The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Steve Edlefsen

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 Giants reliever Steve Edlefsen.

Yesterday, I profiled Braves starter Julio Teheran in this series. Few pitchers debuted in 2011 with more hype than Teheran; few debuted with less hype than Steve Edlefsen, a 26-year-old relief pitcher who posted a 5.66 ERA in Triple-A.

Perhaps predictably, Edlefsen struggled after his promotion, walking 10 batters and striking out just six in 11 1/3 innings en route to an ugly 9.53 ERA and 7.17 FIP.

So, let’s start with the obvious question: Why the heck is this guy in the big leagues?

Edlefsen’s basically a standard two-pitch reliever–he has a third pitch (changeup) but almost never uses it. A look at his velocities reveals his arm strength to be quite pedestrian–his fastball goes 88-92 mph, with the slider at 79-83. Clearly, this isn’t a case of a guy having so much arm strength that his organization overlooked the numbers.

Check out his delivery, though, and you can see that Edlefsen is a pitcher with some serious deception. His odd motion and fairly low arm slot also puts a ton of sink on the ball, about ten inches more sink than the average fastball. In fact, the movement on his heater isn’t unlike what you’d see from a sidearmer, except Edlefsen’s higher arm angle makes him (theoretically) less vulnerable to lefthanders.

So, the theory in having him around is that Edlefsen can basically provide all the virtues of a righty sidearm/groundball specialist without being completely helpless to lefties. Indeed, just eight of 43 balls in play off him were flies, so he executed in that regard.

And suddenly, the question shifts from why somebody so bad is in the majors to why somebody with this much fastball movement is so bad.

Well, first, Edlefsen really shouldn’t ever face a lefty. He faced twenty of them in the majors this year, and they hit a collective .533/.650/.933 against him. You can say all you want about small sample size, but I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that Edlefsen isn’t going to be of any use against southpaws. After all, he’s basically just a one-pitch pitcher to them, as he throws his fastball about 80% of the time to them. Just 52.3% of his pitches to lefthanders were strikes, as he was often way out of the zone:

Against righthanders, Edlefsen is more palatable. He got strikes on 58.6% of his pitches to them, which is still below-average but improved, and he managed to strike out as many righties as he walked (5). Still, righties hit .265/.375/.412 against him, which just isn’t good enough to carry the abysmal performance to lefthanders.

The biggest problem with Edlefsen’s performance to righthanders is that his slider doesn’t do enough to complement the sinker. The sinker got strikes 62.7% of the time, which is plenty given his groundball ability, and it even drew a 5.3% swinging strike rate, which is s0lid-average for a fastball. But Edlefsen could only get 21 strikes in 40 sliders, including just four swinging strikes.

Ultimately, you can only keep saying “But his fastball moves!” for so long. If you need a groundball against a righthanded hitter and can live with a walk, Edlefsen’s a pretty good option, but that’s such a limited role that even Tony La Russa would struggle to justify his presence in a bullpen. Without anything to make lefties blink or a more palatable breaking ball to righthanders, it’s highly unlikely Edlefsen will be able to stick in the major leagues for long.

For more on the Giants, check out Frisco Fastball!

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Tags: San Francisco Giants Steve Edlefsen