(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)
As an Atlanta Braves fan, I remember watching the first game that Mike Foltynewicz pitched for the team in 2015, and thinking to myself, “Wait, how do you pronounce that?” I’ve always been a fan of Foltynewicz (Fole-tuh-nev-itch); he seems to be a class act on and off the field, and I’ve always held my hopes that he may be able to make the tweaks necessary to unlock that next level. Now, after two encouraging starts, it seems that Folty may have taken that turn.
For those of you that haven’t kept up with Atlanta’s 26-year-old rightie, he’s put together two solid starts at SunTrust Park for the Bravos. Here are his lines for each of them, the first against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 30th, the second against the Washington Nationals on April 4th.
3/30/18 vs. Philadelphia – 5.0 IP, 5 hits, 1 walk, 2 earned runs, 7 strikeouts
4/4/18 vs. Washington – 5.1 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned run, 8 strikeouts
Facing an offense as potent as the Nationals and defeating Max Scherzer is no easy task. While we have seen flashes of his upside, his results prior to this season have been mediocre as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at his 2018 resume to determine what changes, if any, have enabled this early success.
Before I start spouting off numbers and statistics, I would like to place the umbrella of small sample size over everything I’m about to say. None of this should be taken as gospel, but these indications ought to be taken as just that: possible trends that may continue throughout the season.
Foltynewciz’s arsenal includes a fastball (which does at times see some sinking action), slider, curveball, and changeup. Prior to the 2018 season, Foltynewicz relied mainly on his fastball, a pitch that despite averaging 96 and touching 99 is very average in terms of results. The pitch has very little movement, and big league hitters are being trained to hit high-velocity fastballs. His slider gets great results, producing 14.32% whiffs, with solid lateral movement. The curveball movement is primarily north to south, a 12-6 curveball. Folty doesn’t throw it often, and that’s probably for the best as it has not seen great results. The changeup is an interesting pitch for him, as he hasn’t thrown it often at all prior to 2018, but when he does throw it he sees good results, including an 18.5% whiff rate in 2017.
This leads us to his starts this season.
March 30th, Philadelphia Phillies
In his 2018 debut, Folty kept an underrated Phillies offense off balance for 5 innings.
The first of Folty’s two earned runs in this game came from a solo shot off of Rhys Hoskins‘s bat on an elevated, middle of the plate fastball, a costly mistake for sure.
This wasn’t the only hard hit against him in the game either. Two balls in the third inning were sent to the warning track, one scoring the (unearned) runner from third. Carlos Santana also sent a hanging curveball into the right field seats in the 5th inning.
Overall, Folty’s command wasn’t great throughout the start, often catching the plate more than intended. However, he struck out four batters on checked swings, throwing pitches that just caught the edge of the zone. His stuff was definitely strong throughout the evening, despite not having the best command. It is a bit concerning that he only had 6 swinging strikes, fewer than his 7 strikeouts.
Foltynewicz threw his curve 18.5% of the time in this start notably more than his 11.2% career rate. However, the curve didn’t induce a single whiff and resulted in the Santana homer, which may deter him from using it in the future.
April 4th, Washington Nationals
In his second start of the year, Mike Foltynewicz faced the formidable Washington Nationals lineup, and performed fantastically on both sides of the ball, hitting a two-run double off of Max Scherzer in the fourth.
Foltynewicz looked sharp through 5 1/3, striking out 8, including Bryce Harper‘s first two punchouts of the year, both on elevated 96 mph fastballs. However, it was Folty’s changeup that shined in this start. He threw the change 35% of the time against left-handed batters and saw great success, inducing an 18.25% whiff rate with the pitch against lefties. Here’s the offering in action:
Overall, Foltynewicz threw the changeup for 20% of his offerings, a career-high mark in any start. Last season, Folty only threw his changeup more than 10% of the time in 5 starts. The change is easily his best weapon against lefties, and it may be the key to his success moving forward.
At this point, it’s hard to say if Mike Foltynewicz has reached some new level of production. Nick Pollack refers to him as a PEAS—a pitcher with Poor Execution, Awesome Stuff. We’ve known since his debut that his stuff is what would carry him, but also we’ve been waiting for him to mix in his breaking pitches more often.
At this point, I wouldn’t be buying Foltynewicz from your local Braves homer, nor would I race to the waiver wire to grab him in anything but a deep league. If you have space on your roster, he may be worth picking up just to wait and see whether or not he’ll continue to use his changeup against lefties. I personally swapped him for his teammate Sean Newcomb in the Pitcher List Prodigy League, a 12-teamer with small benches.
Folty’s next start will likely come against the Washington Nationals again at their home park on Monday. Despite his success against them this week, I’ll likely sit Foltynewicz against the Nats to start the week, but you know I’ll be watching the game intently to see if Folty can add on to his success and help the Bravos improve on their hot start to the season.