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 Indians reliever Nick Hagadone.
Formerly a top prospect with the Red Sox, Nick Hagadone finally made it to the big leagues this year at age 25. After battling major control problems in 2009 and 2010, issues that would ultimately force him to the bullpen, Hagadone arrived late in 2011 and threw 11 solid innings, walking 6 and whiffing 11 while allowing just four hits.
Long known as a power pitcher, Hagadone worked almost exclusively off his fastball, throwing it over 80% of the time. It’s a relatively straight pitch, but it has good velocity, traveling between 91 and 97 mph. He tries to pound the upper part of the zone with the pitch:
This approach isn’t conducive to called strikes, so even though Hagadone is often in the zone with his fastball, only 61.8% of the heaters wound up going for strikes. He did get a good amount of whiffs on the pitch at 7.9%, although these locations make his extreme flyball tendencies (33.3% GB) look likely to hold up, despite the small sample.
So, overall, the pitch comes with its pluses and minuses. Since it’s rather straight and often up, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hagadone has some trouble with homers in the next couple of years, and his location could mean that he struggles with walks to some degree; however, he should get good whiff rates and his flyball tendencies will suppress his BABIP.
Hagadone is mainly a two-pitch guy; while he does throw a changeup of sorts, he didn’t use it enough for it to be noteworthy in the majors. His second pitch is a hard slurve in the 81-86 mph range. He threw just 29 in his 11-inning stint, but just three were put in play and six were whiffed at; however, only 14 went for strikes overall and just ten were placed in the strike zone. It’s a plus pitch, but Hagadone needs to use it more and be less afraid to challenge hitters with it rather than bury it.
Overall, there’s plenty to like here, but we should remember that Hagadone is 25, not some green young kid. He’s got some clear flaws that probably aren’t going away and preclude him from being more than a good middle-innings guy. He doesn’t get groundballs, throws just enough strikes to get by, but not enough to excel, leans too heavily on his fastball, and doesn’t have much of a third pitch. While his fastball/slider combo is good, plenty of guys can throw the ball straight at 94 mph and snap off a good breaking pitch, and many of them have good attributes beyond that, while Hagadone does not.
While he has his limitations, Hagadone can be a very useful member of the bullpen; he’ll be 26 when the 2012 season starts, so now’s the time for him to make the majors to stay.
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