This is a weekly series on players I have selectively watched while exercising. Usually, I will concentrate on lesser known players or rookies just getting their first call ups.
Why I watched: A highly touted prospect.
Game Watched: 9/1/14 vs Twins
• His fastball is elite. He normally throws it around 94-95 mph, but can change speeds to launch it up to 97 mph. It sometimes has some release side run which makes it about unhittable. For a 4-seam fastball, it gets a good number of groundballs (43% on the season) mainly because he pitches low in the zone.
• Well, that is about it for good news. His other pitches, a change/splitter and slider, are horrible. He couldn’t throw either for strikes and they just don’t have good movement. His change/splitter gets a bit of swing-and-miss because everyone seems gearing up for his fastball which he throws almost all the time. He throws his fastball 72% of the time which is good for the 8th most in the league (min 80 IP).
• The Twins took a while to adjust to the fastball. The third time through the order they were able to tee off on it for three runs. With just the one pitch, he won’t be able to navigate lineups multiple times. This can be seen by how hitters have done against him each time through the lineup.
Time thru order: K/BB, AVG/OBP/SLG
1st: 3.5, .266/.309/.367
2nd: 1.7, .282/.349/.479
3rd: 2.0, .323/.365/.495
Final thoughts: He has limited value until he finds at least an average second pitch and hopefully a third one. He has been able to live off his elite heat until now, but he needs some more pitches. His place may eventually be in the bullpen.
Why I watched: Dominating since returning to the rotation (-.70 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 9.8 K/9, 0.9 BB/9)
Game(s) Watched: 9/7/14 vs White Sox
• He throws two hard fastballs (95-97 mph) with precision (59% Zone%). They get labeled as a 4-season and 2-seamer/sinker. The 4-seamer is just a straight travelling ball which he placed anywhere he wanted to. The other fastball, which is labeled a 2-seamer here at FanGraphs and sinker at Brooksbaseball.net, seems to act like a cutter. It has a nice late tailing action to the release side. These two pitches really set up his breaking balls.
• He has a slider and change. They both came at the batter around the same speed (~88mph). Then at the last moment, the change breaks down while the slider breaks to the glove side. He was able to throw the change for strikes while the slider was more of a chase pitch. Both the slider (28% SwStr%) and change (15% SwStr%) get a good amount of swinging strikes.
• With all his pitches, he is getting a high percentage of groundballs. His overall groundball rate of 54% is in the top 10% of all starters.
Final thoughts: I don’t know why he struggled early in the season, but he isn’t now. He has four pitches which are all working together. Hitters need to gear up for the heaters and then they can look lost when the two breakers are thrown. I need to go look at one of his earlier season games one day to see what chnaged. As for now, the results seem real.
Why I watched: The Brewers #1 rated prospect is up and starting in the bigs.
Game(s) Watched: 9/7/14 vs Cardinals
• He has two fastballs which both are around 93 to 96 mph. They are both above average with the 4-seamer the swing-and-miss pitch and the 2-seamer is the ground ball pitch. I can see why he gets some love.
• His slider is OK. It gets a high number of swings-and-misses (19.5 SwStr%), but it is only working off his fastball.
• He doesn’t throw many strikes. He is nibbling out of the zone a lot and was forced to throw a ton of extra pitches (averaging less than 6 IP per start). Also, he seems to throw a ton of balls, including his fastball, in the dirt.
• The main issue I saw with him was the lack of a third pitch. Hitters can basically just looking for his fastball. Like Gausman, he is basically only good for once through the lineup.
Time thru order: K/BB, AVG/OBP/SLG
1st: 4.0, .209/.273/.275
2nd: 2.6, .337/.398/.523
3rd: 2.8, .301/.363/.493
• Final thoughts: Jimmy Nelson has a place in the majors as a pitcher, I am just not sure it is as a starter. His lack of control and no third pitch will limit how far he can go as a starter. Look for a third pitch to see if he can take the next step to being one of the league’s best starters.
Why I watched: I wanted to see if the Cubs made any changes
Game(s) Watched: 9/6/14 vs. Pirates
• That was a waste of time. There is nothing to see here right now.
• The lefty threw his fastball between 86-90 mph. It had little break in any direction. When he used his cutter, it was just as useless.
• His change had no late break, just a slower fastball. He is barely getting swinging strikes. Here are his swinging strike numbers from the last 4 games.
• He has no control of any of his pitches. He seemed to always be behind in the count.
Why I watched: High GB%, good pitch peripherals, new team.
Game(s) Watched: 9/8/14 vs Blue Jays
• First off, he can’t throw strikes … period. Balls in the dirt. Missing the zone by over a foot (Image).
He has always had issues with the strike zone as seen by yearly Zone% values:
2014: 41% (same 41% with Cubs in five games)
I went and looked at the results when he started a game where he had a Zone % greater than or less than 47%. In the games when he threw less than 47%, his walk rate was 10.2%. It almost halved down to 5.8% in the games when it was over 47%.
• He has two fastballs, both with good movement. His 4-seamer he threw around 93 mph and live on release side of the plate. The pitch has some release side run. His other fastball is 93 mph 2-seamer with great sink and lived at the bottom of the zone. A heatmap showing his propensity to pound these two zones can be seen here.
• His cutter/slider wasn’t impressive. He couldn’t throw it for strikes. He threw it hoping hitters chased it.
• His change and curve looked good in the game. Decent movement. Some went for strikes.
Final thoughts: He has the pieces to be a really good pitcher, but he hasn’t put the pieces all together yet, especially the ability to consistently throw strikes. I think the Cubs will continue to work with him and I will likely be picking him up late in drafts next year hoping for Carlos Carrasco type turn around.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.