The Change: Odrisamer Despaigne

It’s not shaping up to be a great fantasy season for me actually. But this is despite most of my pitching staffs being generally excellent. At least the names on those staffs are excellent — not all of them are active. Lots of red DL tags. That’s the way of pitching.

But pitching changes in fits and starts, and it’s my favorite aspect of the game, so I’m going to make this a Monday column of sorts. The Change will look for changes in pitching mix, look at pitch types to see if newcomers have a promising pitch (maybe a change), and will generally try to help you decide what to do about a few pitchers every Monday, after their last start has provided us some change to analyze.

Today, though, one pitcher is bizarre enough to take our entire attention.

Odrisamer Despaigne (22% owned in Yahoo)
Nothing about Despaigne makes any sense. Surely not the unibrow that makes him look like he’s over 40. And definitely not the crazy change-up grip.

Jump into the pitch types and everything gets truly psychedelic. He throws almost as many cutters (28%) as sinkers (32%) by BrooksBaseball. If you add in his curve (11%), slow curve (10%) and slider (4%), you’ll see he’s throwing more breaking pitches than fastballs. Not many people are doing that right now. Use the PITCHf/x leaderboards here and only Jesse Chavez, Madison Bumgarner, Adam Wainwright, Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Kevin Correia are matching that feat right now among qualified starters.

In general, it’s the trait of a pitcher just doing his best to hang on (and two young men that are just a bit different). Listen to Dan Haren admit that his velocity was already down when he turned to the cutter and Jesse Chavez admit that he had to do whatever it took to stay in the big leagues.

If teams side more with the ASMI’s belief that breaking pitches don’t necessarily lead to more arm injuries, maybe we’ll see more of this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it otherwise. For what it’s worth, I think Jeff Zimmerman’s research on breaking pitches and injury and Kyle Boddy’s position statement on the subject are better indicators of why we don’t see more pitchers throwing so many breaking pitches.

Along with the breakers, though, come some decent-looking other pitches. Despaigne has a huge range in movement and velocity among his many pitches. His fastball goes 92, and his eephus slow curve goes 67. He also has a huge range of horizontal movement. His sinker has eight-inch arm-side tail, and his curve has eight inches of glove-side break. Even his vertical movement is varied: his four-seamer has over seven inches of ‘rise,’ and his slow curveball drops almost a foot.

Just by looking at what he does, you’d think he has what it takes to strikeout the lineup. The problem is that not one of the breakers has a whiff rate over 8%, which means they’re basically as good as fastballs for whiffs. They’re decidedly below-average in this respect. His change-up, with an 11.6% whiff rate and a 42% ground-ball rate, is okay.

That’s how a guy like this has a below-average whiff rate and one of the worst strikeout rates in baseball.

That might be enough by itself to move on, but names like Henderson Alvarez, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister populate the landscape on that leaderboard. Could Despaigne just be a control and command ground-ball guy with a tiny bit of upside in his strikeout rate if he figures out the sequencing in the future?

He does have a 53.6% ground-ball rate, and right now his walk rate is useful as I write this. That last bit is the riskiest part of his line, though. He walked more than 10% of the batters he saw in the minor leagues, and he walked more than four per nine many of his years in Cuba.

He has more than a couple release points, too.

chart (2)

Of course, we don’t know what a good sample of pitches is yet. He’s thrown 40 of each pitch type, but maybe we should wait for a couple more times through the league. It’s definitely encouraging that he has so many diverse pitches that move so differently, but it’s just as upsetting that he’s not getting any whiffs on the pitches. I’ve seen hitters wait on the curve and move up in the box anticipating slow pitches, perhaps his release points give away what pitch is coming (though I do see two distinct release points for sinkers). Maybe he’s giving it way some other way.

For whatever reason, despite having intriguing stuff, Odrisamer Despaigne isn’t doing the things that you’d like to see behind the pristine results. At least, he wasn’t until recently. I’d be cautious with my optimism. Hold, sell if someone thinks he’s an ace, but don’t spend for him, especially not now, right after an almost no-no.

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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8 years ago

Love the column idea.