Rule 8: Pitching “sleepers” are guys who get outs, but need to improve command/control
As I went through the “rules” for hitters, I emphasized that hitters need some level of “all-around” skill to survive in the major leagues. For pitchers, however, that is not necessarily the case.
Some pitchers can make it primarily by getting the advantage on the hitter by throwing strikes and avoiding balls. Marco Estrada of the Brewers was the most extreme example I found, with 9.3 K/9 and just 1.9 BB/9. Problem is, of course, that putting the ball in the the strike zone every time means you just might be serving up balls that can be hit. And, Estrada, not surprisingly, gave up 18 homers and had a .419 SLG against.
Others go the opposite way, in which the strike zone doesn’t matter as much as throwing pitches that can’t be hit effectively. Kyle Farnsworth of Tampa Bay has made a career of this approach — walking a ton, but bringing enough heat to stay afloat.
Of course, it is better to have both, and the guys who can throw unhittable strikes are going to get their big dough (Craig Kimbrel in 2012: 116 K, just 14 walks and a 1.01 ERA).
What about finding “sleepers” among prospects? The best place to look is among guys who are getting outs and limiting damage, but need improvement with command/control. The latter can often come with experience and work on mechanics. If they can succeed without command/control, then it say a lot about their “stuff.”
Not that I would call him a “sleeper” (as a No. 2 overall pick in the draft), but Danny Hultzen of the Mariners went through some manner of issues once he was promoted to AAA last season. His command went on the frizz and his walk rate and ERA ballooned. But … he was still relatively effective in terms of what he was giving up. His SLG-against in AAA was .353, still very good considering he was struggling to throw strikes. His numbers indicate that Hultzen will be more than fine once he smooths out whatever was bothering him.
Such an approach appears to forecast good things for Phillies reliever Jake Diekman. Despite having little control over the strike zone (6.6 BB/9), Diekman wasn’t giving hitters anything they could do much with — only 0.3 HR/9 (consistent with what he was doing in the minors) and a .327 SLG-against. If he can figure out how to bring that walk rate down, Diekman’s “stuff” makes him look like a good bet.