Checkpoint on Future Hurlers – Part II

In the second installment of my Future Hurlers, I wrote about the potential of the A’s Brett Anderson and the Twins’ Kevin Slowey.

Brett Anderson suffered an early injury this season, and then, upon returning for a couple starts, he experienced another setback and is currently on a rehab assignment. Despite a limited 30 2/3 innings of work, his 22 Ks versus just 4 walks is very impressive. It’s a small sample size, and perhaps that kind of control will be hard to maintain, but it was still a good sign that his rookie season was no fluke. In terms of his groundball rates that I raved about in the first article, he has still been inducing a lot more grounders than the league average this season; for comparison, he has a better ratio than Tim Lincecum, and about the same ratio as perennial all-star, Roy Halladay. There are 3 Cy Youngs between those two aces, and groundball rates and K/BB ratios have been their constants. It’s no surprise that Anderson has a ERA of 2.35 this season, and he’s slated to join the Athletics after one more rehab start if everything goes well. He could still pitch 60 – 80 more innings this season.

Kevin Slowey has not panned out as hoped, and there are a couple reasons for his mediocre performance. Dave Golebiewski of Fangraphs wrote this article about Slowey’s increasing flyball rates. He has always been a flyball pitcher–which still works for pitchers who also strike out a lot of batters–but he maintains a merely average strikeout rate. This is not a good combination for pitchers, and it’s no surprise he’s giving up nearly 1.5 times as many home runs as the league average.

According to Fangraph’s PitchfX data, Slowey’s changeup has always been his worst pitch, especially this season. As with most of his pitches, his changeup sits up in the zone. In fact, over the last four seasons Slowey’s change “rises” nearly 2 inches more than the league average. If that doesn’t seem like a lot, remember that the barrel of a bat is only about 3 inches in diameter, so a 2-inch difference could easily turn groundballs into flyballs. The change in speed between his fastball and changeup may also have something to do with his change’s lack of efficiency. For his career, the discrepancy between those two pitches is only 6.6 miles per hour. The league average is around 9 mph. Combine not enough velocity change with a couple inches of rise, and that makes for bunch of fat changeups. This is only a theory, as I haven’t tested large sample sizes, but it seems to make sense.

In addition to poorer groundball rates, as shown by Golebiewski, Slowey’s walk rate has been slowly increasing since 2008 while his strikeout rate took a dive this season. For any “normal pitcher,” 1.7 walks per 9 innings would be fantastic. But for a flyball, pitch-to-contact pitcher like Slowey, it’s merely average. His 3.65 K/BB ratio this season is well above the league average, but well below his personal average. For a pitcher like Slowey, that ratio has to be much higher for him to succeed. Like maybe 5.0 or 6.0.

Again, to ever get his ERA consistently below 4.00, Slowey will need to learn to keep the ball down in the zone. Taking a page from Joel Pineiro‘s book might be smart. Pineiro added a two-seamer between his 2008 and 2009 seasons, which correlated with a significant spike in his groundball rates, and thus, a drop in his ERA in 2009.

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