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 Padres reliever Brad Brach.
Brad Brach posted some gaudy numbers all throughout the minor leagues, and he promptly struck out 11 batters in seven MLB innings upon his callup in late 2011. Despite the fantastic stats–which included a 64/5 K/BB in 44 Double-A innings this year–he rarely got hype as a prospect, as he was said to have a merely generic fastball/slider combination.
Indeed, those two pitches are basically all he throws. The fastball comes in usually at 91-94 mph, and the slider is in the 81-86 mph range. Neither pitch has particularly exceptional movement, either.
So what is it that’s getting Brach to get so many K’s? Well, first, let’s look at the locations of his pitches to righties and lefties and see if we can pick anything out:
Brach pounds the zone against hiters from both sides, although it looks like he’ll occasionally run the slider away from righties off the plate.
That explains a few things, such as his very low walk rates in the minors, but it makes the strikeout rate even more mystifying. After all, if Brach is simply pounding the zone with average stuff, he shouldn’t be posting big K numbers.
He certainly has, though, and it doesn’t seem fluky statistically. Brach’s fastball to righties has a whiff rate of 16.4%, which is up there with any fastball you care to name. Overall, the heater drew 15.4% whiffs and the slider drew 13.5%. Therefore, his overall whiff rate is over 50% higher than the league average.
The answer lies in Brach’s mechanics. He steps way over toward third base in his delivery, so his release point is over a foot farther in that direction than most righthanders. That delivery gives him lots of deception (see here) and also means he’s throwing the ball on a very unusual plane. Since batters only see him once in any given appearance of his, Brach’s not easy to adjust to, and his unusual motion makes his stuff play up dramatically.
While it is a funky motion, Brach manages to maintain decent mechanics, so we’re not talking about a ticking time bomb in regards to future injury potential here.
Brach is exactly the sort of player that has been key for the Padres in years past–he won’t wow a scout, but he will befuddle his opponents. He probably will never be a mainstream baseball name, but he is quite likely to carve out a solid career in relief.
For more on the Padres, check out Chicken Friars.