundy, and the early indications are that the arm-saturated draft of 2014 could match that tally.
Breaking down the mechanics of high-octane setup men Chris Withrow and Dellin Betances.
One of the more visible signs of change in today's game is the reshaping of the bullpen, which has led to an increased emphasis on stockpiling ace relievers. Baseball has become saturated with strikeouts, and the solution becomes more concentrated as a game gets to the late innings and the leading team trots out a conga line of pitchers who specialize in whiffs. Today's ’pen is mightier than it’s ever been before.
The skinny on the pitch that's taking baseball by storm.
Would you be surprised if I told you that over a quarter of the curveballs delivered by major league pitchers in 2013 were thrown with a knuckle curve grip? I certainly was. This was one of the results of the first comprehensive study of knuckle curveballs in the major leagues, which I have conducted after months of data collection. It is limited to PITCHf/x data, but the large population sizes give us a good first look at what knuckle curveballs behave like relative to standard curves.
What is a knuckle curveball?
First, let me define clearly what this study entails. A curveball is a pitch that, when thrown from a conventional arm angle, will drop from its normal trajectory due to topspin. It is also typically thrown slower than other pitches, so it drops significantly from the effect of gravity, as well. The two most important fingers in the curveball grip are usually the middle finger and the thumb. The middle finger and thumb rest on or beside seams on opposite sides of the ball, as in this image. At release, the thumb and middle finger spin the ball forward, giving it the desired topspin. The index finger is not needed at all to throw the pitch, and a handful of pitchers even leave it off the ball entirely.
Examining Homer Bailey, Danny Salazar, and Justin Masterson.
Last week we studied a trio of pitchers who have enjoyed breakouts in performance over the first month of the season in order to distinguish legitimate improvement from potential mirage. This week, we examine the other side of the coin. There are a handful of pitchers who entered the season with high expectations yet have been knocked around the yard this April, and the most perplexing of these players are those whose peripheral stats are in line with last season but whose batted-ball profiles have taken a dive. It might be tempting to dismiss any vulnerability due to the vagaries of balls in play over small samples, but in some cases there are functional underpinnings to suggest that something has gone awry.
The Yankees' new starter appears to have the most important attribute of them all: the ability to make adjustment.
When I wrote about Masahiro Tanakaover the winter, my analysis was limited to the piecemeal footage that could be found across the interwebs, which led to a lot of caveats about what we could expect of his performance in the majors. There were many reasons for caution when projecting the state-side translation of his skill set, ranging from his workloads and pitch selection to his mechanics and statistical profile. With a trio of big-league starts now under his belt, we have a much clearer picture of his talent.
Doug looks for signs of mechanical progress by Yordano Ventura, Trevor Bauer, Chris Archer, and Erasmo Ramirez.
This is my third year writing Raising Aces for Baseball Prospectus, and one of the perks is the dynamic nature of the series (aided by the leniency of our editors). I’m always searching for better ways to communicate ideas about pitching or to broaden the discussion, and transparency has been an integral part of the process.