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 Brewers reliever Frankie De La Cruz.
Pitching in the major leagues was nothing new for Frankie De La Cruz in 2011; he had spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues before that. It’s telling, though, that he has only thrown 32 innings across those four MLB seasons; he hasn’t managed to gain much traction in any of his stints, and his 13 innings this year were a career high.
Originally a bigtime prospect with the Tigers back in the mid-00’s, De La Cruz’s small frame and big fastball ultimately led to his transition to the bullpen. He threw 92-97 mph in his first three seasons (2007 with the Tigers, 2008 with the Marlins, and 2009 with the Padres), but he relied on the pitch almost exclusively, and didn’t throw enough strikes (54.2%) with it.
2011 brought some changes, though, since it was two years since De La Cruz had thrown an MLB pitch. His velocity, for one, was greatly diminished, as the 27-year-old righthander mainly worked at 90-93 mph, touching 94-95 on occasion. However, he’s sacrificed the 2.5 mph of velocity to gain some extra sink on the pitch, which is key for a guy throwing straight-overhand from a 5’10” frame.
De La Cruz also stopped throwing the heater 80% of the time like he did in years past, instead settling for a more reasonable 65% rate. His drop in velocity perhaps was the impetus to get him to work in his offspeed offerings more, but it paid off, as he obviously turned in his best MLB stretch yet (2.77 ERA, 3.26 FIP).
This was mainly due to the emergence of De La Cruz’s changeup as a legitimate out pitch. He threw it nearly 30% of the time, and 11 of the 63 that he threw drew whiffs. The pitch has splitter-like drop, and even though he almost never puts it in the zone, he gets a ton of chases–seriously, over 60% of these pitches went for strikes:
As for the fastball, De La Cruz finally got the memo that he needs to attack the zone:
That resulted in over 60% of his fastballs going for strikes, which was a huge improvement over his previous numbers. He did a good job staying inside to righties and away from lefties, and also kept the fastball down more than in years past, thanks to the extra sink on the pitch.
After almost completely eschewing his breaking ball in 2008-09, De La Cruz at least threw a few of them in 2011. He only threw seven of the 17 curves for strikes, but four of those strikes were whiffs. The pitch comes in from 78-80 mph with late bite, but he’s rather all over the place with it:
Two of the seventeen didn’t even hit that rather expansive grid.
Overall, De La Cruz is a rather fungible relief arm. He’s got a decent sinker/change combo that enables him to do well against both lefties and righties, but he doesn’t have much plus command (he walked over four batters per nine innings in Triple-A, after all). A team could do worse than him as a middle-innings/long relief guy, but he’ll need to catch some luck to have a sustained career. His lack of consistency with his breaking ball and his overall struggles with command means he’ll need to get more consistent to keep himself above replacement level.
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