The Tigers are a team that’s looking to turn into a perennial contender after signing Prince Fielder to pair with Miguel Cabrera this offseason. But they have learned just how important starting depth is in April. Justin Verlander is dominating as usual, but Doug Fister went down with a rib cage injury, and Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and fill-in Adam Wilk are struggling. This has elucidated to the Tigers how important it is that their young starting pitchers, rookie Drew Smyly and top pitching prospects Justin Turner, Andy Oliver, and Casey Crosby, continue to develop and hopefully become crucial pieces of the Tigers’ ballclub. Today we’ll look at Crosby, a pitcher with the potential to be an impact starting pitcher in the big leagues, but also the inconsistency that could cause him to be another pitcher that keeps the frustration level high for Tigers starting pitchers after Justin Verlander.
Crosby, a 6’5″, 225 lefty, has an impressive repertoire of pitches that leaves evaluators almost uniformly walking away impressed. His fastball hits the mid-90’s with natural cutting action and he mixes it well with a big 1-7 curveball. He also throws a changeup with promising sink. Crosby has been able to miss bats as a pro, posting a 8.8 K/9, and he has also been able to force groundballs, posting a 0.5 HR/9 for his career and a groundball rate of over 50%. However, he has struggled constantly with command and control of his three pitches, putting his future as a starting pitcher in question. Can Crosby figure it out?
In an attempt to answer that question, we’ll look at Crosby’s Pitch F/X data from his stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. He worked as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.32 ERA in 11 appearances, but posting just a 3.71 FIP as he struck out 8.6 batters per 9 innings but walked 6.6. Let’s see what happened. The data is from Brooks Baseball while the graph is mine. Let’s take a look.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
Crosby’s pitches look nice on the graph and they’re the reason he has such great potential. But there are significant problems with his pitches that leave his future cloudy. Crosby’s fastball in the mid-90’s features enough late movement that it functions as a great swing-and-miss pitch. But as you can see, it doesn’t have a ton of horizontal movement at all, and if hitters anticipate its cutting action, they can elevate it. Another concern is that sometimes its cutting actions takes it straight out of the zone. That is something that has been more prevalent as Crosby has advanced through the minor leagues. Crosby’s curveball has sharp break and good depth, and it’s a pitch that Crosby has used to force swings-and-misses, fool hitters for called strikes, and force groundballs. But its sharp movement along with an inconsistent release point has led Crosby’s control and command of the pitch to waver. Crosby’s changeup also shows nice action, but it has a multiplicity of problems. Its release point is a little off from cutter, tipping it just slightly, and then he has trouble controlling it. And it has to be noted that although its movement starts initially like his fastball, it moves completely differently from there. Crosby’s arsenal still needs a ton of work.
Crosby is currently at Triple-A and struggling, having gone 2-2 with a 5.00 ERA, an 8.0 K/9, a 5.0 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 (3.81 FIP) in 4 starts but just 18 IP. Crosby looks dominant at time but at other times he completely loses control. If Crosby is to reach his upside as a number two starter in the big leagues, he will have to tighten up his control on all three of his pitches. If he can’t manage that, he projects much better as a late inning reliever, where he can stick with his cutter and have his secondary pitches play up. Even then though, he could be a reliever that drives fans nuts with fluctuating control. Casey Crosby has a future in the major leagues and the Tigers will give him an opportunity to remain as a starter. But to make the type of impact he has the ability to make as a starter or reliever, he has to get his control up to par.
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