Pitcher Spotlight: Luiz Gohara’s MLB Debut

After getting his MLB debut pushed back a day by mother nature, Luiz Gohara finally stepped onto a major league mound for the first time as he started for the Atlanta Braves. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t go well. The 21-year-old allowed 6 ER as he labored through four frames while walking four batters en route to a 2.00 WHIP. Still, it’s a major step for a young southpaw as he began the season in High-A and there was plenty to dissect to get a sense of what he can do in the future. Let’s dive into Gohara’s repertoire and discuss his approach from his MLB debut.

Fastball

Without question, Gohara’s best pitch is his Fastball, which fluctuated between Four-Seamers and Two-Seamers. The pitch impressed me right out of the gate not only with consistent 97mph velocity, but by hitting the outer edge with three straight pitches to get his first out:

If you’re getting the quick impression that Gohara does a great job of staying around the glove, don’t dismiss it. The southpaw rarely had “bad” misses with his Fastball, often nibbling the zone or delivering close to his intended location. While this may sound odd considering the crooked 4 in the walks column, many pitches out of the zone were near misses that could have gone either way. Take for example his walk of Miguel Gonzalez as he committed two cardinal sins in one – walking the first batter of the inning and walking the pitcher:

Those 1-2 and 2-2 pitches were borderline if not actually inside the zone (yes, even the 2-2 pitch) and while I’m a little disappointed Gohara couldn’t bear down and make a solid 3-2 pitch, he walked Gonzalez on Ball 2 in my mind.

In fact, all of Gohara’s four walks in this game were on full counts, and I think there is something to be said about that. It reinforces the notion that this wasn’t a pitcher who was wild with his Fastball.

To sum up his heater, let me show you how Gohara got a quick out with the pitch to close the second inning. First was a Fastball that missed its spot but had enough movement and velocity to induce a whiff:

Then he hit his spot on the outside corner with the pitch to get a bouncer to the mound for the final out:

Normally we talk about hard-throwing pitchers as “throwers, not pitchers.” However, I wouldn’t call Gohara that as he showcased a great feel for his heater that suggest he’s a finesse pitcher in a flamethrower’s body. Think Jacob deGrom or young CC SabathiaThat’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Slider

With every good Fastball you need a proper secondary pitch (unless you’re Lance Lynn),  and I’m still undecided if Gohara has that offering in his arsenal after this start. The one he relied on the most was his Slider – thrown about 34% of the time in this outing – which has upside but was all around inconsistent. For example, he found a groove with the pitch by the fourth inning when he fanned Shin-Soo Choo via benders:

But he also failed in back-to-back pitches against Joey Gallo, leading to a lead-off walk:

Looking straight at the numbers, tallying nine whiffs over twenty-eight thrown (good for a 32% whiff rate!) sounds like a pitch that is the perfect match for his Fastball, but take a look at some of the Sliders he got whiffs with:

That’s five of Gohara’s nine whiffs in three at-bats, four coming against free-swinging Carlos GomezNow, the second pitch in that first GIF is a solid offering, but the other two are far into the dirt, with the other two GIFs featuring Sliders hung and, well, ugly. This isn’t a pitch that deserves a 30%+ whiff rate and we need to see a different version of this pitch if he’s going to keep throwing it this often.

And that could happen. I’m not suggesting that Gohara’s Slider is going to be a 10% whiff pitch and is flat out bad, but a slightly above average 16-18% mark sounds right to me. I believe that Gohara has a better feel for the breaking ball than he showcased today and his confidence to throw the pitch early and late in counts suggests that it can be a pitch to earn strikes off his Fastball. I’m not giving up on this pitch just yet.

Changeup

I’m really intriguied by Gohara’s Changeup. He only threw nine of them across the afternoon, but I think there is potential to take a bigger role. He struggled to get a feel for it early, leading to more Fastballs and Sliders, and we got our first good look at the pitch early in his first at-bat against Mike Napoli:

That’s two Changeups in a row and I’m a fan of his tenacity to try it again after missing the 0-1 pitch. Sure, it didn’t work this time, but it’s hard not to like the display of confidence as he took a stab at fixing his mistake right away.

And guess what, he did the same thing again in the fourth:

Well, almost the same thing as he elected to turn to the Changeup right away at 0-0 instead of waiting for the comfort of 0-1. Even though it turned into a 2-0 count, I love it. You can see him working it out right in front of us and while they just missed under the plate, we’re looking for potential in this outing and there it is. Solid late fade at a significantly lower velocity than his Fastball, and I can see Gohara turning to more Changeups in a right-handed heavy lineup, especially as a putaway pitch. Imagine the 0-0 Changeup in the first Napoli GIF with two strikes after painting the outside corner with two heaters prior. This is going to work well for Gohara in the future.

And in the future, I don’t mean in his next start, I mean later in the fourth inning:

Gohara left the game after this frame, but I would have wagered plenty that Gohara would have relied heavily on the pitch against right-handers in the fifth if given the opportunity. He just found the feel too late.

Gohara threw plenty more Sliders than Changeups in this outing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his Changeup became #2 as he plays with the outside corner and working off his high Fastball velocity. Surprise them with an early breaking ball or Slider in the dirt for extra flair and Gohara could cruise through lineups.

Conclusion

I’m encouraged by what I saw from Gohara. His Fastball sets a solid foundation with 96-97mph velocity and a touch of life, acting more as a finesse pitcher than a hurler. He doesn’t have that back-breaking secondary pitch that makes him a convincing high-upside strikeout threat right away, but there is upside for him to earn his Ks through sequencing and command rather than mind-blowing movement.

Gohara’s Slider isn’t the massive whiff-earning machine that its whiff rate suggests and I hope to see him more comfortable with the pitch moving forward. It will be crucial to throw the pitch for a strike at will, and as a popular tool to make left-handers uncomfortable in the box. Meanwhile, his Changeup has potential to be a dependable weapon – especially against right-handers – using it to steal a strike early in the count, induce grounders, or finish at-bats as he plays off his Fastball velocity. The feel wasn’t there until late today, but his confidence in the pitch suggests that it can be there in the future.

There were flashes of a complete package from Gohara today, creating a sturdy path for the 21-year-old to grow in the majors. It’s within the realm of possibility he has everything churning out of the gate in his next start, though it’s more likely there are plenty more growing pains to come as Gohara develops for the Braves. Let’s take this one a game at a time and he’s an intriguing play for 2018 if he earns a rotation spot in the spring.

We hoped you liked reading Pitcher Spotlight: Luiz Gohara’s MLB Debut by Nick Pollack!

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Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

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Enlightening Round
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Enlightening Round

Nick, where have you been all of my life? Honestly, this stuff is so great, thanks

RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

Agreed. Analysis of actual pitches and real outcomes is awesome! Unfortunately, this is the polar opposite of big data and is becoming less common.