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 Tigers starter Jacob Turner.
Jacob Turner is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball after putting together a huge year in Double-A and Triple-A despite turning 20 near the middle of the season. The former ninth overall pick displayed impressive polish and should become a regular rotation member this season, probably by the time he turns 21.
Turner also made three starts for the big club, in which he posted a respectable eight strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. However, he allowed three home runs and seventeen hits, which pushed his ERA to 8.53 and his FIP to 6.03. Of course, a rough introduction like that should be of little concern, since he’s so young and talented and has just three Triple-A starts under his belt.
The young righthander worked at 89-94 mph with his fastball, so he’s not a pure power pitcher. However, he gets plus cut and sink on the pitch and makes things very uncomfortable for righthanders with it:
The cutting action on the pitch means he can start it off the inside corner and run it back over, and he also throws a lot of pitches off the inside corner that can open up the outer half for his offspeed pitches. Against lefties, he could probably stand to pound them more inside with the cutting action:
Still, though, Turner was able to get 76.9% of his fastballs to go for strikes against lefthanders (Pitch F/X also classifies a few of them as cutters, and 70% of those were strikes as well). Against righties, it was just 64.5% (73.7% on the “cutters”), although Turner did get a higher swinging strike rate against them.
Since he gets good movement on the fastball and locates it well (backing righties off the plate, avoiding walks to lefties), Turner’s heater profiles as a plus pitch in spite of its merely solid-average velocity.
His second pitch is a curveball that he loves to throw to righthanders, as it made up nearly 30% of his pitches to them. It’s a hard curve at 77-81 mph, and it’s got tight break. His usage of the pitch to righthanders smacks of “But this worked in Double-A…”
Double-A batters might chase that pitch; it’s a tougher sell to big league hitters. Now, seven of his 39 curves to righties drew a whiff, which is excellent…but just eighteen (46.2%) went for strikes.
Do note that he likes to break the pitch over the outer half, which plays nicely off the fastball inside to righthanders. Against lefties, he basically used it as a show pitch:
That might work better than it would appear at first, since we have to remember that he’s filling the zone with the fastball and throwing the curve less, which makes the curve come as more of a surprise, and also tougher to lay off of, in light of behind ahead in the count. Turner actually did draw swings on six of those 14 pitches, although only one failed to draw contact.
Turner also throws a changeup, but it needs some work, as it came in at an average speed of just 5.2 mph less than his fastball. That said, the pitch’s sharp fade is a big contrast with the fastball’s cut, and the changeup also has a lot of sink, making it almost like a splitter. He used it almost exclusively to lefthanded batters, but again, he hasn’t yet realized that MLB hitters don’t chase just anything:
Like the curve, then, the changeup went for strikes under half the time, although it did draw an above average number of swinging strikes.
Taken as a whole, Turner is a very promising pitcher who just needs to learn how to be less formulaic with his locations. When you have his grade of stuff, it’s fairly easy to breeze through the minors with a “fastball for strike one, fastball for strike two, offspeed in the dirt for swinging strike three” approach. Pounding the zone with the fastball still plays well in the majors–not coincidentally, Turner’s fastball was his only pitch with a positive Pitch Type Linear Weights value–but it’s tough to get away with throwing over 3/4 of your offspeed pitches out of the strike zone.
Both of his offspeed offerings have the movement to play very well off his fastball–the only thing Turner needs to do is bring them into the zone a bit more often (in particular, not throwing a bunch of curves and changes 18 inches off the plate to lefties). I see no reason that he wouldn’t make that adjustment once he goes through a few MLB turns, and I see Turner as a Dan Haren-type frontline starter in the big leagues once he hits his prime.
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