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.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
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.
Looking for evidence of an intentional walk hangover effect.
I missed baseball. It’s like being in a relationship with someone and then having to spend an extended period of time apart from them. Oh sure, you call and Skype and send each other e-mails, but when you are finally back in the same room, you get the joy of re-discovering each other. (And yeah, that’s a Journey reference.) Then there’s the next day after you’ve… ahem… gotten re-acquainted, when you realize that in addition to all of the wonderful things you missed about each other, all of the things that drive you crazy are still, there too.
All of the great holidays are marked by high levels of anticipation. But Opening Day stands out among the more traditional observances because it is merely the beginning of the celebration to follow: seven months of 6-4-3 double plays, exploding sliders, and that sweet sound when lumber meets horsehide. It’s easy to fall pretty to the trap of overweighting observations made at the start of the regular season, and the rational observer will maintain perspective while enjoying the day's festivities. But that doesn't mean that there’s nothing to be learned from the first round of games. Early in the season, many pitchers are making real adjustments to elements of their mechanics, approach, and repertoire, and these alterations can be put under the microscope in order to get an idea of the player's developmental patterns.
New pitches and pitchers we've gotten glimpses of already this season.
Spring: a season of renewal and rebirth. Also a time of new pitches and pitchers. A lack of bona fide new arms in the early going has slowed the usual flurry of new PITCHf/x data to ogle, but some established pitchers have made some notable changes.
Does a starter who goes deep into games really have an effect on days before and after his outings?
The complete game has become an increasingly rare beast. In 2013, there were 124 complete games registered by the 4,862 pitchers who started out on the hill, and Adam Wainwright led all of baseball with five. If a pitcher makes it through nine innings, he’s likely having a very good day, and nine innings of well-pitched baseball is nothing to sneeze at. But a complete game is more than that. It’s a sign of manliness. It’s like shouting, “I don’t need no stinkin’ bullpen!” It’s a cultural touchstone. It’s the guy yelling at his TV, “Finish what you started, you silly overpaid, coddled millionaire. I finish my day of work without calling in a reliever.” A pitcher who completes a game is just getting in touch with the common man.
The challenges of hitting a baseball are many and difficult. Depending on the speed of the pitch, a batter may have something like half a second to 1) locate the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, 2) predict its movement based on the kind of pitch it is (fastball, slider, curve, etc.), 3) decide whether to swing, and potentially 4) adjust mid-swing to the path of the ball or check his swing. All of which is to say, hitting a baseball in MLB may actually be the hardest thing in the galaxy (I’ve never done it, myself).
Arguably the most demanding part of this battle is purely mental (as Hank Aaron noted). Because of how little time there is for a hitter to perform all of the above-mentioned tasks, it is helpful to have some notion ahead of time of what, where, and how the pitcher is going to throw. Conversely, the more uncertainty and confusion a pitcher can create in the hitter, the more chance he has of catching him off guard.
What does Doug see ahead for selected pitchers in 2014?
Along with the rest of the BP staff, I’ve submitted my pre-season predictions for division standings and end-of-season award winners. I tend to stay in the neighborhood of likely outcomes for these picks, resulting in easy answers such as “Mike Trout for AL MVP” or “Tigers win the AL Central,” but I’m more intrigued by the long-shot stories that emerge once the season starts.
A close look at the mechanics of a trio of top pitching prospects.
With one week to go until Opening Day, let's tackle one final Bush League installment of the offseason, taking a look at a trio of pitchers who rank among BP's Top 50 prospects: the Rockies’ Eddie Butler, the Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow, and the Twins’ Alex Meyer. These pitchers embody some of the more common traits of high-end prospects on the mound, from stuff to mechanics, and though each player saw his stock rise during the 2013 season, there’s still a heavy dose of development needed before they’ll be ready for the show.
The Rockies' top prospect gets better before our eyes.
This week's trip through the bushes takes us to the Colorado system to evaluate the top prospect in the Rockies’ pipeline: Jonathan Gray. The 6'4”, 255-pound right-hander has an elite arsenal, with an intimidating fastball complemented by a plus slider and a changeup that is considered a major asset. That repertoire should play very well in the majors and would seem to be a strong fit for the thin air of Coors Field. Gray's profile is even more intriguing once we get past pitch selection, so let's dig into the specifics that make him such a unique specimen.
A mechanical look at the pitchers who've gained the most fastball velocity over the last couple seasons.
This week, we’re focusing on pitch velocity and identifying the arms who have seen a big change in their fastball speeds over the last couple of years. On Monday, we looked at the players who are on the velocity downslope, with offerings that fall under the radar-gun readings of their past. Today we study the other side of the coin, drawing attention to those pitchers who have added fuel to their heat over the past couple of seasons.