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We’ve got a pair of young pitchers on tap that share a number of similarities. Beyond both players being southpaws, these two hurlers were chosen 14 picks apart in the first round of the 2014 draft and rode the bullet train to the big leagues, with just a cameo in the minors before toeing the rubber on the biggest and brightest stage.

Carlos Rodon

Prior to the season, I predicted that Rodon would shave a full 1.0 BB/9 off his walk rate from last season (which was an untenable 4.6 BB/9) and then took it a step further, going out on a limb to say that he would go so far as to zoom past the league average walk frequency while maintaining his K-per-inning rate. Rodon is teetering on the edge of both predictions with a month to go, with 129 strikeouts in 135 frames this season (from 22.9 percent in 2015 to 22.2 percent this year) and a walk rate of 2.8 BB/9 (7.3 percent) against a league average of 3.0 BB/9 (7.8 percent). He will need a strong finish to hit my lofty prediction, but the southpaw is currently pitching some of his best ball of the year.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

September 2

7.0

4

7

1

1

5

79

August 28

6.0

1

5

1

1

6

100

August 23

6.2

0

3

0

1

4

109

Rodon allowed one or zero earned runs in just two of his first 17 starts of the season, but he turned the trick four times in five August starts, with the one exception being a two-run outing over six innings against the Indians. For the month, he carried a 1.47 ERA and 26:7 K:BB in 30.2 innings over five starts, giving up just one home run across the five-game stretch. He gave up four runs (three earned) to the Twins on Friday, but he buzzed through seven frames in just 79 pitches, inducing contact early in the count and avoiding the big inning.

He has an above-average fastball that sits 93-95 mph and spikes as high as 98, but the driver of his strikeouts is a wipeout slider that leaves his hand with the same trajectory as the fastball, leaving hitters helpless to identify the pitch until it is too late in the flight path. The slider had finished off 72 of his 124 strikeouts (58.0 percent) heading into Friday’s game. The issue has been hits allowed for the left-hander, with the underlying demon being a .333 BABiP that might be as tied to his approach as it is the White Sox defense.

Part of the reason behind my optimism that Rodon would improve had to do with (surprise) his mechanics. Rodon has a very stable delivery, and though every pitcher can struggle with timing, the ability to repeat one’s release point lies in the foundations of balance and posture. This stability helped to ease the transition as Rodon essentially skipped the minor leagues and vaulted straight from college to the majors, but the result of skipping his minor-league education is that Rodon has to figure it all out at the highest level, from honing his mechanics to perfecting his optimal approach to hitters.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

65

Momentum

55

Torque

60

Posture

55

Repetition

60

Overall

B+

Rodon’s power scores are not especially impressive – he throws harder than the next pitcher, but with less torque – but the combination of power and stability paves the road to a bright future for Rodon. His momentum isn’t impressive based on the speed component, but he directs his energy straight at the target and accelerates his pace gradually through the delivery. There is a constant tradeoff that exists between power and stability, in that it is tougher for a pitcher to stabilize a delivery as more power is added to the system.

Rodon’s balance is excellent in all three planes, flashing 70 balance on some pitches as the head remains stable over his center-of-mass for the first three-quarters of his delivery. There’s a bit of spine tilt after foot strike, but Rodon still finishes with above average posture that spikes 60-grade on his best fastballs.

His repetition grade exceeds what would be suggested by his walk rate alone, as Rodon faces the challenge of so many low-slot pitchers (many of whom have strong posture) in that mistimed deliveries will result in missed targets to the outside/inside, which are less likely to result in a strike when compared to some of his over-the-top contemporaries, whose mistimed deliveries can still get strikes above or below the strike zone. His overall grade also exceeds what his GPA might suggest, with a dose of projection mixed into Rodon’s recipe for throwing baseballs.

Brandon Finnegan

Finnegan has given up the most homers (27) and the most walks (72) in the National League, helped in part by the cross-league trade that sent Francisco Liriano out of the Senior Circuit, but to say that the 23-year-old has had some bumps and bruises along the way is putting it mildly. However, Finnegan has been the hottest pitcher in baseball over the past two weeks.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

August 31

7.0

2

5

0

0

9

84

August 26

6.0

2

3

1

2

12

97

August 20

7.0

0

1

0

2

8

96

Prior to that game on August 20th, Finnegan had only cracked as many as eight strikeouts in a game twice this season, and those were isolated starts back in June and April (his first start of the year), respectively, so for him to post a trio of starts back-to-back with that many Ks in each contest is worthy of our attention.

Finnegan was selected by the Royals with the 17th overall pick of the 2014 draft, found himself pitching in the World Series four months later and was then included in the deal that brought Johnny Cueto to KC for the stretch run of 2015. The 12 Ks on August 26th were a career high for FInnegan, while his last start was notable for his incredible pitch efficiency, chewing up seven full frames while needing just 84 pitches to do so.

The big difference in his repertoire has been the changeup, which Finnegan has thrown nearly twice as often over the last three games as he did over the previous 24. All of a sudden, it’s become a strikeout weapon – Finnegan finished just nine strikeouts with the first 232 changeups that he threw this season, but over the past three games he’s tossed 50 cambios, 14 of which finished strikeouts. When a pitcher get s 1.5 times the Ks in one-quarter of the innings, it stands to reason that something may have changed.

He possesses a league-average fastball that coasts in the 91-94 mph range, but the power dimensions of his delivery would suggest that he throws much harder.

Mechanics Report Card

Oct ‘14

Aug ‘16

Balance

35

35

Momentum

65

60

Torque

70

70

Posture

45

40

Repetition

50

40

Overall

B-

C+

I covered Finnegan’s delivery when he was pitching out of the pen for the Royals in the 2014 postseason, so we can form a point of comparison while acknowledging the caveats that he was a green rookie who was four months out of college and working out of the bullpen of the bigs, so there are a number of reasons that may have motivated him to sacrifice some stability in favor of power. But looking at the visual evidence, the Finnegan who has been so successful over his last three turns looks a lot like the one who earned such impressive power grades two years ago, though with even less stability.

October 2014

August 2016

Finnegan still has immense torque, with incredible hip rotation after foot strike mixed with a delayed trigger that increases hip-shoulder separation. It has become increasingly rare to see a pitcher with such massive torque who doesn’t light up the radar guns, but that indicates that Finnegan is taking stress off his arm by letting his core do the work without over-taxing the system with raw velo. His momentum has lost a tick, but he still carves an efficient path and follows with a step toward the target after release point, despite the fact that the rest of his body wants to spin off to the third-base side of the mound.

And therein lies the issue, as Finnegan’s stability is rough, to be kind. He leans back toward third base at max leg lift and then drops into his stride while he leans his head over the front side. Finnegan’s posture has worsened despite the fact that he’s older, theoretically more polished and may have relaxed his delivery (as evidenced by the slower momentum) due to the demands of a starter, but the timing pattern has proved to be even tougher for the right-hander to master. The imbalance earlier in the delivery makes it tougher to coordinate the rotational phases later in the motion, and though Finnegan’s repertoire might be developing to handle big-league bats, his delivery still has a ways to go before it can support the command necessary for Finnegan to truly excel.