POTD Sigh-Juan Walker (March 10, 2015)
Hide the women and children, Dept.

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Tracer:  Bill Swift, coming off an injury, fires 15* scoreless innings for Jim Lefebvre one spring.  The beat writers marvel, "If he throws like this, can he make the rotation?"  Lefebvre's response, not a trace of irony:  "If he throws like that he's going to be in the Hall of Fame."

That'll do for us too.  The Elias-Walker issue is NOT the relevant talking point after yesterday's performance.  Corey Kluber is the relevant talking point.  The rookie Michael Pineda.  The 2006 Justin Verlander.  That kind of splash, that would be the talking point.

......

Tracer:  a MLB rookie steps in against Sandy Koufax, who starts him off with a high fastball for a called strike.  The rookie, genuinely alarmed, steps out of the box.  He wants to ask the catcher and ump if that was a fluke, but thinks better of it, so stands there as if nothing had happened.  He writes in his autobiography, "I had just never seen a baseball travel that fast, and it threw me out of rhythm for a moment...

"Then I suddenly realized he had thrown that pitch out of the stretch."

If you watch Taijuan's motion, you will see that his front shoulder does not even hint at a load toward 3B.  He's just moving the front shoulder directly at the catcher without any torque, and is flinging the ball as if you were throwing darts in the basement.

........

Talking points on Walker's fastball March 9:

  • He averaged 94.7 MPH, which would have finished #3 in the AL last season, far ahead of Scherzer and Kluber.  (Only Ventura, Richards, and Paxton threw as hard.)
  • Adding to the velo:  the Jim Kaat delivery, the silly-long stride, the big hands, spin, and hop.
  • The vertical hop was 13.6 inches, on average.  Eight inches is ML average for a rising, four-seam, fastball.  11-12" is Brandon Morrow territory.  (Batters always swing under high fastballs when they miss.)
  • He enjoys pitching up.  I got your groundball theory right here, Fangraphs.  :: beast mode ::
  • His vertical release point was 6' 10" to 7' 5".  Doug Fister is currently at 6' 7".
  • Three out of four Taijuan fastballs are "wild in the zone."  

The template that 90% of sabermetricians enjoy, is that of a groundball pitcher who pounds the knees with a sinker and gets 55% grounders.  (HR's come off fly balls, and fly balls are 1/3 of xFIP.  By definition they consider you a worse pitcher if you throw fly balls.  They define success as, "how low are your pitches?")

Bill James, and Jeff Clarke, completely invert this.  The natural attack, for a talented TOR pitcher, is to change eye levels.  To throw fastballs over the bats and curves under them.  Pitching to contact is conceding defeat before the game begins.

.........

He didn't throw 25 of 33 strikes because he is Hisashi Iwakuma.  He can afford to come right down the pipe, and then 12" of error (diagonally) usually catches the zone.

It's an "idiot-proof" approach, one used by Randy Johnson in transition.  The fact that Taijuan can just heave the fastball down the middle, that geometrically simplifies his problems and execution.  It's a bit like Paxton having two pitches ... Taijuan's next pitch can always just be, "heave it."  He'll be fine.

........

Here is the vertical release point:

And Dr. D, swept away in his astonishment, will be forgiven for referring to the below as "off-the-charts" fastball rise:

.........

He threw the curve 3 times, two of them breaking to hit the knees and one breaking down out of the zone.

3 yakkers, 3 strikes.  He got two called strikes and a garbage swing.  It was 74 MPH, or -21 MPH off his fastball.

What's next, an eephus pitch?  Who has 21 MPH difference?  That's close to 1/4 in proportion.  The fastball travels 55 feet in the time the yakker travels ... 40 feet.  You only have 15 feet of time-rope to hold up on there, mister hitter.

..........

I only saw a true slider once.  Two strikes to a lefty, in on him, came in hot, broke like a U.S. Army drone mosquito.  Swerrvvvved out of the zone way onto the lefty's hands.  A half swing strike three.  The head yanked away from the pitch in fear, facing directly at the 1B dugout during the swing.

Dr. D is (sincerely) assuming that this will not occur often in 2015.  But let's say that Taijuan did become able to throw that one specific slider at will.  That is a fantasyland in which Taijuan might overtake Felix as the M's functional #1.

..........

The spikeball was, unfortunately, higher in the zone and sort of floated more like a changeup than in his first outing.  So it was only a "plus" pitch.

4 of 6 were strikes, the linear weights said it was "plus," and his arm action on it is certainly major league.

One good day for the spikeball, a wipeout pitch.  One lesser day for it, a functional pitch to deal with hitters cheating too much.

...........

Was it the Dodgers, the club that Alexi Ogando came up with?  Nah, it was like we lost a game to the Dodgers and then got destroyed in a Ranger game ... We remember the spring training game in which Ogando rolled out there ... that night the blogs were moaning and groaning about the M's inept offense.  SSI was asking, who or what is Alexi Ogando?!  Is he a lab creation?

Two innings and you could see that Ogando was the most unhittable pitcher in the game, or one of the most, and where had he been?  Turned out later he was a stash, a guy who had been in criminal limbo for years and who the Rangers had rolled the dice on.

In the last ten years, yesterday's Taijuan was the most Ogando-like spring experience Dr. D has had.  (Michael Pineda did not blindside us.)  It's hard to even imagine what the plate approach would be for a hitter, either left or right, if Taijuan threw those same pitches again next time.

If Taijuan were to execute exactly those pitches, over the course of 30 starts, then he would be this year's Corey Kluber.  Eight months on, we would be debating his percentage of the Cy Young vote.  We don't say that he will execute those pitches.

Be Afraid,

Dr D

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