First Pitch: The Good and Bad of Radar Guns, Sudden Catching Depth, First Cuts

This week there were two quotes that really stood out to me that related to scouting pitchers. These quotes showed the good and the bad from radar gun readings.

The first quote comes from my article on the independent league pitchers the Pirates signed after John Holdzkom. This quote is from Holdzkom, discussing how it can be easier for pitchers to be seen, and how the radar gun can allow you to get a feel for how good a pitcher is after one game.

Holdzkom: “I think pitchers have an easier time of getting seen, simply because of the radar gun. Position players might take 15 games to watch them, to see how good they are. With a pitcher, you can kind of see what you’ve got watching them one time. So it’s definitely easier for a pitcher.”

This is definitely true, and something I’ve noticed a lot. Granted, there might be one game where you get a bad reading — either too high in velocity or too low. But it’s usually much quicker to get an initial report on a pitcher than it is a hitter.

Then there’s the bad of the radar gun. It’s such a big focus in scouting that often a good radar reading is all it takes to get signed. When it comes to the draft, pitchers will draw attention for their ability to hit high velocity numbers, especially at a young age. Jameson Taillon discussed this in my article about his delivery changes this year, and how that process led to him having poor mechanics heading into pro ball.

Taillon: “Specifically talking about the drop in the delivery, at that time, 19 years old, first outing in pro ball, I think the drop is attributed to the draft process. Trying to throw hard. Trying to get paid. [Laughs]. That’s how you’re trained growing up, unfortunately. I think some of it is immaturity. Not off-the-field immaturity, but with my body. That felt strong. I might not have been as physically mature at the time, so a big move like that helped me feel powerful and strong.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a process that will ever change, especially when you can draft the velocity and try to fix the mechanics. It makes you wonder if this is helping to contribute to the Tommy John epidemic recently. I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations, or suggest this is the one thing that leads to the injuries. But trying to throw as hard as you can with bad mechanics is probably not a good thing from a health perspective.

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Pete Ellis wrote this weekend about The Off-Season Adjustment That Might Have Solved Tony Sanchez’s Throwing Problems. Sanchez has been performing well this Spring, and for the last two days I’ve been getting a lot of questions wondering what the Pirates will do with him and Elias Diaz. The questions ranged from playing time in Triple-A, to wondering if Chris Stewart should be traded in order to make room for Sanchez on the active roster.

The odds are strong that Sanchez will be up in the majors at some point this year, with no trade needed to clear a spot. Someone will get injured, and if it happens in the first half of the season, Sanchez would be the guy to turn to. If it happens late in the season, then Sanchez would have to compete with Diaz for the role.

Either way, this isn’t a real problem. The Pirates potentially have good catching depth, and they can retain all of them without making a trade.

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The Pirates made their first cuts this weekend. First, they sent out five players, including Tyler Glasnow. The top prospect made his debut in minor league camp today, looking strong in two innings. Today they made another cut, sending out Stetson Allie.

I’d expect more cuts this week, especially with guys who have zero days of service time. Minor league camp is now starting to have games, and it is getting harder to get at-bats and innings for some guys, especially those who have no shot of making the active roster.

**

Other links from the weekend:

**Worley Remains In The Driver’s Seat For The Final Starting Spot; Stewart Injury Update

**Draft Prospect Watch: Phil Bickford Puts Up Big Strikeout Numbers, Jake Lemoine Gets Knocked Out Early

**Pirates Release Infielder Kevin Ross

**The Guy With the Best Strikeout Rate in the Pirates’ System in 2014

**Neal Huntington on Taillon’s Rehab, Diaz vs Sanchez, the Versatile Bench, Bullpen Battle

First Pitch

  • To answer the question of can coaches spot and use a crafty pitcher, it’s usually no. I’m 19, and almost a year removed from TJ. My sophomore year of high school I was not lighting up the gun, sitting around 75 as a lefty. But I got results when I did get in. I had a 1.70 ERA working only in relief. I was never given the chance to start because of my velocity. Eventually, with some bad adjustments to my delivery, I jumped to around 83, topping off at 85. I finally got some starts. However, I needed TJ less than a year later and I am now out of baseball.

  • Without hopefully jinxing the whole damn thing any word on Glasnow’s delivery and how sound it is as far as potential injury?

  • Zack Wheeler of the Mets now needs TJS – that is 5 Mets pitchers in the last 20 months needing TJS. Three Pirates pitchers in the last 12 months….there is something to this and I wonder if it is the desire for these kids to throw hard to get scholarships, drafted, etc?

    • I think the Mets peed on an ancient burial ground or something. I think back to when they had the big 3 in Paul Wilson, Isringhausen, and Bill Pulsipher…all arm issues.

  • Tim – The articles that you and Pete did on Taillon and Sanchez are some of the best honest-to-God “reporting” about player development I’ve seen. Great work.

  • Lee Foo Young
    March 16, 2015 10:14 am

    Benedict, in an interview on CBSlocal.com said that he doesn’t think that there is a Tommy John epidemic.

    Of course, now I read that Zack Wheeler has a torn UCL.

    • I know they data doesn’t bear it out, but feels like Glasnow and/or Cole is almost inevitable.

      • I get the sense that it’s inevitable for most guys that throw hard(or throw at all, really), but I’d say Cole is less likely to suffer because his dad is intelligent and prevented him from over-pitching when he was younger. It’s still a real possibility for Cole to get TJ but his routine when he was younger should help him avoid ligament issues, or at the very least delay them.

        • Key word being intelligent, something sadly lacking when fortune and glory come calling.

    • IT seems like a higher percentage of the TOP prospects get hurt now. Definitely could be attributed to the whole always being in a showcase thing and trying to get picked high and just burning up their arms. That definitely seems like a huge reason.

  • Scott Kliesen
    March 16, 2015 5:33 am

    I wonder how many high school baseball coaches would even know if a Pitcher is employing bad mechanics like Taillon? Especially if they’re bringing it at 90+ mph.

    • More pertinent question may be whether or not they care.

      Lot of coaches out there convincing themselves that they’re doing the right thing for their players, whether that is actually true or not.

      • It usually is the coaches involved with traveling teams that kill or help cure.

        • It’s been about a decade since I coached Legion ball, but even back then you could see how the coaches of these traveling teams pimped their studs for the scouts. Cared very little about teaching or frankly the results of the games themselves. They were showcase teams.

          • There you have it. I have read and listened to a quite a few interviews with Dr. Andrews and other knowledgeable folks on the subject, and the finger of guilt pretty much pointed in that direction.

            • Still happens a ton in legion/HS ball. I’ve seen opposing coaches both pimp the kid for a scout and, more consistently, use the kid in any situation if it was a close game. Cant even think of how many times we knew the stud had thrown 2-3 days ago, but when it was 1-2 runs headed to the late innings he would throw 1 inning. Heck, i worked with coaches that did it.

      • Scott Kliesen
        March 16, 2015 11:39 am

        You’re right, NMR, that’s the better question.

        Come play for me young stud, I have a track record of getting guys drafted and signing for millions of $$$$. Never mind they all need TJ surgery by their 23rd birthday.

      • Very few people care until they have money invested I would guess…and the whole velocity thing and having a 3 pitch arsenal rather than letting guys junk whatever they can at whatever angle they can throw it…I think the game needs more guys like that again. I think there is so much focus put on velocity and metrics that say a righty who throws 89 mph probably won’t have success…that a lot of crafty guys don’t get a chance to make it anymore. The Pirates are as guilty as anyone. If you aren’t a big projectable righty they probably don’t want you. But they aren’t the only ones by far. But what about guys that can just flat out pitch but don’t light up the gun? Do they get passed over as guys who will stall out at higher levels?

        • I have always wondered this too about the fact that more lefties that throw with less velo have success than righties…I know a big part of it is because of the lefty/lefty matchup thing and being able to better neutralize what averages out to more of the games best hitters but could part of it be the whole right brain/left brain thing? Lefties tend to think outside the box and often have a unique way of thinking…they also have to learn to improvise in a right-handed world so maybe when they are a little short on measurables they are more apt to figure out a way to make it work. Someone should do a study on this.

        • I’ll have to disagree with just about everything you wrote here.

          There isn’t a single metric that accounts for handedness, nor velocity, and the Pirates have most certainly given plenty of non-premium velo guys a chance…Jeff Kartsens, Vance Worley, Clayton Richard to name a few at the big league level. Newly acquired Stephen Brault would fit the bill, as well.

          I think what you’re forgetting is that an awful lot of the “crafty” guys who can “flat out pitch” were once big velo guys that lit up the guns when they were young.

          I said this last week in response to someone with similar thoughts as you, but I think you’re overlooking how difficult it is to be a Vance Worley at the big league level, especially how difficult it is to develop a guy like that.

          Deception is something that a lot of coaches/scouts/instructors will tell you is inherent in a guy’s delivery and not something you can simply make happen. Even assuming you could, then all you’d have to teach your hypothetical “crafty” pitcher is plus movement on 3-4 pitches matched with plus-plus command.

          Easy, right?! 😉

          • Definitely not saying craftiness is taught. Just saying a lot of guys that inherently have it may get overlooked. I usually compliment the Pirates fo for thinking outside the box but they definitely have a “type” when it comes to righties…and pretty much all the “crafty” righties they have gotten from elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, if I had a choice between drafting a kid that threw 95 or 89 I’d take the 95 kid probably 80-90% of the time too. I guess. I would guess just as many scouts have been burned thinking “this kid is crafty” as have been burned saying “this kid throws 93 at 18 but can’t control it.” Littlefield drafted tons of control guys without big velo and got burned just about 100% of the time.

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