The Change: Early Starting Pitching Omnibus

My twitter feed is blowing up with questions about pitching. I can’t get to all of them in crazy detail without cloning myself, so what I’ll do instead is something that’s a little more like what we do on The Sleeper & The Bust, the podcast Paul Sporer and I run — I’ll try to put together a few quick facts and an opinion that should help you make your decisions.

So let’s all take a ride, take a ride on the omnibus.

Let’s handle these by general quality of pitcher, in order.

Jacob deGrom
His velocity is down! Significantly! And it’s not just because he threw a career-most sinkers in the game — his sinker is usually half tick below his fastball, and his sinker was averaging about 91 in his last start. More likely, he went to the sinker more because it has more movement and his four-seam velocity wasn’t overwhelming anyone. This is also worrisome:


Tanking release point, self-reported fatigue after a long postseason run, and then the dropping velocity — there’s only one thing missing. Release point inconsistency! (He doesn’t have any.) Let’s give him an orange threat level. He has the command to have a soft landing at lower velocities, after all, and a full arsenal.

Matt Harvey
Where are all the swinging strikes? It’s super weird because his velocity is about the same, his pitch choices are about the same, even the movements on his pitches are largely the same as they were late last year. It’s tempting to see something here — his pitches lack some of the drop that they’ve had in the past — but even that isn’t much changed from late last year. His command is definitely off, something that you’ll notice more from watching than checking his dropping but still better than average walk rate. But he’s been ahead in counts less (36%) than he’s ever been before (40% career) and that’s led to fewer swinging strike pitches and more fastballs. Because there’s no smoking gun with respect to the movement and velocities of his pitches, and his release points, bet on Harvey being Harvey again soon.

Felix Hernandez
Wow that velocity is down bad. He’s down under 90! That’s enough of a lurch that it doesn’t feel like natural progression. His release point consistency was really bad last last year as he struggled with some lower body maladies, but it’s back to normal this year. He’s also still getting the whiffs. All the movements are fine, save perhaps a flat slider. It might be tough to trade for him at this velocity, but that’s the only marker we have! I’d hold, at the very least.

Madison Bumgarner
Last week, it looked grim. Bumgarner had the velocity marker, but much more. His release point was more inconsistent than it had ever been, his spin rates were off, his mechanics were shot, and he had self reported pain in three places. I talked to him, and he poo pooed the ribs (“they don’t hurt”), the flu (“they said I had it I guess”), and the neuroma in his foot (“I only feel it if I look for it”). Then he went out and had a good game against the Dodgers. His velocity was still bad, but he got his release points under control, at least from a consistency standpoint. It was still off, though, from a vertical standpoint. Given he still has two of the three markers, I consider him more risky than deGrom and I would consider selling him. As much as I love watching him.

Dallas Keuchel
Only two pitchers threw a lower percentage of pitches in the zone last year than Dallas Keuchel. This year, batters are swinging at 38.4% of his pitches, down off of 43.8% career. If you watch the games, it really seems like everyone’s trying to be more patient. Keuchel has struggled with the walks some early on, and he’s going to have to use his great command to convince people to start swinging again. After all, no pitcher in baseball had better command on 3-0 counts in 2014: he missed the glove by nine inches, best in baseball. That’s what you want to depend on if you like him, and not being in the zone has worked really well for Francisco Liriano. Then again, Liriano has better raw stuff. It was this kind of league adjustment that had me putting Keuchel as a number two, and even if I think he can be better, I stick by my assessment.

Aaron Nola
I always liked his change more than he did, and his command as much as anyone, so I had Aaron Nola at a fairly aggressive 63 going into the season. He now has a ridiculous 17 strikeouts against no walks in 14 innings so far. He’s only thrown 12 changeups and gotten one whiff, but with the supremexcellence of his curve ball (12 whiffs on 56) and his command, the change can come along slowly. I’m buying any shares I hadn’t bought yet.

Shelby Miller
Woof so far on the year, huh. The worst part is that Miller has given it up on the home run, with five home runs so far in eleven innings, and that was what was presaged by the projections, and the people who hated on Miller. To whine a point in my favor, I did say I liked that Miller averaged 94+ on the fastball and that home runs per fastball went down significantly at 94. Miller is now averaging 92.3, or not even a half tick above average for a right-hander. Oops.

The good news, if there is some, is that Miller continues to trust his new changeup. It still has that nice drop from the second half last year. The bad news is that he’s gotten one whiff on the pitch, and that was in March, 29 changeups ago. I’ll still call Miller a buy low, but only to the level that his projections suggest — high threes ERA and a bad WHIP. After all, now he needs to get whiffs on the change *and* stop giving up homers.

Vincent Velasquez
One start isn’t going to move Velasquez from 83 into the top 50, but if there was one start that would do it, it would have been that one. He held 93+ mph velocity deep into the start, and he threw eight changeups. Those changeups had more horizontal movement than they ever did last year, and maintained their six inch drop off of his rising fastball. So he remains a great roto pickup, a great bet for 150 innings of more than a strikeout per inning and occasional bouts of wildness and an ever-present lack of wins, considering the dumpster fire that is the Phillies bullpen. In head to head leagues, you still like this guy, but he won’t be around late season. I’d probably move him to the high fifties in a re-rank.

Brandon Finnegan
Same here with the exciting young man from the Reds via the Royals, but he’s a spot or two behind the Phillie. We worried about Finnegan’s changeup at one point, and then he threw seven straight in last night’s game. On the day he threw 32 and got seven whiffs, showing excellent arm speed on a change that’s straighter than his sinker, but strong in tandem with a big 93 mph riding four-seamer. Five whiffs on 52 fastballs is also great. A bout of wildness — Velasquez will have them too, but Finnegan’s came first — leaves the Reds lefty in the wake of the mid-50s ranked veterans. I’ll take both these guys over Jeff Samardzija, for example.

Alex Wood
The good news is that Wood did indeed find the good arm slot that he spent all spring trying to find. Not quite as nice as it was earlier in the spring, but definitively different than last year.


I wish his release point for his fastball wasn’t three inches higher than his other pitches, but that’s been the case his whole career, what can you do now. The rest of the good news is that the added verticality to his release point helped Wood regain some of the drop on his curveball that stole so many whiffs from the pitch last year. Even more good news! He added a tick and a half of velocity with the revamped mechanics! I have to think he’s going to get some of the whiffs back and be a comfortable top 60 pitcher this year, even with reduced strikeout upside.

Juan Nicasio
Dude continued his spring excellence, is a Ray Searage pupil, in front of a shifty defense in a pitcher’s park — how could you hate on Nicasio? Well, there is this:


Which says that Nicasio was sitting 97 early in the game and 94 late. Well, okay, you can say — rightly — that 97 is great and 94 is still pretty awesome. Then there’s this: he threw five changeups that had less movement than his four-seamer and went only 7.3 mph slower than his four-seamer, which is below average. That’s a bad changeup and it hasn’t gotten any better. That slider? Three whiffs on 29 thrown. No surprise a lefty hit the homer off of him. Nicasio would move up in my rankings, not hard to do for a warm body coming off a 118 ranking. But he wouldn’t move up above anyone else on this list, and is probably a borderline mixed league hold for me, hovering in the late 70s. Still a sell for me.

We hoped you liked reading The Change: Early Starting Pitching Omnibus by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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how about that despite having Matt Harvey’s pitches, Cody Anderson still isnt very good??


I noticed that after all the talk of velo gains, COdy only averaged 93.1 (fangraphs) to 93.66 (brooks) in his 1st start. While Jeff Zimmerman posted the Instagraph today showing velo is down in cold weather and Cody’s 1st start was in cold weather, that’s still almost 3 mph off the reported 96+ he came into camp with. Brooks also shows that his last start in spring was also 93.78 and that was in warm weather.

Still keeping an eye on him at this point but I’ll believe it when I see it. . . .


Yeah, that was a dumb article. There is so much more to pitching than just look of the pitch. Bartolo Colon has thrown nothing but 88 mph fastballs for two seasons and maintained an FIP under 4.

Anderson never missed bats in the minors and isn’t going to magically start doing it now.

baltic wolf
baltic wolf

There usually isn’t magic involved when a pitcher starts missing bats (except for maybe Mark “The Bird” Fidrych who talked to the baseball like some people talk to plants).

There are numerous examples of guys who show up in the best shape of their careers (as did Cody Anderson this spring) and with greater velocity and better command of their secondary stuff (in this case, his curveball). Add to the equation that Callaway is a pretty good pitching coach (ask Carrasco, Kluber and Salazar how much he’s helped them develop) and you increase the probability of greater success. No guarantees (obviously) that he’ll be a better pitcher in the majors than he was in the minors, but considering the factors mentioned above, I’d say there’s a good chance that he will be.