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 Yankees reliever Andrew Brackman.
Formerly a top prospect, Andrew Brackman imploded in Triple-A in 2011, walking as many batters as he struck out and posting a well-deserved 6.00 ERA. The 6’11″ righthander turns 26 in December, so he’s not particularly young, and his struggles in pro ball (with the exception of a strong 2010) made many doubt whether he’d ever have a significant major league career.
Since Brackman’s on their 40-man roster and isn’t getting any younger, the Yankees gave him a September callup despite his horrific season, and he threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the big club, although he walked three and failed to record a strikeout.
As you might expect from somebody of his gargantuan size, Brackman brings some velocity to the table. However, he doesn’t seem to throw a traditional four-seam fastball; his heater has a ton of glove-side action on it, and it almost looks like a slider. In fact, the movement on the pitch is somewhere in between that of a cutter and a slider. That seems to be a relatively new development, as most old scouting reports never noted that sort of movement; nonetheless, the odd action on his fastball was immediately apparent to anyone tuning into watch his debut (which happened to be in the same game in which Matt Moore made his first MLB start).
Overall, the impression most got from Brackman in that outing (and his second game as well) is that he had three really interesting pitches, and that it was rather shocking that he had struggled so much in Triple-A with this grade of stuff. His cutting fastball travels in the 89-93 mph range, and he backs it up with a solid 74-79 mph curve and a mid-80′s slider with pronounced late tilt.
Since all of his pitches have big movement, and he’s got a lot of moving parts in his delivery, it’s understandable that Brackman would have trouble finding the strike zone consistently.
Here’s a quick look at the locations of his 55 MLB pitches:
It could be worse. We can see that he’s pretty predictable, as he tends to work up and glove-side, but the ball is in the strike zone a decent amount. Still, he only got strikes on 56% of his pitches in the majors–a main driver for those three walks in 2 1/3, of course–mainly because batters swung at almost all of his strikes and took almost all of his balls–of the thirty pitches that batters took, just six were strikes.
The good news, then, is that Brackman wasn’t all that wild–he actually threw an above-average number of pitches in the strike zone, although it was an extremely small sample. So we can conclude that a) he has the stuff to succeed and b) he throws enough strikes; the element that is missing is c) pitch patterning, as evidenced by the low number of called strikes he got.
Ultimately, Brackman is the sort of pitcher who could suddenly put everything together and turn into a bigtime asset, or he could simply frustrate half the pitching coaches in the game with his inability to live up to his potential. We should remember that, despite his advanced age, he can be given some slack for his rawness; he’s only had three professional seasons, and tall pitchers take a long time to come together. Fellow 6’11″ hurler Jon Rauch, for example, was seen as a major bust/punchline until he became a dependable reliever for the Nationals as a 27-year-old. We’ll have to wait and see what Brackman’s able to do with his arsenal, but the stuff is there for him to carve out a solid career.
For more on the Yankees, check out Yanks Go Yard!