Quick Looks: Henderson, Walker and Chen

This will be the last week where I will look back at 2014 starts unless something comes up which requires going back. Since I am not 100% sure I will have games to watch week, I will publish all of the Quick Take Final Thoughts before the upcoming season. I plan on giving some pitchers a second look if they need it.

Note: I usually try to pick the most recent game the player pitched. Sometimes the MLB video has issues and other games are picked. Also, if a say a pitch moves 11-5, it is from the pitcher’s perspective.

 

Henderson Alvarez

Why I watched: About no strikeouts with a 94 mph fastball.

Game(s) Watched: 9/28/14 vs. Nationals

Game Thoughts

• Everything the 25-year-old righty throws breaks down. This downward action has him at a 55% GB% for his career. Of those pitchers with 400 IP thrown over the last three seasons, his ground ball rate is the fifth highest.

• Pitchf/x does a horrible job of classifying his pitches. His per-pitch metrics are just about useless.

• His first pitch was a 92-96 mph fastball which was generally straight. Some times at lower velocities it would have some late break.

• His second pitch, which is his bread-and-butter, is his change/splitter/2-seamer/sinker. It comes in around 87-91 mph and just drops down at the last moment. It probably gets around 60% GB% looking at the pitch types which get classified as this pitched (CH and FT).

• His third pitch was a 84-86 mph slider which had the look of a hard curve with down break.

• Finally, I saw him throw his slow curve/eephus at 61 mph.

• He doesn’t really have a swing-and-miss pitch to get a strikeout. Everything he threw generated weak contact.

Final thoughts: Henderson Alvarez is what he is. Without a swing-and-miss pitch, he will likely continue on in the Doug Fister and Tim Hudson mold of a High GB/Low K pitcher. He doesn’t have much of a ceiling or floor right now.

 

Taijuan Walker

Why I watched: 9/24/14

Game(s) Watched: Highly ranked prospect who started a few games.

Game Thoughts

• Wow, I can see how people are drooling all over his performance. He throws heat and nothing is straight.

• His fastball was at 93-96 mph with some release side break. Hitters had a tough time making contact with it. This weak contact can be seen with an above average rate of groundballs, pop ups and swinging strikes on the pitch. No pitcher can get away with one pitch, but this one may be worth trying it on.

• His next pitch was his 90-91 mph change with a late 12-6 drop. I think it is splitter. The amount of movement varies quite a bit.

• He also threw what is getting labeled as a 88-92 mph cutter. It is by far his straightest pitch. Sometimes it dropped just a small bit or had some glove side break. The amount of break is not close to his other pitches. While the pitch doesn’t seem special, it just eats up opposing hitters with around a 15% SwStr%.

• Finally, he threw a 74-77 mph curve which is little slider-like with more side-to-side break than up and down like a normal curve.

• All his breaking pitches work off the fastball. I think he should use the fastball more and just use the other pitches against lefties or for a final swinging strike.

Final thoughts: He is a stud. He has a full aresenal of above average pitches. It will be interesting to see what he can do over a healthy full season.

 

Wei-Yin Chen

Why I watched: Has consistently been an average pitcher for the Orioles

Game(s) Watched: 9/27/14 vs Blue Jays

Game Thoughts

• The 29-year-old’s fastball was at 91-94 mph and he lived on the outside part of the plate with it.

• His slider was at a 10-4 motion at 82-83 mph. It is his one pitch which can get a good number of swinging strikes.

• His change was at 84 mph with some late drop.

• He tried to throw is curve a couple of times, but missed high and outside. He didn’t have it this day.

Final thoughts: Overall, he is kind of boring, but sometimes boring is good. Like Alvarez above, he should produce like he has for the past few seasons. He is a nice innings eater and acceptable play if the league is deep enough.

We hoped you liked reading Quick Looks: Henderson, Walker and Chen by Jeff Zimmerman!

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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.

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Balthazar
Guest

For Taijuan Walker, the heavy ‘off speed’ pitch with 12-to-6 break you are having trouble classifying is a palmball according to him. He may have a very slight finger spread in throwing it, but is doesnt classify as a splitter or forkball. He only picked it up in the 2014 season. Prior to that his original change-up was nothing special.

Taijuan throws a classic rising fastball. The Mariners have wanted him to work down in the zone with it, but it’s actually more effective up in the zone, and he has expressed a preference for locating it there in the past which I think we will see more later in his career. Yes, he can throw it all day long, right by big league hitters.

Historically, Taijuan’s cutter had significant glove-side break. He may not have been especially on with in the 24 Sep video though. Historically, Walker’s cutter has just eaten up hitters, big break or no. Maybe something in his motion creates deception, I’ve never heard this discussed in detail, but from the first weeks he learned it in AA it drew raves for the inability of batters to read it or tag it up.

Consistency and repeatability of pitches from start to start and season to season has been something of an issue for Walker. It’s not so much that he’s wildly inconsistent as the finishing quality on his pitches can get a bit away from him at times. He always has the good four-seam FB though. In the minors, he has thrown it maybe TOO much. It’s so good, just as you see, he hasn’t always been very interested in pitching off the FB to get to his secondaries, hence the relative inconsistency of those secondaries. This has been a particular issue in Taijuan with regard to getting his curveball really polished. One reason Walker may have been throwing more secondaries in the start you saw is exactly that the Mariners developmental staff have been riding him harder in the last year and a half to refine and use his secondaries.

Walker is a truly outstanding starting pitching prospect, if anything underrated due to the amount of time he spent on the shelf in 2014 and thus off the radar. He’s a top of the rotation arm, and if he played for an East Coast power house we’d hear about him all day, every day. But don’t be surprised if it takes Taijuan several years of refinement in the majors to get all facets of his game consistently up to par.

edgar4evar
Guest
edgar4evar

Under the radar is right. I was surprised to be able to scoop Walker up with my final pick, number 300 over all, in a dynasty league. Even if you he’ll be limited to 150 innings this year, he could be an ace by next season.

Balthazar
Guest

Hold on tight and don’t let go. I think that you can expect Walker’s K totals to climb significantly over several years to a rate in the 9s. He has the stuff and the attitude, and has shown those rates in the lower minors. He needs to gain consistency, and have the finer nuances of pitch sequencing become ingrained. Taijuan has the weapon’s for high totals once he settles in. Walker has shown good if not fantastic GB rates in the past, largely off the secondaries, so what we see of that going forward depends on how and how much he’s using those pitches and commits to getting outs with them rather than just changing looks.

There’s a bogus Spring Training battle on right now for ‘who’s the 5th,’ but it’s mind-play BS. Walker will break camp in the rotation barring complete catastrophe. He’s a good athlete, and I think he will prove durable, so you should be able to expect a lot of innings down the road, though Walker will likely be capped this year; around 180 I would expect, regardless of what the Ms say publicly.

The only minor league arm I would value as highly as Walker is Dylan Bundy if he’s fully healthy and starting. Giolito may get there, but to me he’s two years behind where Taijuan Walker is now. So much of prospectdom is about fads and ‘the new sweetheart.’ Walker isn’t a fad but IS the real deal of stuff, repertoire, athleticism, and competitiveness. Consistency will be the last piece to come.