Interested in the MLB Draft? Ralph and I are doing our due diligence to provide some perspective on the names who will be selected come June 4.
If that feels like an advertisement that’s because it was. But this column is not for amateurs or advertisements! I wanted to continue my pitcher tendencies early this year on Razzball by highlighting three arms you might classify as “weird” from various standpoints. Weird can be good. Weird can also be bad. But weird almost always deserves attention.
Three starts into his major league career, Jack Flaherty has more than proven he belongs. Toying with Triple-A hitters in his five starts with Memphis, all it took was another Adam Wainwright injury bug to let us admire Flaherty once again. The perceived velocity of his fastball stands out, earning a 1.4 mph jump from the pitch’s 92-mph average, second in added perceived velocity to only the Human Qualifier, Tyler Glasnow (min. 100 pitches; who I also wrote about here).
Flaherty’s athleticism is the key, achieving fantastic extension with his lower half and separation at front foot strike. The gif below captures beautifully how Flaherty works, with the slow motion of the gif to aid in catching how his kinetic chain progresses to pitch release. Watch the drive in his back leg, how hard he pulls with his glove arm and the straightening of his front leg as his trunk comes forward.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBrozdow) May 16, 2018
The combination of his 6-foot-4 frame and this athleticism allows his fastball to be released further down the mound. It may seem minuscule, but taking a 92 mph pitch and making it look nearly 94 mph is what allows him to succeed throwing fastballs nearly 65 percent of the time across his three starts.
Backing that fastball is a lateral slider, with horizontal movement in the top quarter of all sliders in the league (min. 50 pitches). Flaherty commands this pitch well down in the zone, generating a 50 percent whiff per swing rate, top 10 in all of baseball among sliders (min. 50 pitches). He has relied on a curveball as well to provide varying looks to left-handed hitters, methodology assumed by other starters in baseball, like the now-injured Dinelson Lamet. This pitch might be the key to prolonged deception. Currently, one could argue it mimics the lateral movement of his slider too much, possibly making each pitch easier to hit, which is one of the issues Sonny Gray has run into early this year. With his changeup largely a work in process, I wonder how long Flaherty can survive on a fastball-slider combination even despite the combination’s positive characteristics. The league always adjusts back, but maybe his athleticism wins out.
Razzball’s Player Rater has Flaherty just outside of the top 200 and I don’t take issue with the rank. I’d be more inclined to use Flaherty before the proverbial “book” opens up on the young righty and some of the struggles he has had on his third time through orders open up to earlier in games. That failure to maintain success deeper into games is something I noticed in my most recent episode of my Pitcher Thoughts podcast and I’m keeping an eye on it as he moves forward.
Writer’s Note: I completed this column before Flaherty’s dominance of the Phillies on Sunday. Instead of adding in color regarding how well he pitched, I figured leaving the section as is would be a fun way to reflect on what I thought without overreacting. All I will say is that he had 12 swinging strikes on his slider, and 24 in total – aka, very good.
The year is 2018 and we have a pitcher with a walk rate higher than 19 qualified pitcher’s strikeout rates, who also possesses a sub-3.20 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. His name is Tyler Chatwood. He throws very few pitches in the zone (88th percentile in out-of-zone percentage) and doesn’t really generate many swings and misses, yet he’s been oddly successful.
85 percent of his repertoire is made of his four-seamer and sinker, with a break in the form of a hard-and-tight cutter (classified as a slider on some sites) and fleeting thoughts of a hard changeup and curveball with some of the sharpest vertical drop in all of baseball…
Sit down, Brett Wallace!
Chatwood is slightly undersized as 6-foot, leading to the perception of a high-effort delivery (think Carson Fulmer), which is often necessary for a smaller pitcher to generate average to plus velocity. While he does a great job of generating groundballs and stranding runners, he’s working magic on how few home runs he has allowed, something I don’t expect to continue. If I was to find any encouragement in Chatwood it would come with increased curveball usage, a pitch he was likely deterred from using in Coors given the effect of the thin air on the break of curveballs specifically.
While Flaherty is weird in a good way, Chatwood is weirder in a way that makes me less inclined to invest. He has been riddled with injuries for most of his career and while his delivery is one I doubt many other pitchers would be able to replicate, that might be for the better.
Razzball’s Player Rater has Chatwood outside of the top 300 overall and I wouldn’t be afraid to push him further down.
I would like to anoint Richards the King of Spin.
I’ve written about why spin rate matters for fantasy baseball, noting that while spin created for fastballs is inherently different than spin for breaking balls, great spin often leads to more swinging strikes compared to your average pitch. As with everything, this is not an end-all-be-all stat, but it’s extremely useful when wanting more color on why a pitcher is successful.
Richards curveball is one of the most interesting pitches in his repertoire, possessing the largest average vertical movement of any curveball in baseball (source: Baseball Prospectus; min 50 pitches), made even weirder by the the slightly above average velocity Richards throws the pitch with. Even with Richard’s curveball seemingly the outlier, he uses his slider substantially more, a pitch harder than average, with once again stellar horizontal and vertical movement numbers. He’s able to achieve exceptional break on both his breaking balls and not sacrifice velocity in the process, possibly making him one of the weirdest (in a good way) pitchers in baseball.
The issue with this amount of break, however, is that one’s command of the pitch can suffer, as command of breaking balls is generally more of a spatial art than a direct, hit-the-glove science (something Eno Sarris has mentioned numerous times). While you could argue that Richards’ lack of command – his walk rate has increased four percent this season – is due in part to his own lack of repeatability in his mechanics or ability to spot pitches, I prefer to defend Richards and simply cite hitter’s patience against him.
Swing rate overall against Richards is down six percent, with the largest drop coming on pitches in the zone. Hitters might be baiting Richards deeper into counts, where they know he has an inclination to turn to his breaking balls, often resulting in pitches out of the zone simply because of this break. Early on, it doesn’t seem like Richards is giving in and while the fortitude is admirable, his success might be considered limited because of this point.
With a suppressed swinging strike rate this season, some might be deterred from owning a pitcher with factors indicating regression from the prior season, but I’m actually encouraged. The perpetual game of cat and mouse between pitcher and hitter has pivoted back to Richards. His task is figuring out how to elicit more swings from hitters.
Even if he doesn’t fully succeed in said task, we’re looking at a top 50 starting pitcher at worst, with an above average strikeout rate. Believe in the spin!
I’m weird on Twitter! – @LanceBrozdow
More of my work…. BigThreeSports.com