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 Diamondbacks reliever Ryan Cook.
As a minor league writer and a pretty close follower of the comings and goings of minor league baseball (especially the upper minors, where there’s less turnover), I have a pretty good idea of most of the notable players out there. Therefore, when I suddenly see a name I don’t recognize playing in the major leagues, it comes as something of a shock to me. Invariably, though, due to severe organizational need, seemingly random decision-making, or my own negligence, there are a few guys every year who sneak into the big leagues without my ever noticing them in the minors.
One such player is Ryan Cook. Cook put together a pretty decent year in 2010 as a starter in High-A, but he was 23, so he was easy to ignore. But the Diamondbacks moved the righthander to the bullpen in 2011, and he responded by shutting down Double-A hitters (2.25 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 10.23 K/9). That earned him a ticket to the big leagues after 44 innings, which I guess wasn’t enough time for me to take notice of his excellence (Even so, a good statline by a 24-year-old Double-A reliever wouldn’t have been guaranteed to hold my attention even if I did physically see it).
As you might expect from a guy who had pitched the previous year in High-A, Cook struggled in his big league audition, allowing six runs on eleven hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked eight batters and struck out seven.
However, Cook did show a big-league-caliber arm. He averaged 94.8 mph on his fastball, and he coaxes that velocity from an easy delivery. His fastball is fairly straight, and it’s no surprise that he thus tries to blow it by batters up in the zone:
Cook’s two secondary offerings are an upper-80′s power changeup and a mid-80′s power slurve. The changeup comes in so hard that Pitch F/X can’t differentiate the pitch from his fastball, but it’s basically a hard splitter with plus sink and fade that comes in from 87-90, in contrast with the 93-96 mph fastball. The slurve features plus movement for a pitch that arrives at 83-86 mph, with above-average sweep, drop, and velocity for a slider.
Here’s a quick look at his slider locations:
It seems that Cook either buries the pitch out of the zone or leaves it up, which is a flaw he needs to correct if the pitch is going to have success in the big leagues. Obviously, it’s a small sample of a guy rushed up from Double-A, and the pitch has the tools to succeed.
Honestly, there’s not much to say beyond that on Cook. The fastball/changeup (or is it a splitter?) confusion renders the fastball pitch data invalid and the changeup/splitter data basically nonexistent (4 of his ~23 changeups were actually classified as such).
Clearly, though, with a mid-90′s fastball, a plus changeup, and a solid slider, Cook has the ingredients to become an important late-game reliever. The question is going to be command, as he’ll have to throw more strikes (just 34.5% of his pitches in the big leagues were in the strike zone; batters did help out by chasing 37.9% of his out-of-the-zone pitches, which is a good sign) and more quality strikes (fewer hanging pitches) to succeed, especially in the hitter-friendly Arizona environment.
He may have come out of basically nowhere, but Cook’s stuff is good enough to leave an impression. We’ll have to wait and see what he’s able to do with it in coming years.
For more on the Diamondbacks, check out Venom Strikes!