What’s up everyone!
I’m here with another GIF Breakdown of yet another top pitching prospect who’s making his debut (feels like we’ve been getting a lot of those recently, haven’t we?).
Today, we’re going to take a look at Brandon Pfaadt’s MLB debut, a debut that has been much anticipated this year, as Pfaadt was a guy many people (myself included) had hoped would make the Diamondbacks’ rotation out of spring training. But he’s here now and at least we have that.
Before we dive into the debut, here’s the scouting report on Pfaadt coming into the game.
Pfaadt was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 2020 MLB Draft and has looked really good in the minors so far, posting a 3.83 ERA last year between Double- and Triple-A with 218 strikeouts, marking the first time a minor league pitcher has struck out over 200 batters in a season since 2011.
The scouting report on Pfaadt says he’s got a fastball that floats around 93 to 94 MPH, a mid-80s slider with sweeping movement he utilizes quite often, a mid-80s changeup with good arm-side run, and an upper-70s show-me curveball that doesn’t really get used all that much.
Pfaadt has shown an impressive ability to balance strikeouts with control in the minors so far, posting a 31.6% strikeout rate last year between Double- and Triple-A alongside a 4.8% walk rate. For some context, had Pfaadt posted that 4.8% walk rate in the majors last year, he would’ve been tied with Miles Mikolas for the 10th-best walk rate in all of baseball.
Anyways, let’s get to the debut!
As always, I love to see what pitch a rookie chooses as their first pitch in the majors, so here’s Pfaadt’s:
It’s a 93 MPH fastball on the outside part of the plate and Marcus Semien is ready to rock, because he’s swinging on the first pitch and grounds out to Nick Ahmed. One pitch, one out, not a bad pace.
Next up is Travis Jankowski who gets a fastball outside for a ball before making contact with another fastball low.
And now that’s three pitches, two outs. The Rangers must have dinner plans or something, they’re coming out swinging.
Next up, it’s Nathaniel Lowe who gets a first-pitch fastball inside for a ball before we get our first look at Pfaadt’s changeup:
And then we get another changeup!
The second changeup was definitely better than the first. It’s not a pitch that has a ton of movement but it has a bit of arm-side run that I think could work nicely as a complement to Pfaadt’s slider as long as he’s able to command it well.
After that, Pfaadt threw a fastball inside for a ball, getting to a 3-1 count, and decided to go for another fastball.
And issues the first walk of his Major League career. Considering Pfaadt was partially known for limiting walks, it’s not a great omen that he gave up his first Major League walk before getting his first strikeout. But hey, it’s early!
Next up it’s Adolis García and we get our first look at Pfaadt’s slider:
García fouls it off, and the location wasn’t exactly great, but I do like the sweeping movement the pitch has. Then, Pfaadt decides to go back to the fastball, throwing it up and in to García.
And nearly takes the guy’s head off, yikes.
After a fastball outside for a called strike, the slider is back and García is offering at it again.
And pops out to center field. But man, great location for a slider off the plate, that would’ve made for a beautiful strikeout. But still, a nice, quick efficient first Major League inning for Brandon Pfaadt.
Leading off the second inning, it’s Josh Jung who takes Pfaadt’s first-pitch fastball for a called strike on the outside corner (definitely a favorable call for Pfaadt). Jung then fouled off two more fastballs before getting a look at Pfaadt’s slider.
Right in the dirt for a ball. So with two strikes, Pfaadt’s like, hey let’s try again and see what happens.
Another slider in the dirt for another ball. But hey, third time’s the charm right?
This time, it actually was. Pfaadt was able to beautifully locate his slider this time, Jung took the bait, and Brandon Pfaadt has his first Major League strikeout.
Next up is Jonah Heim and after working to a 1-2 count after fouling off two straight pitches, we get this:
What happens when you throw a 90 MPH changeup basically down the middle of the plate? Not good things, that’s for sure! So right after getting his first Major League strikeout, Pfaadt gives up his first Major League home run. Like I said, I think that changeup can be effective if he can command it. Right there, he very much did not command it well.
Next up, it’s Ezequiel Duran who sees a fastball outside that gets a favorable call from the umpire for Pfaadt to get to an 0-1 count. Then, he gets another fastball outside.
What a beautiful play by Dominic Fletcher, that’s the beauty of having a Major League defense behind you, and Fletcher saves a base hit.
Leody Tavares is up next and gets to a 1-1 count before we get this pitch:
Now, why am I showing you this random ball? Because I think this shows where Pfaadt’s changeup can be effective. I think that’s a great location for the pitch, fading away arm-side just a bit to get off the plate. If the hitter bites, there’s not much they can do with it and I think it could work really well.
Anyways, Tavares gets to a 3-1 count and we get this:
Really tough play for Ketel Marte and Tavares is able to just beat out the throw to first to get on base. It’s not exactly the best location for a fastball for Pfaadt but, at the same time, it was a 3-1 count, and when you get into those counts, you need to get a strike in there, which often leads to pitches like that.
Next up is Sandy León who gets a fastball outside he fouls off and then this changeup:
Now that is a beautiful pitch. That is a perfect location for Pfaadt’s changeup and even if León had made contact, that would’ve been nothing but an easy groundball out.
After another changeup outside for a ball, Tavares decides to try and steal, but unfortunately for him, Pfaadt and Jose Herrera were ready for him, and he got thrown out on a pitchout, inning over.
Starting off the third, León is back up and he gets an outside fastball for a ball before this slider:
Gorgeous backdoor slider there from Pfaadt, that’s a great way to use that pitch. With as much sweep as that pitch has to it, that had to look like a ball way outside at first before breaking over the plate.
León then worked to a full count, fouling off three pitches before we get this:
Another beautiful slider, this time down and in for another strikeout. If you want to know what Pfaadt’s best pitch is, it looks like it’s this one, and it looks like it could be a very effective strikeout pitch.
Next up is Marcus Semien who gets a high slider he takes for a strike before this:
A high fastball that Semien smacks to left field for a base hit. Not a bad location by Pfaadt, just good hitting by Semien.
Next, it’s Travis Jankowski and we get our first look at Pfaadt’s curveball.
That looks like a bit more than just the show-me curveball that was in his scouting report. That’s got some nice sweep to it. It’s not an incredible pitch, but I could see it being a useful one, it certainly doesn’t look like a throwaway pitch to me.
The next pitch was a fastball inside that Jankowski hit on the ground. Evan Longoria elected against trying for a double play and Jankowski was out at first while Semien moved up to second.
Next, it’s Nathaniel Lowe who gets to a 1-1 count before this slider:
Similar to the pitch that struck out Sandy León, that’s a great backfoot slider from Pfaadt and another example of the potential of that pitch. If that’s a swing-and-miss on strike three, that’s a GIF you’re seeing all over Twitter.
Next was a low fastball that Lowe got on top of and hit into the ground for out number three, one more inning down.
Leading off the fourth is Adolis García who flies out to center field on a fastball. Then, it’s Josh Jung who sees a fastball low and outside for a called strike before this:
That’s a fastball down the middle that is absolutely destroyed for a home run, a 106.2 MPH, 427-foot bomb from Josh Jung.
Next up is Jonah Heim who works to a 2-2 count after seeing basically nothing but fastballs (and one slider in the dirt). Then, Pfaadt tosses another fastball outside.
And gets another strikeout. Way to bounce back from the home run.
Next is Ezequiel Duran who gets a slider outside for a ball before hitting a middle-low fastball out to right field for a flyout, inning over.
Leading off the fifth, it’s Leody Tavares, who works to a 2-2 count, seeing a fastball for a called strike, a slider for a swinging strike, and then a changeup and fastball, each for a ball before this:
What did I say earlier happens when you lob a changeup over basically the middle of the plate? Yep. It ends up a home run (Also, just as an aside, this happened while the Arizona broadcast was interviewing Pfaadt’s family, which was hilariously awkward).
Next up, it’s Sandy León and Pfaadt breaks out the curveball again.
Now, that second one should’ve been a called strike and what a beauty of a called strike that would’ve been. I like the attempt by Pfaadt to get the curveball low and inside for a strike, and like I said before, I really dig the movement on this pitch. It seems Pfaadt needs to work on controlling it, but it’s an interesting pitch nonetheless.
León gets two fastballs after that, one for a ball and one for a strike, before getting another fastball outside.
Which he promptly smacks into the outfield for a double. Not great.
Next up is Marcus Semien who gets a slider outside for a ball and a fastball that he fouls off. Then, Pfaadt gets very lucky:
That’s a fastball down the middle of the plate. To someone with as much power as Marcus Semien. Pfaadt is exceptionally lucky Semien didn’t launch that into another galaxy.
Semien then got two more fastballs, one for a ball, and the second one low, which he hit on the ground for an out. One down.
Next up is Travis Jankowski who gets a curveball inside for a ball and then a low fastball.
Which he’s able to bloop right out into no man’s land, allowing him to get a double and Sandy León to score.
Next up, it’s Nathaniel Lowe who’s got no time to wait around for pitches.
Ketel Marte nearly had that, but it ends up a base hit and only a rocket throw by Dominic Fletcher keeps Jankowski from scoring.
Next up, Adolis García is back and gets to a 1-1 count before this pitch:
That’s a pretty nice front-door slider (a little on the high side for me, but still) that causes García to nearly swing out of his shoes, nicely done.
Unfortunately for Pfaadt though, García was able to get ahold of one out to center field, hitting a sacrifice fly for out number two and allowing Jankowski to score.
Next up, it’s Josh Jung, who gets a fastball in the dirt, followed by a fastball outside for a called strike. And then, this:
Fastball pretty much over the heart of the plate and Jung has another home run—101.5 MPH, 400 feet.
And that’s the end of Brandon Pfaadt’s day.
Final line: 4.2 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 87 pitches
So, I’ve done a lot of GIF breakdowns (especially so far this year), and oftentimes I’ll come away from one of these, even if a pitcher has a bad day, and say “hey, I can see why this guy is in the majors, look at this pitch or that pitch.”
With Pfaadt, there’s not really one single pitch that really hits me. That slider looks like his best pitch while the changeup looks like a decent complementary pitch and the fastball, while the velocity isn’t what I’d like it to be, it’s got a ton of spin. In this start, Pfaadt’s fastball averaged 2,471 RPM, which, if he averaged that all year, would be int he top-15 in all of the majors in average spin for a four-seamer.
So there’s stuff here, there’s no doubt about it, but 1. none of it looks particularly overwhelming to me and 2. Pfaadt showcased some serious command issues.
Here’s his pitch plot:
That’s a lot of pitches over the heart of the plate. It’s no wonder Pfaadt gave up four home runs when he’s throwing meatballs like that.
In fact, it’s not just the home runs, here’s a fun fact:
Every Rangers hitter had a hard hit ball against Pfaadt pic.twitter.com/I2QROg9YNb
— Mat / Smada (@Smada_PLive) May 3, 2023
So does this mean all the Brandon Pfaadt hype was for nothing? That he’s not the ace we hoped he be? Of course not, it’s one start, it’s his first start in the majors, and if you were watching his face the entire start, the man looked very nervous (though maybe that’s just his natural expression, I don’t know).
Like I said at the top, one of the big selling points on Pfaadt was his control. He had a great walk rate in the minors, but his control and command were all over the place in this start. Is that because of nerves? I’d say that definitely plays a part. I’m not ready to throw everything out on Pfaadt after one start, but I’m also probably not starting him in his next start (assuming that start happens) until I see a bit more from him.
Pfaadt is one of those pitchers who looks like he’s more about the sum of his parts rather than one or two specific pitches. Someone like Tanner Bibee or Mason Miller, you see that slider or that fastball and you go “wow that’s a filthy pitch.”
I don’t see that as much with Pfaadt. But what I do see is a guy who I think could eventually have four solid to very good offerings in his repertoire, and that could make him a really good pitcher. If that control he showcased in the minors comes back and he’s able to locate that slider well with its good glove-side run alongside that changeup that runs well arm-side plus a high-spin fastball and a solid, high-70s sweeping curveball, I could see that working.
But, for fantasy purposes, I need to see it before I’m starting him.
Assuming he does get his next turn in the rotation against Miami, are you still NOT starting him? If that’s the case, it’s a pretty large signal that you probably don’t recommend he be rostered. If you roster a SP and can’t start him vs Miami, then that roster slot is better off utilized by another player.
He’s on my team there’s no way I’m starting him next time after that shellacking. Now if he recovers and posts a good start against Miami then next turn for sure and we can chalk it up to nerves. If Miami sounds off as well then yeah droppable.
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Why didn’t I follow the RULES???
(Nicks rule, don’t start a pitcher in his debut)
Never the less, Great write-up. Thank you.