Strikes versus stuff, and an air of frustration

On last night’s TCU vs Vanderbilt broadcast from the College World Series in Omaha, Riley Ferrell came in to pitch the last couple innings. With the game out of hand and Vanderbilt leading 7-1, Karl Ravech shifted into Baseball Tonight mode, asking Kyle Peterson if Ferrell could be in the majors this year – with Houston, of all teams. The response said a lot.

I made a crack on Twitter in jest this morning that the Rockies should just draft the entire TCU staff, including pitching coach Kirk Saarloos. They are a pitching factory right now. Ferrell has a 98mph fastball and is a big dude. We know big, hard throwing dudes like Tommy Kahnle are all the rage right now – but are they the right direction?

KP opened an interesting conversation on strikes versus stuff. Ferrell has stuff, enough to get major league batters out right now, but sometimes has control issues. KP mentioned discussing exactly that with Saarloos, who also recruited Thomas Eshelman at Cal State Fullerton. Eshelman (omg, also drafted by the Astros) rarely breaks glass and tops out at about 88mph, 90 with a tailwind. He set an obscene 17-to-1 K/BB ratio this year.

KP raised a few good points. 1) Can’t teach control. You can analyze repeatable mechanics and make adjustments, but control is a mindset. 2) Can teach “spin”, adding an off-speed pitch. 3) Velocity is good, velocity with around-zone movement is better, velocity without control is worse.

Saarloos said they are looking for guys out of high school with the control mindset – strikes. The stuff they can fix. The Rox have resorted to drafting high school pitching. As we’ve been discussing, we need Kyle Freeland to come through, this draft led by Mike Nikorak to go as well as it looks, and three more just like it, to return the farm system to health and deliver some quality pitching to the big club. (It’s going to be a long, long wait.)

One way to fix it is the Chad Bettis approach – don’t throw harder, throw smarter. He has actually backed off this year, intentionally down almost 2mph on his fastball from his 2013 debut. He has also correspondingly adjusted the slider, curve, and change to keep the differential – a problem Eddie Butler is working on right now. Bettis has also increased the changeup percentage, now throwing only 53% fastballs, 23% curves, and 19% changeups.

Bettis’ contact rate is down (83.3 to 77.9) and the swinging strike percentage is up (7.5 to 10.6). His BB/9 is down from over 4 to 2.7. It’s a move in the right direction.

Meanwhile, we are left with hard-throwing, less-control types in the pen – Brown, Kahnle, Oberg, and add Rex Brothers to that list. They stand in contrast to the Axford, Betancourt, Hawkins trio that has learned discipline the hard way. As KP said, “it looks good.” I liked it at the beginning of the year. Until you actually see it in action day-in and day-out. It can get outs, but can it pitch innings? When a starting staff comes up short outing after outing leaving a pen to absorb massive innings, it gets exposed.

Also getting exposed here are raw nerves as the frustration builds. DJ got punched out by Bill Miller on a borderline pitch from Broxton with a 3-2 count to end the game, and got a fine for the helmet spike to boot. The offense is definitely feeling the weight of being buried night after night with 4, 5, 6 run holes, and running into a pitcher they know nothing about. (BTW, Jungmann also did a number on the Pirates a few games ago. The book hasn’t caught up to him yet.)

Also In the 9th, Hundley ran into Rogers and was clearly on the grass out of the baserunning lane to first. That’s a no-no even if the fielder is standing in the lane not “in the act” of fielding. Bill Miller was following Hundley up the line and signaled interference immediately. But, it set off a huge argument, although a bit restrained from Weiss after getting tossed the other night:

I’m not sure Walt has it in him, but it would be fun. It’s gonna be a long 3 years.

It may be another long day. Opposing teams are coming into Coors and hitting the ball better than we are, and with Lohse on the mound and Tulo sitting we may be in for more weak output. We’ll see if the Bettis theory holds up, he got rocked in the Houston outing.

Milwaukee Brewers
SS Jean Segura (R)
CF Gerardo Parra (L)
RF Ryan Braun (R)
1B Adam Lind (L)
LF Shane Peterson (L)
2B Scooter Gennett (L)
3B Hernan Perez (R)
C Martin Maldonado (R)
P Kyle Lohse (R)

Rockies
CF C. Blackmon (L)
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
1B Wilin Rosario (R)
C Mike McKenry (R)
SS Daniel Descalso (L)
LF Brandon Barnes (R)
P Chad Bettis (R)

[sac_happens]

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sdcarp
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sdcarp
5 years ago

Fantastic article! Just fantastic. You make a great point here. Kirk Saarloos……journeyman major league pitcher, now learning the coaching craft the right way. Coming up through the ranks. Cal State Fullerton. Now TCU. In a position where not only does he need to know the “x’s” and “o’s,” but also has to teach/develop players everyday. I like guys like this. This is sort of akin to the Mike Sciosia path (except Sciosia managed in the low minors). If the Rox… Read more »

rockymountainhigh
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rockymountainhigh
5 years ago
Reply to  sdcarp

They already have developers in Steve Foster and Darren Holmes. Mark Wiley was brought in to overhaul pitching development a few years ago but got screwed around by Bill Geivett.

Matzek and Butler were sent back to fix their pitching ability like Chad Bettis at end of spring. That’s what it looks like to me, no?

sdcarp
Admin
sdcarp
5 years ago

RMH- I’ve heard all this stuff about Wiley. I don’t know the guy…..but I haven’t seen anything with Rox pitchers other than Chettis that tells me we’re doing anything correct with young guys we’ve drafted. I have no idea if Geivett interfered or not…..I just know the results aren’t there yet. Too early to say on Foster and Holmes. Regardless, this organization can use all the pitching minds possible as long as they’re generally on the same page. So I’m… Read more »

Agbayani
Agbayani
5 years ago

Agreed. Really well done, Donny D. Bettis does just “look good” this year, and from the stats perspective, there’s nothing illusory about what he’s doing. No weird BABIP or stranded runner numbers that would say “fluke.” Pitch blend better, obviously partly because the changeup is now a very effective pitch, control better, good K rate, low BB rate, much more of a groundball pitcher (10 to 1 today!) than the guy we saw the first couple times … and (knock… Read more »

sdcarp
Admin
sdcarp
5 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

I like DD’s story as it relates to Eshelman (you can’t teach control) for two resasons;

First, I think the Rox pitching philosophy should be “throw strikes/ walk no one” instead of “pitch to contact.”

Second, guys like Eshelman can be had in the 3rd, 4th, 5th rounds of the draft. That allows a team to draft offense early. I think that draft philosophy is a better fit for the Rockies.

Agbayani
Agbayani
5 years ago

Eshelman: meh. Most of the soft-tossing righty control artists don’t make it. Here’s a guy with a similar profile right thru Low A ball: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=balcom001chr Chris Balcom-Miller. Low A ball, walked 1.5 per 9, struck out 9.5 per 9. Some Rockies fans who overthink things (I plead guilty here) were incensed when we traded him to the Red Sox for Manny Delcarmen, who pitched about 10 games for us in relief in 2010. We were right about the total suckitude… Read more »

rockymountainhigh
Admin
rockymountainhigh
5 years ago

Related to this discussion and pitching philosophy; i believe this is why we drafted Jack Wynkoop. The metrics were not that impressive in high school, yet he went on to have very successful career at South Carolina. One scout (from Baseball America? ) thinks Wynkoop has a chance to be fastest to majors cuz he just throw strikes and mix pitches well.

sdcarp
Admin
sdcarp
5 years ago

Monfart said “draft that Wynkoop kid and draft him now, I’ll be able to get free beer at his brewery.”

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