Almost precisely two years ago to this day, on July 31st, 2014, Tyler Skaggs was lifted from a game in which he suddenly lost the feeling in his throwing hand. Skaggs had torn his UCL and would end up undergoing Tommy John surgery and thus begin his 12-18-month timetable for recovery. The hype for Skaggs as a 2016 fantasy asset resurfaced with a rage when he finished four rehab starts with an insane 35/3 K/BB ratio in just 22.2 innings while rocking a miniscule 1.19 ERA. He was recalled to make his 2016 debut against the Royals last Tuesday and continued his dominance with seven scoreless innings while only allowing four baserunners. Most of us were understandably hesitant to start Skaggs in his next start against the league’s most potent offense, Boston, but Tyler came through once more. Let’s breakdown Tyler Skaggs’ 5.1 inning gem against the Boston Red Sox with 13 HD GIFs.
As always though, let’s first take a quick glance at the strikezone plot from Skaggs’ outing:
Look at that dominance within the strikezone! Location has been Skaggs’ specialty since being recalled from the minors. He’s been the definition of living in the lower part of the zone. He rarely leaves mistakes up in the zone. The Fastball command has been exceptional. As you can see, if it isn’t within the strikezone, he’s still tempting hitters into swinging with how close he is to the zone. This helps to keep batters constantly in “swing-mode” and sets Skaggs up to get tons of chases on the breaking ball down in the dirt – which happens a ton. Tyler was spotting his Curveball both for strikes and as an ‘out pitch’ when he was ahead. The Changeup is where things go downhill. He was having trouble locating the Change on the arm-side of the plate, which is where it typically is most effective and gets the most movement. It would often cut inside to righties and not bring a ton of action with it – acting more as a simple change of pace pitch than an effective Changeup. Let’s get to the fun part and bring this analysis to light with the help of some visual aids that move.
Tyler’s Fastball sits anywhere from 91-96mph and averaged 93.7mph against the Sox. He threw 56 (57.7% usage) of his 97 pitches as Fastballs and threw it for a strike 36 times (64.3%). Skaggs got 4 whiffs (7.1%) with the offering on 24 swings.
A great introductory Fastball for you to get a feel for what it looks like coming from Skaggs is this 94mph offering Tyler throws to Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. He nails his location down in the zone and on the outside corner with excellence – earning the called strike:
Along with the location, Skaggs gets great “tilt” on the Fastball. He’s got a high release point that results in a nice downward plane towards the plate when he’s locating at the knees all day long. The slo-mo on this 94mph strikeout pitch to Xander Bogaerts on the inside corner shows what I’m talking about. Lots of downward action and located beautifully:
Just another example of elite location with the Fastball. Skaggs, much like he did to Bogaerts, freezes Aaron Hill on an inside heater right at the lower part of the zone for the called strike three:
For the final out he would record on Sunday, Skaggs worked David Ortiz into an 0-2 count only to blow him away with a 92mph Fastball that is perfectly painted on the outside black for the swinging strikeout. The catcher barely has to move his glove to receive the pitch. Glorious:
So the Fastball has plus-velocity from the left side and Skaggs has been locating it as well as anyone could ask him to at this point in his recovery from elbow surgery. It also has great vertical drop as Tyler gets on top of the pitch during delivery and releases high to create a strong downward tilt. The downside to go with all this positive feedback is the lack of horizontal movement. There really wasn’t any. No Two-Seam action that ran away from the righty-heavy lineup of the Red Sox and no cutting action inside. It’s pretty straight apart from the downward plane. Skaggs also sat around 91 frequently from the 5th inning on. He did hit 95 once in the 5th, but his average velocity was down in the later stages of his outing.
Skaggs only mixed in 8 total (8.2% usage) Changeups on Sunday while throwing 5 of them (62.5%) for strikes. The Changeup averaged 86.1mph while topping out at 87.9mph and did not induce a single whiff on 3 swings.
There’s good reason as to why Skaggs hasn’t really thrown the Changeup much so far in 2016. It’s not very good. This 87mph strike he lands on the inner half to Ryan Hanigan might have been the best one he threw on Sunday. An OK amount of action and good location. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the case with the majority of Skaggs’ Changeups:
This 87mph Changeup that Tyler lands for a high strike to Mookie Betts highlights a couple of my gripes with the pitch. He had a lot of trouble locating it arm-side where Changeups are usually at their best. Look where his target is and look where it ends up. Skaggs was cutting the Changeup inside and leaving it up in the zone:
Skaggs may have missed the strikezone with this next Changeup, but it was my favorite one he threw. This 84mph attempt in an 0-0 count is nearly where it needs to be to be an effective pitch. If Skaggs could locate a similar pitch with the same velocity (84-85) around the knees on the arm-side of the plate, it would likely induce some whiffs or easy roll-overs. Decent dipping action, just a tad low:
Skaggs is sitting at an even 8.0% usage with the Changeup throughout his first two starts so it seems like he’s aware that it needs some work. It was acting more as a simple “change of pace” pitch off the Fastball than an effective Changeup. Not a ton of action and the command isn’t there. Skaggs also tossed a handful of them around 87mph. When you’re sitting around 92mph with your Fastball later in the game and throwing 87mph Changeups, with neither bringing a ton of movement, it’s asking for trouble if your command ever slips up.
Tyler threw 33 Curveballs (34.0% usage) and landed 23 (69.7%) of them for strikes. The Curve averaged 75.7mph while maxing out at 79.7mph against the Red Sox. Skaggs received 6 whiffs (18.2%) on 12 swings with the breaking ball.
Skaggs varied the velocity on his Curveball quite a bit. Here we see him locate the Curve within the zone for a first pitch strike while taking a ton off it and dropping it all the way down to 71mph to the lefty legend David Ortiz:
Another example of Skaggs locating the bender within the strikezone is this 75mph Curveball that had Jackie Bradley Jr. bailing out as if the pitch were going to hit him. A great 1-1 pitch that had the lefty at the plate flinching:
Tyler can also run his Curveball velocity all the way up to 79mph while keeping some wicked snap to it, as we see with this gem of an offering that has Mookie Betts looking silly for the swinging strikeout:
The Angels lefty really abused Dustin Pedroia with the Curveball on Sunday. This wasn’t the only time Skaggs would get the Red Sox second baseman swinging at a Curve in the dirt for a strikeout (foreshadowing, maybe..) but it was the first. This 79mph breaking ball comes out of the hand looking like a Fastball before diving straight into the ground and disappearing beneath the bat for the strikeout:
In what was perhaps Tyler’s biggest pitch of the whole outing, Skaggs gets out of a sticky situation in the fifth inning by burying this dirty 77mph Curveball below the futile flail of Xander Bogaerts for the strikeout. Xander does a 360 and Skaggs gives an emotional pounding of the glove. Love it:
The Curveball was the clear difference-maker in Skaggs’ arsenal. He was pairing it fantastically with the Fastball to induce swings at Curves outside of the zone. He was locating it within the zone to get ahead and burying it when he needed an out. Skaggs was fearless in throwing it inside to tough righties in the stacked Boston lineup – a great sign for future confidence with the offering. He also throws a multitude of different Curveballs that range widely in velocity. It ran anywhere from 70-79mph which is getting close to ‘Rich Hill territory’ of variability.
Final line: 5.1 IP, 4 Hs, 0 ER, 2 BBs, 8 Ks, ND. 97 pitches (64 strikes), 15/22 first pitch strikes
The return of the Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs has been incredible so far. He’s continued his utter dominance that he displayed during his rehab starts and has done it against formidable opponents in the Royals and the Red Sox. At this point in time, it should go without saying that if he’s still available in your league you need to make room for him on your staff. Until we see him lose his command or slip up on his Curveball, he deserves to be rostered and started in nearly all situations.
This doesn’t come without any red flags though. While the Fastball has good velocity and great downward action, it doesn’t have a ton of horizontal movement. The Fastball is a product of outstanding pinpoint location down in the zone. What happens if the command is off? I guess you could ask this about any pitcher, but I feel like Skaggs is relying on command more-so than most. He’s mainly a 2-pitch pitcher at this stage and will need both the Fastball and Curveball to be working in order to be successful.
The Curveball is legit – as we saw against Boston. The perpetual Fastballs within the strikezone had hitters gearing up to swing, and Skaggs pulled the rug out from underneath them with Curveballs down in the dirt that they were all too eager to chase. Skaggs even said during a postgame interview, “The curveball was the key, I threw it often. I threw it for a strike and bounced it when I wanted to. … When I threw it for a strike it was a little slower, 74-75 mph. When I wanted a strikeout I went 78-79 mph. It worked out well today.”
I’m really rooting for Tyler to continue to grow as a pitcher, despite the fact that he’s in the same division as my beloved Mariners. What can I say, I’m a sucker for lefties with good Fastballs and sexy Curves. It’d do Tyler a great deal to develop an effective third pitch to help take the pressure off the Fastball though, whether it’s the Changeup or something else.
Since the Curveball was clearly Skaggs’ best pitch on Sunday, let’s end this breakdown with this wicked 79mph breaker that drops from the letters on Pedroia’s jersey to the dirt before it ever reaches the catcher for the swinging strikeout. It was the second time Skaggs got Dustin to chase the Curveball for a punchout. Dirty:
Ian Post contributes for Pitcher List and grew up on the game of baseball by playing year-round through adolescence and pitching in college before finding his love for writing about the sport. When he isn’t providing pitching analysis, he can be found faithfully rooting for the Mariners, watching Game of Thrones, and searching for a new favorite IPA in the Pacific Northwest. You can follow Ian on Twitter @TheDonGiggity