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 Rockies starter Drew Pomeranz.
Drew Pomeranz shot from High-A to the big leagues in his first professional season, and he managed to post a 2.59 FIP in four starts in the big leagues–not too shabby for a 22-year-old. As a result, he’s getting lots of prospect love, and you’ll certainly see a profile of him in my Top 100 Prospects list.
As a prospect, Pomeranz was usually praised for a low-90’s fastball and big curveball. However, those reports look to be overstated, as Pomeranz showed below-average velocity in his MLB stint. The lefty usually worked at 88-91 mph with his fastball, averaging just 89.5 mph.
Pomeranz does indeed throw a good curveball. The pitch arrives from 76-79 mph and boasts tight break. However, he only threw it 13% of the time in his MLB outings, mainly because he couldn’t put the pitch in the strike zone enough:
Furthermore, batters would usually just watch the pitch go by rather than swing, so Pomeranz only got strikes on 42% of his curveballs. Yes, it was a small sample (38 pitches), and his whiff rate (13.2%) was good, but batters offered at just nine of the 38 curves, which seems to indicate that either a) it’s not fooling anyone or b) Pomeranz throws so many fastballs that batters will just lay off almost any curve, knowing that he’s likely to come right back with a fastball.
We can also see that Pomeranz won’t bring the curve to the other side of the plate. All but five of his curves were thrown to righthanders, so he usually just tried to backdoor the pitch, which meant that his misses low were easier to take because they never entered the strike zone. If he tried to bury the curve in the dirt on the third-base side of the plate, he might have more success getting batters to chase.
So, Pomeranz’s best pitch needs some work, and his velocity is 2-4 mph slower than we were told in reports–not a good start. But what else does he throw?
Well, there’s the fastball, which has some sink, and then a mysterious “slider.” Pitch F/X classifies 41 of Pomeranz’s pitches as sliders, but they seem to be mostly cutter-ish fastballs, with a few misclassified changeups. I’m not quite sure what to make of that; Baseball Info Solutions’ data classifies all of his pitches as fastball, curve, or changeup, with no cutters or sliders. In any case, none of the 41 pitches got a whiff, and 63.5% went for strikes, so if he really does throw a cutter, it’s not a lights-out pitch.
Pomeranz’s fastball has just a 4.0% whiff rate, so he’s not getting a ton of whiffs there, either. However, he does plaster the zone with the pitch:
That’s 15 of his 17 fastballs to lefthanders in the strike zone, and a nearly 70% strike rate on righthanders as well. Pomeranz is unafraid to work the fastball to both sides of the plate against righthanders, which is a good sign, although a byproduct of his approach is lots of pitches down the middle.
Pomeranz’s changeup is a distant third pitch that Pitch F/X couldn’t properly identify, but met with little success in its small sample. It doesn’t have much sink or fade, and it only comes in at about 6 mph slower than his fastball, so Pomeranz needs to work on the pitch. Thankfully, his curveball should play against both lefties and righties, and since he’s shown he can move the fastball around as well, his need for a bigtime changeup is lessened.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how odd Pomeranz’s delivery is. It starts out a lot like Cliff Lee‘s, with an abrupt and somewhat stiff leg lift, but then features an awkward arm action and slight turn that evokes B.J. Ryan. The ball comes out very late, so it provides deception, and clearly, Pomeranz is still able to pound the zone even with so many moving parts. His walk rates were higher in the minors, though, so it remains to be seen whether his strike-throwing will hold.
It’s worth noting that Pomeranz has dropped his arm slot significantly since college; just compare the above video to this one. He seems to be short-arming the ball much more nowadays, which gives him more deception but may be the cause of his drop in velocity. It’s possible the Rockies dropped his arm slot to try to get more sink on his fastball, an imperative when you pitch half your games in Coors Field.
Still, though, I wonder about Pomeranz’s ceiling. He’s not a hard thrower, his curve is good but not truly devastating, and he doesn’t have a consistent third pitch. He’ll avoid walks and do a reasonable job keeping the ball down, but I’m not sure he’s necessarily going to have enough stuff to be a frontline guy. Of course, everybody panicked about Madison Bumgarner‘s similar velocity drop a couple of years ago, and that proved to be an overreaction, so Pomeranz could still fulfill the expectations many have aggressively placed on him.
Either way, he should be a useful rotation member in short order. The overall development of his arsenal will be something to watch closely in the next two seasons.
For more on the Rockies, check out Rox Pile.