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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday May 10, 2013 2:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.


BP's mechanics guru stops by to take your pitching questions (and also your non-pitching questions).

Doug Thorburn: Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to watch baseball every once in awhile, you might miss it. Let's get to the chatter.

Rob (DC): In the wake of the scary J.A. Happ injury, I'm wondering how much attention today's pitching coaches pay to having pitchers land in a good defensive position. Is there more or less attention given to this issue now than in the past? (Needless to say, I don't mean to suggest by my question that Happ should have or could have defended himself from that screaming line drive.) Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: Coaches spend considerable time on PFP (pitcher fielding practice), yet the mechanical focus is tilted toward generating the best possible stuff, and some of the popular strategies are not conducive to finding a strong defensive position. Players with mechanical efficiency will often finish in position to make a play, but that efficiency is often sacrificed in the name of creating angles and deception. For example, a spine-tilting pitcher who lacks balance will typically finish by falling off the mound to the glove side.

BobcatBaseball (Athens, OH): Who was your favorite pitcher to watch growing up?

Doug Thorburn: I was partial to the A's growing up, and I especially enjoyed watching the glare of Dave Stewart and the sweeping delivery of Dennis Eckersley.

On the jukebox: Santana & Buddy Miles, "Them Changes"

Corky (Denver): Doug, Do you think control can be taught to extremely wild pitchers such as Kyle Crick or Tyler Glasnow to can get their BB/9 down to under 3 per 9 or do you just hope they keeps it under 5 per 9 and remain very unhittable ? I don't see much success for them as they climb the ladder with high BB/9 stats.

Doug Thorburn: Pitch command can be taught to anyone, but the question is whether the pitcher can make the physical adjustments necessary for the lessons to sink in. I'm not just talking about mechanics, but also the conditioning necessary to get into ideal baseball shape. A pitcher who is imbalanced, mechanically or strength-wise, will constantly struggle with pitch repetition. A pitcher needs to have elite raw stuff in order to survive with a walk rate over 4 per 9.

Tim (Delaware): Do you see my boy Matt Kemp picking up the homerun rate anytime soon? Thanks for the chat by the way!

Doug Thorburn: I am not expecting much from Kemp in the power department for awhile, as I am wary of his power potential as he regains strength following off-season shoulder surgery. Shoulder strength and integrity of the joint play a big role in generating power for both hitters and pitchers, and the recovery time is typically slow as compared to other types of injuries. I am not expecting much from Kemp in the power department for awhile.

Adam (Houston): Thanks for the chat! What is your take on Avisail Garcia? High ceiling kind of guy?

Doug Thorburn: Garcia's lack of secondary skills probably limits the height of his ceiling. He has the chops to make consistent contact, but with near-zero patience and limited power, he basically has to hit .300 in order to carry much value.

On the jukebox: Billy Idol, "Rebel Yell"

Nick (Jacksonville): Who would you rather have in your farm system: D.J. Davis or Victor Roache?

Doug Thorburn: I'll take power over speed every day, so give me the upside of Roache over Davis. Roache has a huge power profile, and he could be a rapid riser when/if his wrist fully heals. Wrist issues can be death to power bats, so that is the X factor.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Pelfrey coming back so quickly: crazy, crafty or the emerging normal? The results have been mixed, so is there much point to waiting for command to return before taking the ball or just working it out on the mound?

Doug Thorburn: There is a range of outcomes when it comes to any surgery, and though TJS has become commonplace, there is always a question whether the player can return to full functionality. Pitch command is critical for a guy who lives on the margins and pitches to contact, so Pelfrey is the type of pitcher who often takes longer to come back given the issues that elbow problems create for pitch command. This risk of re-injury is such that I tend to be cautious with pitchers, but the early indications are certainly encouraging in Pelfrey's case.

On the jukebox: Metallica, "Seek and Destroy"

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Steve Blass disease was never well understood, but can you say a few words about some guys who have had non-fatal bouts with it and how they managed to recover? Shooter Hunt and Alex Wimmers, both in the MIN org in the recent past, fall into this category.

Doug Thorburn: Well, it depends on the conditions surrounding the disease. Danny Hultzen completely lost it last year, throwing as many pitches to the backstop as those that hit leather. As a lefty with an extremely closed stride, there are aspects of his delivery that failed to support his natural signature, so his issues were rooted in mechanics and there was a pretty straightforward fix for his problems. Sometimes the problem is tied to a lack of functional strength or poor balance, and sometimes it's mental. Give me the guys with mechanical issues in order to put them in a physical position to succeed.

On the jukebox: Misfits, "I Wanna Be a NY Ranger"

Josh (Toronto): Hey Doug, I'm a big Blue Jays fan wondering what's happened to my boy Ricky Romero. He had such a great fb/change combo two seasons ago, but now it seems he can't throw a strike. Timing, mechanics, or just something intangible? Thanks!

Doug Thorburn: Yes and yes. His balance and posture have always been an issue - his spine is crooked like a question mark at release point - and these are barriers to pitch repetition. But it's his timing and mechanical sequencing that cause the wheels to come off. In his start against SEA, things were cruising along fine for the first three innings, but then he completely lost the timing of trunk rotation. Late rotation caused him to miss several pitches up and to the arm side, and then he over-corrected to throw six consecutive pitches that missed badly to the glove side and low. This is a common occurrence, and though some pitcher will have small battles with timing and sequencing from time to time, the issue is a persistent problem for Romero.

flyingdutchman (Oakland, CA): Umpires have HD TVs and both the home and visitor feeds of replays, and the overturning of a call is up to the sole discretion of the crew chief. What is the most likely explanation for Angel Hernandez making the wrong call two nights ago? Not what is HIS most likely explanation, but THE most likely explanation?

Doug Thorburn: That was horrific, especially given that Hernandez is supposed to be trusted A) for his eyes, and B) for his ability to track the flight of baseballs for a living. I wish I had a better explanation - it's easily excusable when an ump misses a live play, but to miss the call after multiple video replays (using both the home and away camera feeds!) was inexcusable.

On the jukebox: Queens of the Stone Age, "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret"

Jon (Detroit): Speaking of Avisail Garcia, who do you think gets the call to the majors first, Garcia or Nick Castellanos? Will Detroit wait for an injury, or just promote one of them when they think they're ready?

Doug Thorburn: Castellanos is scuffling a bit at the higher levels, and his breakout at Lakeland is drifting further into the rearview mirror. The MLB roster is pretty loaded and the Tigers sit in a weak division, but Andy Dirks is not blocking anybody in LF. I say that Garcia gets there first, but that Castellanos wins the job once he is ready. A competitive team like Detroit has less incentive to play games with the arb clock, but in this case the promotion will be tied to performance. Castellanos has to earn his role.

Josh G (Stockton, CA): Have you noticed anything mechanical that could be part of Ryan Vogelsong's struggles?

Doug Thorburn: His velocity is down a bit from 2011-12, crossing over the fat part of the bell curve and threatening the 90-mph barrier. He looks fine mechanically, though his timing is not as consistent as the past two seasons, and he will be more hittable so long as the combo of lesser command and shrunken velocity continues to allow batters to capitalize on his mistakes. I do think he's been a bit unlucky this season, as I have seen many plays where he gave up a hit despite hitting his target, only to watch a grounder find a hole in the infield.

On the jukebox: The Clash, "Four Horsemen"

smitty99 (Federal Way, WA): I've noticed a few big hard throwing but wild pitchers are now tapping the ball in their glove in the middle of their windup. Is this something new and does it make sense?

Doug Thorburn: It's not necessarily new, in the sense that many pitchers have odd quirks, but if it is a targeted piece of instruction then that would be news to me. I don't see a functional reason for it, and it sounds like the strategy would get in the way of pitch command by creating another kink in the kinetic chain. I would never give an already-wild pitcher another complication to his delivery, so hopefully this is just an observational anomaly.

Lance (Kansas City): What are the chances the Royals call up Yordano Ventura this season? Is there any chance he becomes a closer? Or do you think they'll stick with him as a starter?

Doug Thorburn: I really like the raw components of Ventura's delivery, including plus momentum and a long stride that brings him closer to the plate. His balance wavers, but Ventura typically finishes with strong posture as well. As I mentioned in the intro to Episode 2 of the TINSTAAPP podcast, pitching prospects are different from hitters when it comes to development and rising through the system. The demands of the bullpen are less than those of the starting rotation, and he could make the jump from Double-A to the big league bullpen if the Royals decide that his pitch command is far enough along. I prefer starters in a vacuum, but the Royals are in a good position with Ventura to try the Earl Weaver strategy of grooming their SP prospects with some time in bullpen at the highest level. Of course, these days you have to be careful, because a pitcher that succeeds in his first taste of the bigs as a reliever often gets cornered into that role for the long term.

On the jukebox: Anthrax, "Pipeline"

Kyle (Minnesota): Mr. Vlad Guerrero's nephew Gabriel Guerrero tore up the summer league last year. Do you know if he has the chance to be anything close to his uncle when the time comes? Thanks for the chat!

Doug Thorburn: To be fair, nothing is close to Vlad Guerrero. He was a rare specimen in so many ways. You might be able to comp Pablo Sandoval with respect to pure contact skills and approach at the plate, but the defensive profiles are miles apart. Gabriel Guerrero performed well in rookie league, but we are a long way from knowing whether his game will translate to the higher levels (.192/.232/.250 in 112 PA in the Midwest League this season).

zwestwood (arizona): I posit that teams should acquire more starters and no closers. let the bullpen be staffed with high stamina guys. That would leave more bats. Where is the next big idea on bullpen management coming from?

Doug Thorburn: Well, I think that the game is drifting to the opposite pole with respect to reliever usage, and it's hard to argue with the results. In today's game, the effectiveness and strategic utility of bullpens far supercedes the bats off the bench consider that relievers can generally be expected to post superior run-prevention numbers as compared to starters, even with limited arsenals, but that pinch hitters and defensive replacements represent only marginal upgrades. This is particularly true in the DH league, and given murmurs to restore uniformity between the leagues, I get the feeling that if were we to add a 26th spot to the roster then most teams would just jump to a 14th pitcher in the pen.

On the jukebox: Dredg, "Somebody is Laughing"

brukru (Pittsford): Can Eric Hosmer pull the ball? I watch him daily and he just seems interested in only hitting the ball to left field???? Case of a young guy sarting to get it and he will start pulling the ball later, or is he what we see???

Doug Thorburn: He might just be that type of hitter, and his approach is not really designed to tap into his power potential. The question is whether he is intentionally letting pitches get deep on him before triggering his swing, a la Joeey Votto, or if Hoz is going the other way because he can't catch up to the stuff throw his way. He appears to have the bat speed to get in front of pitches, but it could come down to pitch recognition.

Bob (Boston): Doug, Garin Cecchini is tearing up A+ this year and with Middlebrooks and possibly Bogaerts in front of him at 3B do you see him making a move to the OF ?

Doug Thorburn: Given his questionable defense and the aforementioned players ahead of Cecchini on the depth chart, I would say that a move to the OF or 1B could very well be in his future. Cecchini may not have the range for the OF - of course LF in Fenway is small enough to make Manny Ramirez acceptable - and with Napoli only signed for one year and not much else in the pipeline at the cold corner, I could ultimately see Cecchini at 1B.

On the jukebox: Ennio Morricone, "Ecstasy of Gold"

D. Loria (Last Place): A question that will probably be debated for years, but who do you prefer between Kevin Gausman and Kyle Zimmer? Why?

Doug Thorburn: A great question. I preferred Zimmer on draft day due to his superior delivery - excellent momentum combined with great balance and stability throughout the delivery, a combination that is rarely seen at the amateur level. I actually liked Gausman's delivery better in high school than with LSU, as he was stiff with his delivery in college and finished with vicious spine tilt. But I was stunned by Gausman's improvements this spring, as he had addressed all of the issues in minimal time. Gausman has the higher ceiling, and now that I have seen such rapid development patterns, he gets my vote for the superior prospect. Gausman could be special.

AJ (Phoenix): Speaking of Boston prospects, Xander Bogaerts has received a lot of organizational support for his ability to stay at SS. As someone not under Red Sox payroll, are you as optimistic?

Doug Thorburn: I think that it depends on his physical development. Listed at 6'3" and 185 lbs, the 20-year old may be forced off of SS as he fills out, but the Red Sox have a much better idea of his physical projection. I say keep him there until he is forced off of the position, whether due to defense or mobility.

On the jukebox: Aerosmith, "Come Together"

bobert (north hills): Odds Zack Wheeler is a perennial cy young candidate?

Doug Thorburn: I really like Wheeler from the standpoint of both stuff and mechanics, but the odds are low of anybody becoming a perennial CY candidate. I will say that he probably has a high floor, but whether he ultimately becomes an ace or more of a #2 depends on how he adjusts to major league hitters.

jfribley (MN): Any chance we'll get a Raising Aces before/after examination of Scott Kazmir's mechanics? He's fascinating.

Doug Thorburn: Great call - I'll add him to the list for my "Then and Now" series.

AJ (Phoenix): Carlos Martinez, long-term rotation piece for the Cards, or future reliever?

Doug Thorburn: I always say leave 'em in the rotation until it becomes apparent that they are unfit, whether due to arsenal or stamina. I don't like the generalization that hard-throwing guys who don't happen to stand 6'3" are destined for the 'pen, and he has strong momentum to help overcome his physical limitations and find a deep release point. I think that he has a future in the rotation, and could be a fixture if his secondary stuff translates well.

CyMature (Western Mass): Hey, Doug. I always enjoy your work. Jonathon Gray, Oklahoma: I can see a lot of power, but it looks like a stiff landing leg. If so what are the long-term, short-term implications? Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: I am not a fan of the stiff landing leg in general, as it inhibits a pitcher's ability to track closer to the plate after foot strike. Pitchers with some flex in the knee of the landing leg are able to reap benefits for distance at release point. It is not a major issue, and should not hurt his draft stock or anything, but it is something that I would personally address if my team drafted him. Of course, a stiff landing leg hasn't stopped Justin Verlander from being the best pitcher on the planet.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "Stare at the Sun"

dianagram (VORGville): Which active young pitcher has the biggest difference between terrific mechanics and lousy results?

Doug Thorburn: Jarrod Parker be thy name. I am a big fan of Parker's mechanics, and was optimistic that he would take another step forward this season after watching his progressive development in 2012. It all boils down to mechanical timing for Parker right now, which is the last element to come around for the vast majority of pitchers - I expected his timing to improve this season, but Parker has taken a major step backwards in the department. I am optimistic and will remain patient, but the A's can't afford to watch too many more implosions if they hope to hang in the playoff chase. They are being carried by the offense right now, leading the majors with 179 runs scored, yet the pitching has imploded and the overall run differential is only +8.

On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "Going to California"

Scott (LA): With their depth, how quickly do you see Archie Bradley moving up towards Arizona? From what you have seen does he have a lot more work to do in in the minors?

Doug Thorburn: Bradley is tearing through the minors, but with only 8 innings above A-ball and a stacked Arizona rotation in of him, I think that the D-Backs can afford to be patient. I haven't watched him yet this year, but Jason Parks was raving about Bradley at the BP event at Dodgers Stadium, and when in doubt always trust the professor.

Matt (NJ): Hey Doug, really curious to get your take on Hector Santiago: what do you think of the delivery generally, but more interestingly what kind of added injury risk does a screwball pitcher present in 2013?

Doug Thorburn: The screwball itself does not necessarily increase injury risk. In fact, one of the stressors of secondary stuff is the supination necessary to throw cutters, sliders, and curves - the arm pronates naturally after release point, and more supination requires greater degrees of post-RP pronation during the deceleration phase. In this sense, pre-pronated pitches like sinkers, changeups, and screwballs can actually be less taxing on the arm. But it really depends on how the pitchers throws it.

James (Chicago): The Hector Santiago hype is soaring. Are you as high on him as others seem to be? I assume the White Sox will shut him down at some point since he threw less than 90 innings last year.

Doug Thorburn: I am not as high on Santiago as others. His mechanics have some issues - his momentum is decent, but Santiago has a closed stride as well as a tendency to release the ball before reaching full extension. The result is a deceptive angle, but the lack of distance at release gives batters a longer look at the ball. I do like the balance and posture, so there is upside there, but I am not very swayed by his 26.3 innings of work thus far. I also agree with your point about his workload. I would be trying to sell if I owned him in fantasy.

On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Bombtrack"

DavidPaton (Vangroovy): speaking of Ricky Romero, the Jays sent him down to A ball, to work things out, similar to what they had previously done with Roy Halliday. Did they bring him back too soon? I mean, he had one start.

Doug Thorburn: It looks like Romero was plagued by the same issues that brought him down last season. they made some adjustments to his hand positioning in the windup, but it didn't really address his big issue with timing, so I think that they need to go back to the old drawing board.

Scott Crow (Sacramento, CA): What happened to Matt Cain?

Doug Thorburn: Cain's K and BB rates are right in line with career marks, but his H rate is up and his HR rate has doubled. He has never given up more than 0.9 HR per 9 innings, but he has a rate of 1.9 this season. Cain has already given up as many homers (9) as he did in ALL of 2011 (221 IP). He is also giving up way more hits than in the past, and from what I have seen it comes down to pitch command (vs control). Cain is just barely missing his targets, but it's enough to allow his pitches to catch too much plate. Cain relies on outstanding command of his four-pitch mix, and though he was off for much of April, based on his last start I would say that Cain is refining his timing patterns and nearing his previous levels of function.

Steve (Bayshore): Doug! Thanks for the chat!!! I know that the Cubs are likely to go with a pitcher (Appel or Gray) with the #2 pick, but I was wondering what kind of potential they currently have lower in the system. I have heard names like Maples, Pierce Johnson, and Blackburn. What do these guys offer? Do you think any of them have the stuff to be a #2 starter?

Doug Thorburn: I wish I could give a proper response, but low-level guys are a bit under my radar. I would defer to our excellent prospect team to get a better picture of the Cubbies' potential on the mound.


edwardarthur (Illinois): A Yankee broadcaster said that Dave Robertson has the longest stride in baseball despite his limited height. Is this true (or close to true) and, if so, what should other pitchers be learning from Dave Robertson?

Doug Thorburn: Robertson has a surprisingly long stride, no doubt, but I would respectfully disagree with the "longest in baseball" hyperbole. Robertson has a long stride thanks to steady momentum and a huge leg lift that allows him to track further forward before the leg comes back down into foot strike, resulting in a longer stride than one would expect from a 5'11" guy, but there are pitchers with longer limbs and similar lift patterns who also take advantage of greater momentum. I wrote about deep release points in today's article, and I would guess that Yu Darvish has a longer stride than Robertson, just to name one example.


Dr. Mike (Milwaukee): Probably a question best for a fantasy chat, but In a 20-team dynasty league: Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw, and Patrick Corbin for Yu Darvish, Shelby Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, and Byron Buxton. Assuming the trade benefits the needs of both teams, which side would you rather have?

Doug Thorburn: Kershaw and Darvish are nearly a wash (maybe a slight edge to Kershaw), and it's hard to bank on Feliz, so it comes down to Giancarlo-Corbin for Miller-Kimbrel-Buxton. I love Kimbrel, but closers are risky business from a dynasty standpoint, and though I prefer Miller to Corbin by a decent measure, I don't think that Buxton bridges the gap to Giancarlo. I feel that prospects are extremely overvalued in dynasty formats, especially when compared to players like Stanton - Stanton is young enough to still qualify as a prospect and already one of the best players in the game, and his future will be even brighter once he escapes the island of misfit toys in Miami.

On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Bury the Hatchet"

BobcatBaseball (Athens, OH): Can you recall any pitcher with extremely ugly mechanics that succeeded for a long time?

Doug Thorburn: Great question, and I have been spinning names throughout the chat to come up with a good answer. The key is the "succeeded for a long time" part of the question - some guys can succeed for a little while with poor mechanics, but they are usually caught by injury or poor performance, as rough mechanics have functional implications. Juan Marichal had awful balance, so he might qualify. Dan Haren has had poor posture and a ridiculous pause in his delivery throughout his career, but I wouldn't go so far as to call his delivery "extremely ugly." Yovani Gallardo could enter the discussion if he continues to pitch moderately well despite F grade mechanics. The list is short and undistinguished.

Doug Thorburn: Thanks for all of the great questions, everyone. If you haven't had enough of my banter yet, then tune in tomorrow for Episode 3 of the new TINSTAAPP podcast, hosted by Paul Sporer and yours truly. For Those About to Watch (We Salute You).

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