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 White Sox reliever Shane Lindsay.
I’ll always owe Shane Lindsay.
Let me explain. On September 4, the White Sox played the Tigers on Sunday Night Baseball, which incidentally happened to be the final game of the fantasy baseball regular season in most leagues with 8-team playoffs. Going into that game, I was tied for eighth in my league, but I was percentage points behind the team I was tied with. My matchup was over, and the team I was tied with had used all of its players; his opponent had only Tigers catcher Alex Avila left in play.
Lindsay threw one awful inning in that 18-2 shellacking, allowing seven earned runs and, incidentally, two hits to Avila. Avila would go on to collect four hits for the first time in his career, which was enough to force a tie in the hits category in that fantasy matchup, which pushed me into the playoffs by half a game. I would go on to win the league.
So, thanks for the bad inning, Shane Lindsay!
On a more serious, and certainly relevant, note, Lindsay was a pretty hot prospect about half a decade ago with the Rockies. Then command and injury issues nearly derailed his career, and he was forced to move to relief, where he finally reached the big leagues this year as a 26-year-old with the White Sox.
Lindsay got into four games and threw six innings, one of which was the seven-run abomination and the other five of which were quite good (one run, five strikeouts). Certainly, he can be excused for one bad outing against a solid Detroit offense in just his second big-league appearance–an outing that wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it did had the game been close.
Always touted as having a bigtime arm, Lindsay delivered on that hype by averaging 95.8 mph with his fastball, making him one of the 25 hardest throwers in the big leagues this year. It’s a small sample, but his 7.8% whiff rate on his 128 MLB heaters is quite encouraging. Lindsay also has the ability to add cut or sink to the pitch in the 90-93 mph range.
The Australian righthander relies almost exclusively on his fastball. He does throw a power curveball from 80-85 mph, and the pitch has bite, but he only threw 13 in his big-league time, and only three of those were in the strike zone. He also tossed a couple of upper-80′s changeups that Pitch F/X couldn’t properly distinguish from his fastball, but that’s mainly a show pitch.
As his high walk rate (51 in 63 2/3 IP) in Triple-A attests, Lindsay has to throw more strikes. He walked five of the 34 MLB batters he faced, which is a lower percentage (14.7%) than his Triple-A rate (18.6%), but is still too high. He’s so fastball-heavy that hitters never have to look for anything else–he doesn’t throw the curve enough to get it in hitters minds, and he doesn’t put the breaking ball in the zone on the rare occasions he does break it out.
As a result, Lindsay doesn’t get many called strikes with the fastball–when it’s in the zone, hitters swing. Just 17 of his 128 heaters (13.3%) were called strikes, which is well below the level of most pitchers in this series–Duane Below, who I looked at yesterday, had a rate over twice Lindsay’s.
He does put the pitch in the zone somewhat, but when he misses, he tends to miss badly:
That also contributes to the high likelihood of his balls being taken. We can also see that his location within the strike zone is rather haphazard, although he has the velocity and movement to get away with that if he can just cut the walks.
Really, that’s what it comes down to. If he can throw the curveball more and better and locate the fastball, we’re looking at a bigtime relief pitcher. If he does neither, he’s just the next Jim Hoey. Most likely, he settles somewhere in between as a decent-enough anonymous reliever who passes through eight teams on one-year-deals, with each pitching coach thinking he can turn him into a shutdown guy, in the Seth McClung/Jesus Colome/Denny Bautista mold.
For more on the White Sox, check out Southside Showdown!