Masters of Deception
One of the toughest things to sort through is the long term future of a pitcher new to the major leagues. We've all seen the guy that, perhaps surprisingly, enjoys success in his first start - and often first several starts. However, a large percentage of those guys fall off the radar quickly, and what's worse, all too often that fall coincides with them being picked up with great expectations by many fantasy owners. You missed the good starts and jumped in just in time to take the drubbings. Is anything more frustrating? This week's topic is "deception" and how it equates to short-term and long-term success for a pitcher. It's not unusual for a pitcher with an eccentric or deceptive delivery to enjoy success early on, but let's talk about expectations for later. Let's get to it.
There are a lot of things that contribute to the success of a pitcher - overall stuff, command, hiding the ball well, deception, consistency, mound demeanor and good health to name just a few. The trick is, some of those things can get you off to a good start, but a select few are almost mandatory for that success to continue long term. Health certainly figures into a long-term career, but a pitcher also needs excellent stuff or excellent command (both is obviously the ideal) if the early success will manifest itself over years rather than months or even weeks.
I'd like to focus on the guys who come onto the scene, and look like serious Cy Young candidates right out of the box, even though there wasn't much to suggest they were going to take the major leagues by storm when the call went out. I get questions all the time about these guys, and I will clarify my standard response - if they have excellent stuff and/or excellent command, or both, grab them. If the stuff and/or command are iffy or questionable, their early success is likely a mirage. Those are the guys that put up such appealing numbers, but fall from grace after a handful of starts. And, the hardest part of that is they usually implode just after someone decides to grab them.
Let's look at some examples. There are several variations on what a pitcher does that could bring success early on. A couple years ago, the Diamondbacks' Josh Collmenter sprang onto the scene and was a dynamo. Most of his early innings were dominating as hitters struggled horribly to pick him up. That's the key - they struggled to pick him up. Collmenter has decent command but very pedestrian stuff. However, he throws from over the top, and that release point is something major league hitters rarely see. Because they aren't used to it, they need some time to read it and adjust. Initially, he was king of the hill, but as the hitters had a chance to study him and became more familiar, his effectiveness waned, especially when he had to face them three or four times in a game. He eventually settled in as a competent swing man, long relief or an occasional spot start, usually only lasting four or five innings, and the reduced exposure allowed him to do a respectable job in that role. Those who added him thinking they had struck gold were disappointed, but his stuff and command dictated his ultimate level.
More recently, I'll mention the Padres Odrisamer Despaigne. A Cuban defector, he landed in San Diego, after some lackluster (to say the least) minor league outings. Despaigne is another with marginal stuff. But, unlike Collmenter, he has a slightly different gimmick that contributed to some eye-opening success in his first few starts. He throws about a dozen different pitches, and he is apparently willing to throw them at any time in virtually any count. Remember, for the most part, they aren't exceptional offerings, but they do require hitters to catalog each pitch, and be aware that it could be coming. That's a lot to keep track of when you haven't faced the pitcher, or at least had an opportunity to view video of him. Despaigne is the poor man's Yu Darvish. He throws quite a variety of pitches in his arsenal too. The difference is, with Darvish, most of his offerings are in the exceptional category. I love watching Despaigne! I even own him on a couple of my teams. That said, I didn't expect anything much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. He needs to get ahead in counts for all those pitches to be weapons, he benefits from pitching in Petco Park, and I hope he can adjust as the hitters adjust to him. If he does, he can have some value.
Finally, I'll mention the most frequent ticket to early success. It is simply deception. Something about the pitcher's motion makes it more difficult for the hitter to pick up the ball as it is released from his hand. I'll use as my example, the Yankees' Shane Greene. He's been on quite a roll, but there may be some chinks in his armor. In his case, he throws across his body, and that can be more difficult for hitters to see, again because they don't see it all that often. Pitch recognition is measured in fractions of a second, so if that recognition is delayed, however briefly, it gives the pitcher a bump up. Greene is enjoying his advantage now, but if you watch him, you'll find that he is something of a two-pitcher pitcher. He has a decent fastball and slider, but a very ordinary change-up. That is a recipe for bullpen duty. It could take hitters awhile to get him figured out, but unless that change-up becomes more reliable, he will likely have problems when asked to pitch deep into games.
There are a lot of different ways pitchers can find success with a deceptive motion. Some appear to be all arms and legs when they release the ball, some turn their backs on the hitter before coming to the plate, and others have a very herky-jerky motion that can be quite distracting. The logical question would be, why don't pitchers with excellent stuff and excellent command come up with a deceptive motion? The reason is pretty simple actually - excellent stuff and excellent command are usually the by-product of a smooth, repeatable, efficient delivery, the opposite of deceptive. In the long run, that great stuff and pinpoint command will win out. Just remember to look past the deceptive motion, or wild assortment of pitches when evaluating long term upside. If he doesn't have excellent stuff and/or excellent command, preferably both, your best bet for a waiver claim would be to take him and deal him while his value is artificially high.
Some Notable Rotation Ramblings
• He lasted just one inning Monday night, and left complaining of shoulder pain after being rocked for four runs. Is this something new for Justin Verlander or has his season been one of shoulder woes that have finally gotten bad enough to shut him down? No structural damage is the report, but I'm concerned.
• The Mets are hinting that they may just wait until next year to bring their next prized pitching prospect up. You can't blame them. Noah Syndergaard has been inconsistent this year in the minors, and the Mets are going anywhere. In 2015 they can unleash him along with Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey.
• Derek Holland is getting close to returning for the Rangers and reports suggest he is looking sharper all the time. The Rangers are a mere shadow of the team he left when he was injured, but I'd be willing to take a shot with him if I really needed an arm for the stretch run on my fantasy team.
• Here's another name that may be getting close. Arizona's Daniel Hudson is two Tommy John surgeries removed from his last meaningful stint in the show, but there was a lot to like back in 2010 and 2011. I'm not even sure if he'll start right away, but there is certainly nothing blocking his path.
• I watched Drew Hutchison pitch again the other night, and I still see him as a back-of-the-rotation arm. He also throws across his body and that provides some deception. He does have a more diverse repertoire of pitches but he needs to locate them down rather than up in the zone. He's young, so potential remains.
• The Reds announced that Homer Bailey is dealing with some elbow soreness, and he is expected to land on the disabled list. Bailey has a history of pitching through various minor ailments, but that has also probably contributed to his sometimes erratic performance on the mound.
The Tigers find themselves in a late-season dilemma. Joe Nathan continues to struggle, and Joakim Soria just went on the disabled list. They tried Joba Chamberlain and that didn't work so well, so the guess is they will stay with Nathan and hope for the best, at least until Soria returns. ... Steve Cishek is struggling in South Florida these days. He's been so successful for so long he probably has considerable leash, but keep in mind there were many surprised when he enjoyed that initial success. ... It remains to be seen whether the Padres will hang on to Joaquin Benoit as their closer for next season or deal him, but he is doing a solid job. ... I do think the Cubs will take a look at putting Kyuji Fujikawa in the closer's role yet this season. Once they are sure he is physically ready for the workload, it's a win/win for them - an audition for a possible trade, and/or confirming he can be the guy next year. ... Jenrry Mejia is dealing with a smorgasbord of injuries, including a hernia that will require off-season surgery. He's trying to pitch through it all but owners might want to tag Jeurys Familia, just in case. ... Decision time is almost upon us with the White Sox. Matt Lindstrom and Zach Putnam may want the closer's job held by Jacob Petricka, but he has done reasonably well for the most part, so it's not written in stone they will switch. Lindstrom has experience and profiles better as a closer than Putnam so he is likely the main threat. ... When the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen is locked in (fairly often) he is almost untouchable.