Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at Mariners starting pitcher Blake Beavan.
Much like fellow Mariners starting pitcher Charlie Furbush, who I examined in the first installment in this series, Blake Beavan arrived in Seattle with a reputation as a finesse pitcher. Unlike Furbush, Beavan is a huge righthander who was once considered a power pitcher in the early days of his Rangers prospectdom. That power came with a max-effort delivery that Texas worked hard to smooth out, but once Beavan came up with a cleaner motion, his stuff was said to have been adversely affected.
Baseball America described Beavan’s stuff as consisting of a 90-92 mph sinking fastball, average slider, and below-average changeup, and that’s actually proven to be quite accurate, save for the omission of the fact that Beavan also throws a curveball, which is actually the offspeed pitch he’s turned to the most in his rookie season.
An extreme control pitcher, Beavan leans heavily on his fastball, throwing it almost exactly 2/3 of the time. The pitch has averaged 90.7 mph–slightly substandard for a righthanded starter, but far from unplayable–and does feature good sink. Beavan has shown the ability to add extra sink or cut to the pitch as well.
Against right-handed batters, Beavan throws his regular four-seam fastball approximately half the time, and splits the other half nearly equally between his upper-70’s curveball, the cut fastball, or his low-80’s slider.
Beavan’s struck out just 14 of the 152 righties he’s faced, so it probably comes as no surprise that none of his offerings generate elite swing-and-miss rates to them. More striking than the relatively low whiff rates is the low foul rate on Beavan’s pitches–not only do swings make contact with the ball, they put it in play. Only Beavan’s cutter gets fouled off more than put in play, and some of the splits in that regard are quite dramatic–his curve, for example, is put into play 30.3% of the time but fouled off just 7.9%. Let’s take a look at those curves to RHBs:
Four of those 76 pitches wound up being called strikes, nine were whiffed at, and six were fouled off. That leaves 57 of 76 pitches as either called balls or balls in play, and it doesn’t take a genius to spot which were likely which.
Against lefties, things get more problematic for Beavan, as he has a 5.15 FIP and 32.9% groundball rate, compared to a solid 4.21 and 44.4% against righties.
The main problem with lefties is that Beavan has even less ability to induce swings and misses. None of his pitches top six percent in whiff rate against southpaws, whereas only his little-used two-seamer and change couldn’t break that barrier against righties. Interestingly, his strikeout rate against lefties is actually slightly higher (3.83 K/9 to 3.41), mainly because he generates more foul balls off of them, which allows him to get to more two-strike counts and possibly catch a batter looking.
As far as individual pitches against opposite-side hitters go, the main offender is Beavan’s changeup, which has had the dual problem of constantly falling out of the strike zone (just over half his changeups to lefties have been called balls), and almost never inducing a whiff–just twice in 93 pitches. Here’s a look at those 93 changeups to lefties:
Clearly, this isn’t an optimal grid of location. Far too often, the pitch is floating up and away for an easy take, he never comes inside with it, and there are a disturbing number of pitches toward the middle of the plate.
This is troubling, as both of Beavan’s most-deployed offspeed pitches thus have major issues. It should come as no surprise that both pitches have very poor pitch-type linear weights on the season, which has obviously hurt Beavan’s overall value–he’s been 8.1 runs below average this year, and the curve and change combine to be -6.4, which is a major part of the problem.
His slider’s been two runs above average, but it’s difficult to see why. Only 5 of 84 have drawn whiffs, and none of the other rates of the pitch jump out as particularly solid. It does go for strikes 67.9% of the time, which is nice, but a) the pitch’s low usage means he is likely just getting good results on balls in play in a small sample, and b) the pitch’s low usage means that the good results, even if they were legitimate, would not necessarily hold if Beavan were to break the pitch out on a more regular basis.
Okay, that was a lot of negativity about Beavan’s arsenal. The fact remains, however, that he’s a 22-year-old who is so polished that he’s only walked 1.52 batters per nine innings. Furthermore, his tendency to work up in the zone doesn’t haunt him in Safeco Field as much as it would in other parks.
Ultimately, he is what he is–Beavan has a 4.70 FIP, and unless he has a sudden jump in velocity or comes up with a new pitch, it’s tough to see him dramatically improving–it’s not like he can really cut his walk rate at all or gain polish in other areas. But there is some potential for improvement. For one, an extreme pitch-to-contact hurler, particularly one who works off a sinking fastball, should be pounding the bottom of the zone, not the upper regions, and if Beavan could drive the ball down in the zone more, he could have better results on the inevitable balls in play, friendly home park or not (It’s worth considering that Beavan has a 1.29 HR/9 rate despite throwing his home games in a pitcher’s haven).
Furthermore, while it’s a very small sample, Beavan’s cutter shows very promising results against righties, going for strikes 76.1% of the time with only 14.1% being put in play. Perhaps heavier usage of this variant of his fastball will give Beavan more success–he almost never throws it to lefties, and it’s possible that jamming it in on their hands would finally give him a pitch to neutralize them. This is particularly true since Beavan keeps his offspeed stuff to lefties on the outer half of the plate to a fault, so jamming them inside with the cutter would give a much different look to play off of that. With these sorts of adjustments, Beavan could turn himself from a middling innings-eating fifth starter to a mid-rotation rock, possibly putting up seasons like Carl Pavano‘s 2010-11. If nothing else, he’ll provide a 200-inning sponge of below-average but inoffensive pitching.