With a pitching landscape as shaky and inconsistent as the first 3 months of the 2017 season, it’s critical for fantasy owners to jump on those somewhat unfamiliar names that are making noise before one of their league mates do. One of the most recent starting pitchers that’s doing just that is Tampa Bay’s Jacob Faria. The 6’4 200lb 23 year old right-hander has now made six starts since his big league debut back on June 7th. and he’s earned Quality Starts in all six, with a 4-0 record, a sparkling 2.11 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Even more impressive may his healthy 37/9 K/BB ratio through his first 38.1 innings. Those are clearly numbers worth owning in any format, but is it sustainable? How has he been doing it? If a redhead works at a bakery, does that make him a ginger bread man? Let’s take a closer look at the arsenal and approach of Tampa Bay’s hottest addition to the rotation, Jacob Faria, with 20 GIFs.
Fastball – 92.4mph, 57.7% usage, 9.23% whiffs
Every bit of Faria’s early success in the majors starts and ends with his Fastball. It’s not an overpowering heater as it sits regularly around 93mph, however despite the average velocity, Faria’s Fastball gives batters absolute fits throughout an entire outing. Even if it’s the third time through the lineup and the velocity has dipped down to around 90mph (which rarely happens), Faria’s excellent command and the random cutting action he gets on his heat-piece allows it to remain effective. I honestly can’t tell if he throws two different Fastballs. I’ve seen him hit both sides of the plate with completely straight heaters and with some that have that slight cut to them. My best guess is it’s more-so random than planned, and this randomness has kept hitters guessing to a degree that has been working to Faria’s advantage.
This first GIF displays the amount of precision Faria can hold with the Fastball. Nothing special velocity-wise and no crazy sink, cut, or tailing action, but the placement of this 92mph pitch to Ezekiel Carrera in a 3-2 count is too good to induce a swing. Carrera would rather take his chances on a ball four call than try to square it up. Full count, on the black, and at the knees. Perfect location.
To show you the random cutting action that comes with Faria’s Fastball, let’s turn to this nasty 92mph heater he throws to Mark Trumbo in an 0-0 count off the outside edge. It’s very subtle, but the reaction you see after Trumbo realizes what he just witnessed tells you everything. It’s only 92mph, looks juicy as can be, and right when you commit to your swing the ball cuts 3-4 more inches outside. When you’re able to leave a hitter looking like he’s contemplating life after swinging at your 92mph Fastball, you’re doing something right.
Now we see back-to-back Fastballs thrown to Todd Frazier where one stays relatively straight on the inner black, but the follow-up cuts a good 5 inches or so. Both are clocking in at 93mph, which only plays to the advantage of forcing a hitter to guess if there will be cutting action or not. Squaring up Faria’s Fastball has proven to be incredibly tough for most batters through his first six starts.
This final Fastball GIF encapsulates everything I feel the need to tell you about the effectiveness of Faria’s heater. This is in the 6th inning, Faria is cruising on the road against the Blue Jays with just 71 pitches, and it’s the start of his third time through the order. You’d think a pitcher would want to be mixing in his off-speed stuff at this point (and it probably helped that Faria was enjoying a nice 6-run lead) but he felt comfortable with just hurling three consecutive Fastballs to earn a swinging strikeout against Kevin Pillar – 90mph down the heart of the plate that Pillar can’t square up, 91mph at the top of the zone that gets swung through, and a dialed up 93mph ladder-climb that puts him away for good. Also notice that Faria missed his spots by a good margin on the second and third pitch – a mistake that typically, when paired with velocities of 91 and 93mph, would get punished at the major league level. Instead, we get this amazing closeup of Pillar’s face with the expression of “why can’t I hit this dude’s Fastball the third time through the order?” I love it.
Slider – 84.4mph, 23.5% usage, 14.6% whiffs
Jacob’s main secondary offering is his multi-faceted Slider that he uses primarily against right-handed batters, with only 7 of the 137 total Sliders he’s thrown thus far coming against lefties. Faria loves throwing the pitch early in counts to righties, holding a staggering 46% Slider usage rate for the first pitch of the at-bat – he’s forcing those righties to flip a coin between a Fastball and Slider with his initial offering. The near 15% whiff rate doesn’t hurt either and it’s multi-faceted in the sense that he mixes up its movement between vertical and horizontal.
Faria adds to the difficulty of getting solid wood on the Slider by keeping an almost identical delivery, arm slot, and arm speed to that of his Fastball. Out of the hand, it’s disguised beautifully as a heater to induce a swing that ends up right over the top of the sharp break it exhibits towards the end of its flight path.
A fine example of this is the 86mph bender he threw to Seth Smith here in a 1-1 count. In a rare occurrence of a lefty seeing Jacob’s Slider, Smith had a slim chance at making contact and falls behind in the count after a whiff at this tightly spun beauty.
To see a more horizontal Slider, have a look a this 84mph offering Faria throws to Tim Anderson in a 1-0 count. This speaks to the confidence Jacob has in his 4-pitch arsenal to not become predictable when falling behind batters in counts. Anderson is clearly geared up and swinging for a Fastball that would have been in the middle of the zone, but ends up with his bat way out in front of a Slider that’s nearly 10mph slower than Faria’s average heater for the routine roll-over.
The Slider helped Faria escape a big moment in his most recent outing at home against Boston when he had two men on with two outs and Hanley Ramirez at the plate. Ahead in the count 1-2, Jacob buried this late-breaking 84mph slide piece down and out of the zone and made Hanley look silly in the process. I’m not sure what Ramirez was complaining about with the raising of his hand after the whiff, but it’s exciting to see Faria execute such a pitch against a division rival in a tough spot like this. Cool, calm, and collected.
My favorite Slider so far from Faria comes from a 1-0 offering he threw to everybody’s favorite GIF victim – Todd Frazier. This snappy 85mph bender was so good it caused Frazier himself to tip his helmet to Faria after whiffing as if to say “Yeah, that was nasty, I look pretty stupid right now.” It doesn’t get much better than to receive a raving review immediately following a pitch from the man you just embarrassed. Classic.
Split-Changeup – 81.4mph, 15.1% usage, 22.7% whiffs
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or simply haven’t had the pleasure of watching Jacob Faria take the mound yet, you know that his “Vulcan Split-Changeup” is where he really makes his chops against opposing hitters. This thing is downright nasty, folks. Faria uses it against both righties and lefties but it’s his go-to offspeed pitch against LHBs. He throws it 25% of the time in all counts and an absurd 50% of the time when ahead in counts vs. lefties. When you’re getting a ridiculous 22.7% whiff rate on your Changeup, you throw the damn thing, and you throw it often.
The Split-Change is something that Tampa Bay’s rotation has collectively messed around with – including the likes of Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi. Faria has hopped aboard the Vulcan train and completely taken off with success. I honestly had a hard time whittling down the amount of Changeup GIFs I captured to an amount that’s reasonable. It’s just too good to not record and watch repeatedly. I’ve teased you long enough, let’s get to the goods.
No easing into this pitch. I can’t warm you up slowly. It’s sudden and it’s violent – as you can see in this first GIF featuring Melky Cabrera in a 1-1 count. Watch how quickly Melky’s hips open up. His legs are immediately taken out of the equation and he’s left with just his upper half to employ ‘defensive mode’ to try to foul it off. This 81mph beauty leaves Cabrera whiffing and hanging his head in utter shame and the slo-mo gives you a great look at the Split-Change grip Faria has been using. So sexy.
A similar looking Changeup that features slightly more drop is this 1-0 offering Faria throws to Mitch Moreland. Again, watch the hips of Moreland open up early expecting Fastball, with the arms and upper half trying its best to stay back just to get a piece. Being able to execute a 1-0 Changeup to lefties for a whiff is crucial, allowing Faria to remain unpredictable in a majority of counts. Asking a hitter to decipher between this pitch being a Fastball that’s going to cut over the plate or a Split-Change that’s going to disappear into the dirt with as late a break as this is simply asking too much.
Alright, one final GIF of a lefty opening his hips and whiffing at a Change down low. We’re essentially just replacing the victim in the box at this point and watching the same thing over and over again – but it’s so much fun! White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sanchez gets his look at how late of a break Faria is generating with the Split-Changeup on this 2-2 83mph beauty for the strikeout to end the inning. Location on point.
Okay I lied – but I saved the best lefty victim for last. Justin Smoak was witness to this ridiculous 80mph Changeup that just continued to drift further and further from its starting point. If there were ever a GIF definition for “fade” on a Changeup, this would be up there with the best of them.
Let’s not give lefties all the attention though. Faria still mixes his Changeup in against righties around 11% of the time. The best one I saw was this 0-1 ‘Bugs Bunny-esque’ looper against Josh Donaldson that earned a whiff on an aggressive hack. That’s some serious up-and-down movement within the strike zone.
Curveball – 75.3mph, 3.6% usage, 9.5% whiffs
The 4th and final offering Faria has in his arsenal is a slow Curveball that he only mixes in about 4% of the time. In fact, the majority of those came in one outing against Toronto when he threw 11 total. He’s thrown just 10 Curves combined between all 5 of his other starts. He mostly throws it to lefties and has twirled 14 of his 19 Curveballs to LHBs as the first pitch of an at-bat. He clearly likes to catch batters guessing Fastball and land an Uncle Charlie in the zone to get ahead. Despite the low usage, it’s still a useful pitch to keep in a hitter’s mind, as it extends Faria’s total velocity range from 75-94mph among all four of his pitch types. That’s quite the impressive mix of pitches to have as a rookie.
Jacob features the big slow hook here to Kendrys Morales for a first-pitch strike at a blistering 75mph right down the heart of the plate. When you’re not expecting such a lollipop of a pitch, it’s best to just watch it go by, which Faria will gladly accept as he starts the at-bat ahead in the count with a lethal arsenal to play with.
White Sox outfielder Willy Garcia was recently optioned to AAA, but before he left he was able to witness Faria’s Curveball at 76mph in an 0-0 count. The poor guy has a deadly Changeup and cutting Fastball to worry about and he’s stuck swinging well over the top of a bounding breaking ball for strike one.
Righties don’t get a free pass from Faria’s Curveball either. Josh Donaldson tried his best to hold up but ended up committing to yet another first pitch Curve from Faria. In fact, of the 21 total Curves Jacob has thrown, only 5 of those were in counts other than 0-0.
Nasty pitch GIFs are great – we can all agree on that. Wanna know what’s even better though? Nasty pitch sequencing GIFs! One pitch can tell you a lot, but it often doesn’t tell the whole story. How did the battle between the pitcher and the batter arrive to that moment that made that pitch so good? How was the batter set up to look so silly? Sequencing can tell you that story in its entirety. So as my gift to you during this 2017 All-Star break, I’ve put together some ‘sexy-as-Faria’ sequences for your personal enjoyment.
This first sequence is as bare-bones as they come, but it’s a great showcase of Faria’s Fastball. Two outs with nobody on and White Sox catcher Kevan Smith at the plate. Why mess around? Go right after him. 92mph with a hint of cut down broadway – whiff. 93mph with a smidgen of cut down the heart of the plate – whiff. 94mph up and in on your hands as straight as an arrow – whiff. Jacob Faria achieves three straight swings-and-misses by being sneaky and deceptive. His delivery is slow and deliberate all the way up to the point of release where he explodes with his follow-through. Give a major league hitter three consecutive Fastballs in the zone with none of them topping 94mph and you’d think they’d at least get a piece of something, right? Apparently not.
Let’s turn things up a notch. Subtlety might as well be Faria’s middle name. The 93mph Fastball that opens this sequence initially looks innocent, but when you focus on Jose Bautista’s arms and back, you see a tinge of discomfort that his measly 93mph heater gives a right-hander in the box. Joey Bats thinks the pitch is headed up towards his hands until it gives that slight cut and ends up carving the middle of the plate. Wrinkle in a get-me-over 85mph Slider for strike two that also had Bautista leaning back with a lack of confidence in pitch recognition and you’ve controlled the at-bat to a point where you can almost do whatever you want in a 1-2 count. After watching back-to-back pitches grooved down the middle, ‘Bats’ doesn’t want to be embarrassed a third time in a row and decides he’s gonna get his hacks in. Unfortunately for Joey, Faria is one step ahead of him and places a sexy 85mph Slider off the outside edge that darts out of reach and earns another swinging K for the young Tampa righty.
This next GIF is probably my favorite of all the GIFs I ended up with after watching every pitch Jacob Faria has thrown so far in the majors. There’s no debate – it’s a masterpiece. It’s 3-pitch sequencing done right, and the reactions Mark Trumbo gives us are just icing on the cake. Faria starts the at-bat off with a gorgeous 81mph Changeup that paints the outside black with some great movement – no batter in their right mind is going to be looking for that pitch in that location. Strike one. He then follows that up by drilling his catcher’s target, again on the outside black, with a pinpointed 93mph cutting Fastball. Again, Trumbo is caught looking and seen slumping his shoulders in disbelief. Strike two. After laying two nice coats of paint on the outside edge, Faria felt the need to touch up the inside corner as well. The 92mph heater that ends the at-bat is a great example of Faria still being able to get some cutting action on the arm-side corner of the plate at times. It’s perfect. Strike three. Three pitches that dotted the corners and they were so good they weren’t even swung at. Look at the ‘Fox Trax’ graphic and check out those locations. Then look back at Trumbo and his reaction towards the umpire, as if to say, “That was unfair. I demand a do-over.”
“Hey Mark, could I help you find anything today?” the owner of The Corner Store asks.
“Nah, I’m just lookin’..” the deflated Trumbo replies.
When looking at someone new to the league, I like to keep a log of the things I notice – both good and bad – about that pitcher and how they’re approaching their outings from start to finish. I can honestly say I haven’t had such an overwhelmingly positive outlook on a rookie after breaking them down as I currently do with Jacob Faria. I’ve watched every pitch he’s thrown in all 6 of his starts since getting the call and I’ve been left with hardly anything negative to say.
For starters, he is as calm, cool, and collected as they come. His mound presence is that of a rugged veteran who has been doing this for years at the major league level. Nothing seems to phase him emotionally on the mound. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a huge deal to be able to stay poised when you’re first called up to the biggest stage. So many rookies come up and outdo themselves by over-throwing the first start or two, only to fall back to reality in the next few outings when the initial adrenaline wears off. Faria has remained the same pitcher with the same mechanics and the same velocities throughout all six of his starts. His delivery itself is fluid, deliberate, deceptive, linear towards the plate, and explosive in its finish. He creates an extra tick in perceived velocity with his Fastball because of this.
His pitch mix is among the best I’ve ever seen a rookie bring into the big leagues out of the gate. How often do you see a rookie with four quality offerings? It’s rare. His Fastball is tough to square up as it cuts randomly with upwards of six inches of movement. His Slider plays perfectly off the Fastball against righties with both sharp vertical and horizontal movement that entices swings on pitches outside the zone. His Split-Changeup is a nightmare for both righties and lefties with insane movement and late drop. And his Curveball is an excellent backup plan to use late in games to get ahead of hitters as a first pitch strike. There were so many times last year that I remember concluding a Breakdown of a rookie with something along the lines of “needs an effective 3rd pitch” or “needs to refine the Changeup to remain successful.” Faria is an outlier when it comes to how developed his arsenal already is. A velocity range of 75-94mph with four effective pitches for a rookie is close to unheard of.
Another common flaw we see in rookies is reluctance to feature the entire plate, but Jacob doesn’t falter here, either as he’s showcased the ability to command both sides of the plate with his Fastball. When runners are on first, he mixes his times to the plate effectively. He also fielded his position well on the few chances he had to make plays on come-backers to the mound.
His velocity doesn’t dip late in games, he’s very unpredictable in a majority of counts, and his coaching staff has shown a tremendous amount of faith in his ability to work out of jams early on in his career. I counted three separate times when it would have made a lot of sense (due to pitch count, score of the game, number of runners on base) to pull Faria and hand the ball over to the pen and his manager, Kevin Cash, decided to leave him in the game. All three times Faria escaped the inning or at-bat successfully.
Like I said, there isn’t much to say here. I’m not holding any favoritism either. I like finding areas guys need to improve upon just from watching their starts, but Faria left me with so little in this department.
He does tend to “miss up” in the zone when his command gets shaky. You normally want a pitcher to “miss down” if he’s going to miss at all, but Jacob has also shown how effective his Fastball can be when climbing the ladder up in the zone so this could be a minor issue. There were also two separate times in his most recent outing against Boston where he walked the 9-hole hitter to start an inning. His pitching coach, Jim Hickey, was understandably pissed. Faria walked 4 batters against Boston, which was just 1 walk fewer than his season total through his first 5 games. I’m not too concerned with the high walk total as he looked visibly uncomfortable on the mound for most of the outing. Something was clearly ‘off’ either with his mechanics or just how he was feeling that day. Even with the command issues, Faria ended up out-dueling Chris Sale and earning his 6th consecutive quality start and improving to 4-0 on the season.
Jacob Faria is about as polished as they come when looking at rookie starting pitchers making their debut. That could be thanks to him spending over six years in the minors before getting the call. That’s a lot of time to prepare and improve one’s self for the ultimate goal of breaking into and staying in a major league rotation. Through his first 6 starts, Faria has done nothing but convince the Rays that he’s the real deal. He has yet to lose a game and he’s thrown 6 consecutive quality starts while holding a 37/9 K/BB ratio to begin his career. The arsenal is there, the approach is there, and the mound presence is one that could carry him through years of success at the major league level.
To end this GIF Breakdown, I’ll leave you with one final 3-pitch sequence GIF. This time, Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard saw the whole gamut of Faria’s three main offerings. Jacob starts off with a tight get-me-over Slider that Rickard is unwilling to commit to for strike one. He then pulls the string on an absolutely filthy Changeup that bounces into the dirt for the easy whiff and strike two. And finally, after two straight off-speed pitches, Faria completely freezes and locks up Rickard with a painted Fastball at the knees on the inside edge for the called strike three.
It’s this kind of pitch mix and sequencing that the Tampa righty is showing off in just the 4th inning during the second time through the lineup that makes him so successful. Unpredictable with plus command of multiple pitches. I have a feeling we’ll be watching Faria GIFs like these for a long time.