The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Randall Delgado

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 Braves starter Randall Delgado.

Randall Delgado has been one of the more hyped pitchers that I’ve looked at in this series, as he reached the major leagues just a few months after his 21st birthday. He arrived with an impressive minor league track record and an array of positive scouting reports.

Superficially, his seven 2011 starts went quite well, as he spanned 35 innings with a 2.83 ERA. But his 5.14 FIP reveals that that success may be transient. That’s not really cause for alarm for somebody so young, of course, but let’s investigate what’s going on.

Delgado throws three pitches: a 90-95 mph fastball, a 79-86 mph sinking change, and a 76-81 mph slurvy breaking ball. That gives him a good variety of speeds to work with. He operates with a clean delivery, but it’s worth noting that his arm action shows the ball very early to hitters.

Against righthanders, Delgado has used his fastball about 2/3 of the time, with about 20% changeups and the rest breaking balls. His fastball only draws about 4% whiffs to righthanders, with the changeup getting 12.5% and the breaking ball 10.6%. That leaves him without a major strikeout pitch to his fellow righties, and it’s no wonder that he struck out just eight of the 82 he faced.

Delgado shows the old Leo Mazzone “away, away, away” philosophy isn’t dead in Atlanta. Here’s a look at the locations of his fastballs to righthanders:

When you’re throwing 90-95 with movement and keeping the ball off the inner part of the plate, you’re not going to be giving up tons of souvenirs, and indeed, Delgado’s only given up homers to 2 of the 82 righthanders he’s faced, despite a 45.5% flyball percentage. Of course, though, fastballs are only part of the picture. Let’s see where his offspeed pitches go to righthanders:

It seems odd, at first glance, for Delgado to throw his changeup inside that much, but it does make some sense. After all, the changeup gets more armside run than his fastball, so if he starts the changeup away and has it fade inside, then it’ll look like his fastball most of the way in before that extra movement fools hitters. And there are still a bunch of changeups down and away, which works especially well since the pitch has good sink.

The curveball, on the other hand, seems to be scattered all over the place. It has neither the velocity nor the break to be a great pitch on its own, so Delgado needs to locate it much better than this if he hopes to have a third good pitch. It’s no coincidence that he throws his changeup–usually a pitch rarely deployed to same-side batters–a fair bit more than his breaking ball to righties.

Against lefthanders, then, Delgado leans far more heavily on his changeup (27% usage) and throws his curve very rarely (8%). The changeup gets a 24% whiff rate, which is incredible, and the curve and fastball whiff rates are very similar to what they are against righties.

But there’s a big problem here:

Delgado throws so many pitches outside the zone to lefthanders that his overall percentage of pitches in the strike zone is 37.3%, the fifth-lowest rate in baseball among pitchers with thirty or more innings. It’s no surprise, then, that his walk rate to lefties is well over double his rate to righthanders.

Since he’s throwing so many pitches out of the zone, it’s possible that the contact against his pitches could be weaker on average, which means his BABIP may prove to sustain a slightly lower rate than average. He certainly won’t keep up the .220 BABIP he had this season, (which explains a lot of the ERA/FIP disparity), especially since he had a 19.6% line-drive rate, but he could consistently be in the .280-.290 range.

In sum, Delgado has a legitimately plus changeup to go with a solid fastball. His breaking ball needs a lot of work, and in fact, his overall arsenal evokes that of Cole Hamels to me somewhat. Delgado’s upside is probably akin to a right-handed Hamels.

The interesting thing about Delgado’s flaws, with the exception of the breaking pitch, is that they seem to relate more to poor planning than poor execution. After all, just look at that chart to lefties. Are there too many pitches out of the strike zone? Yes, absolutely. But does that mean Delgado has bad command to lefties? Not at all–the pitches are all clustered in one area, intentionally off the plate.

This is a 21-year-old pitcher with four starts in Triple-A. In Double-A, righties are liable to chase curves in the dirt, and lefties are liable to chase pitches running off the plate away. To me, Delgado’s location flaws symbolize an approach that hasn’t been adapted to MLB hitters yet, not a peristent lack of command on his part. Particularly given his 2.83 ERA, Delgado’s had no reason yet to change his approach, and his fastball and changeup are more than capable of succeeding even if he challenges hitters more.

Overall, I think the future is bright for Delgado. He has an easy delivery that leads to good command, and he has a plus changeup and solid-average fastball. His lack of a good third pitch does somewhat limit his ceiling, but to me, that means he’s more of a #2/#3 starter than an ace. He should be a big part of the Braves pitching staff for years to come, along with a bounty of other excellent young arms.

For more on the Braves, check out Tomahawk Take.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Randall Delgado

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