GIF Breakdown: Touki Toussaint’s MLB Debut in 22 GIFs

If you’re anything like me, you get excited on days like these. We’ve been waiting for Touki Toussaint since 2014, dealt from Arizona to the Braves in 2015, with legends of his curveball have littered the internet. We finally got a chance to witness the man in the majors today for his MLB debut, getting a spot start for the first game of a doubleheader against the Marlins. I watched his entire outing and join me as I discuss my thoughts watching the 22-year-old with a 65-grade curveball and 12-14% whiff rates in the minors. Here is Touki Toussaint’s GIF Breakdown in 22 GIFs.

 

First Inning

He showed right out of the gate his approach to left-handers: fastballs away hoping to nip the outside corner. He missed with the first two, but got a generous call to get to 2-1 before throwing a fourth get his first out in the majors:

My initial impression isn’t amazing. This seems like a guy who is going to sling fastballs away from left-handers and live on the outside corner. However, that low arm-angle will make him susceptible to bad misses like those first 2 (3) and I question if that will breed inconsistency.

This is all from the very first at-bat of his career, so obviously take this with a grain of salt. Just having a bit of fun with first impressions as you only get one.

We got a look at Toussaint’s famous curveball in the second at-bat with this 0-1 pitch resulting in a weak flyout to right:

Speaking of first impressions, not the best for the curveball we’ve heard so much about. It floated up in the zone and while the result was good, the execution was not. I’m looking forward to getting more looks at it.

Two great fastballs to start his at-bat against JT Realmuto, painting the first for a strike, then getting Realmuto to reach out of the zone to foul strike two:

Touki went three straight curveballs after getting to 0-2, no surprise given its pedigree. After the first missed up-and-in, he threw a fantastic hook 1-2 that didn’t get the chase but will impress nonetheless:

That’s more like it, I can see why he featured it so much in this at-bat.

Missing again at 2-2, Toussaint went back to the heater down Broadway to earn another weak flyball to conclude his first MLB frame:

A strong first inning from Touki as he did a good job using his heater on both sides of the plate – arm-side to left-handers, glove-side to right-handers. I wonder if we’ll be seeing this approach of staying away with heaters through the game, while his curveball is clearly going to make itself well known in deeper counts. Meanwhile, there’s no sign of a third pitch, but I’m sure we’ll see it shortly.

 

Second inning

It’s the same fastball approach again as Touki misses away on four straight heaters to walk left-hander Derek Dietrich. I’m still not liking Touki’s mechanics thus far as he’s getting too low on delivery, making it easy for him to accidentally get on the side of the ball on delivery. This makes it tougher to time on release to get inside the zone and leads to pitches well off the plate arm-side often. Something to monitor moving forward.

After nailing the outside corner to another lefty JT Riddle, he followed it up with a curveball foul that bore into Riddle’s hands. Solid pitch, but not exactly where he wanted it.

As expected, at 0-2 Touki turned to his deuce and it floated up-and-away, where Riddle took a weak hack and fouled it off. Not impressive and I want to see the pitch fall beneath the zone here.

Toussaint tried to elevate heat and went plenty too high to induce a swing. At 1-2, he went back to the curveball and while it landed out of the zone, it hung up to make it easy for Riddle to poke into left field:

Now in a jam, he turned to a fastball for strike one away to a right-hander…and it didn’t go so well:

This is a swing that suggests Isaac Galloway was looking for this exact pitch – it’s pretty predictable if you watched the previous at-bats (all fastballs away to start) and with Galloway zoning in on heat on the outside corner, he was able to send it to the gap for an RBI double. Touki needs to show something else moving forward.

And that’s what he did with his first pitch to Magneuris Sierra with our first look at Toussaint’s changeup. It…wasn’t very good:

I’m a little surprised to see it without any sort of ride. Given Toussaint’s low arm angle and how he slings the ball on release, normally that amplifies lateral movement. This pitch just floated up there and was lucky to get a strike with it. I wonder if it’s just nerves. Note: I later realized this was a splitter, but I’ve left this here for the flow of the article.

A solid 0-1 breaker over the plate to get to 0-2 from Toussaint, but three more pitches returned only a 1-2 count as Siera fouled off a deuce that didn’t fall under the zone, slapped an elevated heater foul, then ignored a poor hook that fell well away and down.

Then we saw another changeup that was lined to Ronald Acuna for an out:

Yep, this is still a bad pitch. Just two thrown and while it’s still incredibly early, this changeup isn’t what we’re looking for.

Yadiel Rivera was next and was taken down with three great curveballs for Touki’s first MLB strikeout. Here’s the third with plenty of depth on it:

Yeah, this is going to be a money pitch. He’s throwing it for strikes, he’s getting swings and misses, it’s a 20mph difference from his heater, it has plenty of depth and lateral bend (it looks like he’s changing his arm-angle on the fly to change its movement). This is the curveball that was promised.

Now facing the opposing pitcher Pablo LopezTouki had to battle more than expected, but eventually pumped a 96mph heater down the pipe at 3-2 for an easy called strikeout:

A more difficult inning for Touki, but we got a better sense of who he is. I’m curious to see more changeups and if he can harness his fastball locations, but that curveball looks be an “any count” offering, possibly leading to early strikes with hooks and punchouts with elevated heat. I want to see more.

 

Third Inning

And here is more out the gate with a pair of changeups to quickly get to 0-2 to Rafael Ortega:

I’ll be honest, I’m still not liking this pitch. Not enough depth to it and while the results are there, I’m looking at the overall package and sustainability. Right now, I don’t see a pitch that can get results constantly.

Now 0-2, Touki is going to anything he can consider a putaway pitch to seal the strikeout. First a curveball in the dirt that almost gets an offer, then a fastball way too elevated for ball two, then a return to the changeup that he pulls into the dirt. Suddenly it’s full as he went 0-3 on executing.

Toussaint actually went 0-4, featuring the changeup again and ending well out of the zone for what should have been ball four, but Ortega offered and dribbled the ball back to Toussaint. You can call it a skill at inducing the out, I’m leaning to fortune as most batters would let this one go:

Toussaint quickly gets to 0-2 again with two fastballs to Miguel Rojas and eventually turns to his third pitch to get the strikeout:

Aha! This is why his changeup didn’t have horizontal ride with the previous changeups to Sierra. It’s because it’s a split-changeup grip, which I’m going to simply call a splitter moving forward. If you want to call it a split-changeup, that’s not wrong either.

Many were reacting favorable to this pitch on Twitter and I understand it. It’s a change of speed executed over the plate and showcasing a third offering that returned not only a whiff but a strikeout. It’s exciting. It’s also a poorly executed splitter. This shouldn’t be down the middle and does not have a lot of drop on it. I’m actually a bit surprised to see how many splitters Touki is throwing in this inning and I strongly prefer the fastball-curveball mix over this.

On cue, Toussaint hits the next better in the thigh with a poorly thrown splitter. Boom, your prime example for poor command.

However, I’ve been talking about the lack of movement on Toussaint’s splitter and he finally showed us one that was everything it should be on this 2-1 pitch to Derek Dietrich:

This is how you do it. Not elite but solid tumbling action, well placed right under the zone as it looks like a strike for 90% of its path toward the plate. I hope to see more of this.

The follow pitching was yet another splitter, this time floating along the outside corner that was skied right in front of the mound to close the third.

At the end of this inning, I’m pretty surprised. I thought I was dealing with a pitch hyper-reliant on strikes with his heater and having a jack-of-all-trades pitch in his deuce. Now I’m seeing a splitter getting plenty of attention and I’m starting to get a decent sense of what to expect from Toussaint. There’s a lot of polish left to apply, but the tall ceiling is apparent.

 

Fourth inning

It’s a great two-pitch out earned from Toussaint to start off the fourth. First is a 92mph fastball that painted to corner, then he painted a splitter in the same spot to get a grounder for an easy first out:

Okay, there’s that polish. Hey Touki, please do this all the time against left-handers. All. The. Time.

Toussaint made easy work of Isaac Galloway, getting revenge for his RBI double with fastballs to get ahead, then a devestating curveball for the strikeout:

This is the Touki I expect to see more of than how the third frame transpired. Heat for strikes, curveballs for whiffs. I could also see the reverse of that working as well with curveballs landing in the zone and elevated four-seamers getting chases. Point is, no splitters in this at-bat and it’s more of what I expected.

Toussaint threw a pair of Splitters to Magneuris Sierra to end the fourth, the first bounced in front of the plate and somehow getting a swing, with the second landing thigh-high along the outside corner and tapped to Freddie Freeman for the final out.

A smooth inning for Toussaint, making me think this could work. Two at-bats ended early with splitters turning into groundouts plus a strikeout where he overpowered the batter with heat and curves. Not bad, Touki, not bad.

 

Fifth Inning

Another great fastball to start an at-bat as he zoomed 91mph to Yadiel Rivera to start the fifth:

I am a little worried about his fastball stamina through this game, seeing plenty of 92mph last inning and 91mph to start this one.

Another quick out to right with heat down the middle after a poor 0-1 curveball that nearly hit Rivera. It wasn’t a pitch that deserved the out, but he’s throwing strikes and good things happen when you throw strikes.

He missed terribly with the first pitch to Pablo Lopezthen a solid heater to get a flare out to left for out number two. Five pitches, two outs.

Guess what, after missing strike one with heat in the dirt, he threw a splitter that surprised Rafael Ortega in its speed differential, resulting in a dribbler back to Toussaint:

Fifteen pitches total to get through both the fourth and fifth. I’m honestly disappointed as I wanted to see more of his repertoire – I’m a selfish man! – but obviously it’s nice to see Touki cruise through a pair of frames and avoid hard contact.

 

Sixth inning

Two fastballs missed their spots arm-side to Miguel Rojas, but Touki followed it up with a solid splitter at the bottom of the zone for a groundball out:

Love that Touki is still attacking and that location is great, though I’m not seeing enough drop on this splitter for me to get excited.

Another missed fastball arm-side while trying to go away and I’m starting to think Touki is getting tired. This one came in at 91mph, and it’s common to see tired pitchers start showing arm lag, which causes misses arm side…

Scratch that. Watch his next two pitches:

Phenomenal. A fastball on the outside corner followed by a curveball that starts middle-middle and falls off the same corner for a whiff.

Problem is that this was a moment of bliss as everything else in this at-bat wasn’t close to the plate, resulting in a walk on a curveball in the dirt.

At 78 pitches and one out in the sixth, it’s looking like time to get Toussaint out of the game. He bounced a first-pitch splitter, then a 92mph fastball and after the number of misses in the first two batters, it’s clear he’s running out of gas. Then there’s a third miss, now 3-0 after two straight heaters in the dirt. But Nick, he’s at 80 pitches! Shouldn’t he have more stamina? Don’t forget about the adrenaline going in the first two frames that exhausts the ability to go deep.

After stealing a strike at 3-0, Toussaint throws a 3-1 fastball that had no business being swung at, yet Derek Dietrich chased it and slapped a hard grounder to Freeman:

Talk about fortunate. I think many will gloss over this as Toussaint left the inning unscathed after what I expect to be his final pitch of the day, but I think it’s something to watch for next time. Will Toussaint be a guy that can pace himself through a start? Someone who can still rear it back to 95 in the 6th and 7th? Or will he be someone we need to be checking on once the fifth inning comes around.

 

Conclusion

I liked a good amount of what I saw. While I’m not a fan of his mechanics, Touki has a good feel for locating his fastball, though today it wasn’t with the command of using both sides of the plate inside the same at-bat. It’s good enough, but not a major positive and I don’t expect it to become a plus offering. He simply doesn’t have the command of it nor does he have the approach that dictates using it like a plus heater (he doesn’t move it around the zone, often sitting thigh high, etc.). The highlight here is a plus curveball that will be a regular in our Nastiest GIF articles, which comes in at different arm angles to emphasize sweeping action on some pitches and drop in others. His also displayed a splitter (or split-change, if you prefer) that wasn’t very polished. The 10mph differential and surprise of the pitch will make it have success at times – especially when located at the bottom of the zone as we saw occasionally – but it’s not featuring heavy tumbling action we associate with the pitch. Hopefully it develops with time.

This was a spot start of Toussaint and it’s unclear how much more we’ll see of him this season. I’m fine with a speculative add for now, but if he has a secure spot, he’s a Spice Girl for the rest of 2018. This could end poorly, though his fastball and curveball are both good enough for Toussaint to earn a hefty amount of strikeouts on a given day, while not laying waste to your WHIP or ERA. If he can turn his splitter into a consistent force to throw out of the zone, he can use his curveball and fastball to get plenty of strikes and get ahead of batters often, though I wouldn’t expect that breakout this year or invest in it to happen in early in 2019.

Nick Pollack

Founder of PitcherList.com. Rotographs and Washington Post contributor and has worked with CBS Sports, Grantland, and SB Nation. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum.

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Comments


theKraken

Thanks for the breakdown. Critics have always pegged him as a bullpen arm as guys out of that arm slot often are. Factor in the meh command, lack of a third pitch and that’s probably what he is. I imagine he could be pretty good in that role. That is the really interesting thing to me – maybe he is an instant impact monster in the role. Maybe the FB is upper 90s and the shortcomings don’t matter.
On another note, how about that Marlins squad without Bour… I think everyone is a must start or close to it v the Marlins at this point.

Barrett

Word on the street is that Touki has just dropped his circle change as of this year. The pitch had good movement, but he couldn’t consistently locate it. He’s moved to this modified split fingered change and while it looks like a good change of pace pitch off his FB, it doesn’t have any movement and is going to get belted at this level. This is still something being worked on in the lab and I really do think guys like Gausman and Sanchez are going to be able to help this kid define his 3rd pitch and he’s going to be a seriously good add for the Braves rotation if he gets it figured out.

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