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 Twins reliever Kyle Waldrop.
Kyle Waldrop was once a highly-touted starting pitcher prospect in the Twins organization, as he was drafted 25th overall way back in 2004 and projected to be a classic Twins-style control pitcher.
That didn’t work out, of course, and five years after being drafted, Waldrop was just an anonymous relief pitcher in the Florida State League. He certainly didn’t wow anybody in the bullpen, but he threw a lot of strikes, and after spending all of 2010 and 2011 as a dependable if unspectacular Triple-A arm, he got the call to Minnesota late this year. Waldrop threw 11 innings across 7 games with mixed results, striking out just five and walking six while allowing seven runs (5.73 ERA, 4.93 FIP).
Even with the move to relief, Waldrop is no power pitcher. He scraped 90 with his fastball on a few occasions, but mostly worked at 87-89 mph. He does get good sink on the offering, and at 6’5″, he’s able to drive the ball down in the zone:
Waldrop does a credible job getting strikes with the fastball (64.8%), but the real surprise is that he missed some bats with the pitch–his 9.1% swinging strike rate is nearly double the fastball average. That’s a big surprise coming from a guy who barely eclipsed 5 K/9–in Triple-A.
Between the sink, plane, and location of the pitch, Waldrop should get a lot of ground balls with it, and in fact, his groundball rate of 75.6% would’ve led the majors if he had enough innings.
Both the unexpectedly high swinging strike rate and the high groundball rate, of course, come in an extremely small sample, but it does seem likely that Waldrop will rack up the worm-burners with the pitch, and he may not be quite as helpless with swinging strikes as one would think.
Basically a two-pitch pitcher, Waldrop throws the fastball about 3/4 of the time. That actually goes a long way toward explaining why he doesn’t get many strikeouts despite having the good whiff rate on the heater–fastballs get far fewer whiffs than most offspeed pitches, so he gives back much of the swinging strike advantage on the pitch merely by throwing it more than most pitchers. As a result, his overall swinging strike rate (8.4%) was a bit under the MLB average.
Waldrop’s other pitch is a 74-80 mph overhand curveball. It’s not a huge breaker, and he doesn’t throw it in the zone much:
Waldrop was able to get strikes on 63.6% of his curves, and the pitch’s swinging strike rate was 12.1% (small sample REALLY applies). That puts it as a solid-average pitch–that makes some sense, because it’s basically a fringe-average sort of offering that plays up because hitters have to sit on the fastball.
Waldrop also has a changeup, but he rarely uses it and it’s not much of a factor.
The most interesting aspect of his performance is that batters chased a whopping 41% of Waldrop’s pitches that fell outside the strike zone. That’s another reason his strikeout rate could be so low–batters swing so often that they’re bound to hit something. Further interesting, however, is that they actually swung at a below-average percentage of pitches in the zone. Chances are that those numbers will come closer to the norms in a bigger sample, but they do speak to the good movement, deception, and patterning that Waldrop possesses.
There’s more to like here than one would expect from a guy who struck out 44 batters in 79 Triple-A innings. His sinking fastball seems very effective, he projects to get a ton of ground balls, and he can get batters to chase tough pitches. Waldrop could perhaps evolve into the next Matt Guerrier–a relief pitcher who doesn’t get many strikeouts but still manages to put up shiny ERAs for many years.
For more on the Twins, check out Puckett’s Pond!