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 swingman Michael Fiers.
Few pitchers put together more impressive minor league seasons in 2011 than Michael Fiers, who put up a 1.11 ERA in 64 2/3 innings in Triple-A after a midseason promotion from Double-A, striking out 69 and walking 22. In Double-A, he’d had a 2.64 ERA with a 63/14 K/BB in 61 1/3.
Fiers got a September callup to the Brewers and threw two scoreless innings despite allowing five baserunners.
As you might expect of someone who was in the Southern League for his 26th birthday, Fiers isn’t a hard thrower, as he topped out at 90 mph with the Brewers–keep in mind that even that velocity was reached in one-inning relief appearances, not starts.
Fiers does get great leverage on the pitch in his delivery, releasing the ball with such downward plane that he seems much taller than his listed height of 6’3″.
The fastball explodes up in the strike zone with late life that makes it tough to hit, and in fact, six of the 28 he threw in the big leagues got swinging strikes. An extreme flyball pitcher, he works very high with the heater:
One has to be skeptical of a pitcher throwing a ton of 85-90 mph fastballs in these locations, but it’s clearly worked for Fiers thus far. I mean, if you’re going to post a 1.11 ERA in the Pacific Coast League, of all places, you must be doing something right (it’s worth noting his FIP was 3.03, and over half his runs were unearned, but still).
Fiers also throws a cutter, a changeup, and a curveball. He only flashed the three pitches briefly in his two MLB innings, but the 78-81 mph changeup showed good fade, and the 70-74 mph curveball showed huge break. The curveball and fastball have approximately two feet of difference in their vertical movement; that’s rare.
Certainly, Fiers isn’t going to intimidate with velocity, but he’s got some deception in his motion, he gets great plane to the plate, and all his pitches have life. Those expecting him to start posting sub-3.00 ERAs in the Brewers rotation will be in for a disappointment, but he may be able to become a lesser version of fellow Brewer Shaun Marcum, mixing pitches and getting good strikeout numbers without having much velocity at all. We shouldn’t forget that he’ll be 27 in June, so as soon as he settles in, he’s not going to get a whole lot better.
In short, don’t write him off based on the velocity, but don’t expect miracles because of his numbers.
For more on the Brewers, check out Reviewing The Brew.