Back on July 7th, a reader inquired about some prospects and I tried to provide some looks: Out On Assignment.
One of those players was Mariner’s pitching prospect Matt Brash. At the time, only the opening day start at Hillsboro was available, but I was intrigued by a fastball touching high 90s, a slider garnering swing and miss, and a changeup exuding some fade.
A mere week later, Brash was promoted to double-A Arkansas and all eight of his starts have been broadcast since. I’ve watched them all. I can handle rough broadcasts, but Arkansas’ is the worst. As you can see, the video quality is rough and for some unknown reason there is a ridiculous crosshairs aimed at home plate:
So forgive me, but I didn’t slow down a lot of the home starts, preferring to more closely examine the more aesthetically pleasing road starts. All in all, we get a good feel of this version of Brash.
A quick glance back:
5/4 at Hillsboro (Opening Day)
(K vs Corbin Carroll)
(change vs Spencer Brickhouse)
(breaking ball vs Blaze Alexander)
Not wanting to take much away from an opening day start, we got a sense of the offerings. The fastball hits 98/99 and may get some good action. The breaking ball looked mighty nasty and the changeup showed potential with good velocity differential and fade.
Unable to report more at the time, we can get into it now. Oh, and, Brash has been on a monster tear of late, catching plenty of attention from prospect hounds. Over the last three starts; 18 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 32 K, 6 BB. But pitching stat lines can paint a blurry picture.
7/15 at Northwest Arkansas (Double-A debut)
The Mariner’s sure didn’t mind throwing Brash to the wolves first double-A test. 7/15 NW Arkansas still had Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez in its lineup. The fastball/slider combination really legitimized itself to me. Brash got the three big dogs with it:
(vs Nick Pratto)
(vs MJ Melendez)
(vs Bobby Witt Jr.)
This start didn’t feel much different than the 5/4 start. Plenty of swing and miss/chase stuff, but still lacking precision; some wildness in and out of the zone. After leaving a breaking ball over the middle of the plate lined sharply to first (Pratto), he wasn’t as fortunate versus Melendez on some wildness in the zone here:
Two walks over five innings isn’t an egregious stat-line, but there could have easily been more via less chase. After this start, Brash was at 5.16 BB/9, which isn’t the greatest and if hitters were better at laying off the breaking ball out of the zone, it’s higher.
During a start at Vancouver on 6/30 he lasted only 2/3 IP, walking two, giving up six runs on four hits. You get the sense this is a pitcher with some real strikeout stuff but not fully tuned-in. This mostly holds true over the course of the next seven starts, but there are strides being made with more pitches seeming to land where intended, and less egregious misses.
Brash has only allowed six home runs on the season, but I wonder if this current version gives up more against better hitting, as good pitches to hit have been provided without too much harm.
7/29 at Springfield
I want to know what a pitcher does when his back is against the wall. The breaking ball has overwhelmingly shown to be his go-to pitch. I don’t have the numbers, but there are some starts he may have thrown it more than the fastball.
Nothing wrong with challenging hitters with your best stuff. “Go ahead and hit it if you can.” Here’s a prime example with the bases loaded during this start: (Nice defense too.)
(vs Nick Plummer 7/29)
8/19 at Frisco
Still not showing to be a guy I’d call a command pitcher, this start did show exciting gains. Here are his eleven strikeout pitches on the day with a fastball thrown in:
(Victims in order: Josh Jung, Justin Foscue, Sam Huff, Josh Stowers, Isaias Quiroz, Miguel Aparicio, Huff, Stowers, Quiroz, Bubba Thompson, Blain Crim)
Pretty good look at how tough the slider can be on hitters, but I’m still wanting to see less bullying with two pitches and more third offerings/diverse attacks.
If you subscribe to the idea pitchers are only as good as their last start, like I tend to think holds some truth, Brash is a pretty dang good pitcher. He absolutely dominated hitters Thursday night and I had to get into it.
Only As Good As Your Last Start 9/2 vs Wichita
He struck out the first five hitters, the first four, on all sliders and fastballs:
(vs Roy Morales, Spencer Steer, Trey Cabbage, Jermaine Palacios)
The fifth strikeout was via slider after Brash started the hitter with, what I believe was, the first changeup of the game. Here’s the whole at-bat:
(K vs Ernie de la Trinidad )
It’s exciting seeing the changeup come out in different situations. If it develops, I’m fully onboard the Brash train. The next at-bat, he offered another on a 2-1 count. It wasn’t placed well and almost caused damage.
As you can see, the pitch has some action, but it’s far behind the other two offerings in usage. This may have been one of a few times the changeup was used in the middle of an at-bat:
(changeup vs Leobaldo Cabrera)
Strikeout six was a 97 mph fastball (no changeups during at-bat):
(K vs DJ Burt)
Strikeout seven (no changeups):
(K vs Gabe Snyder)
Second Time Through the Order
So we saw Brash absolutely plow through the order using, in essence, two pitches; seven strikeouts, a flyout, and a pop-out. What’s act two look like? We see him not land a strike with a first-pitch changeup against Morales, and then he gets him to ground out on one. Love it. Maybe that wish of wanting to see more third offerings is gonna come out?:
Strikeout eight he again starts the hitter off first-pitch changeup (only one of at-bat) and then finishes with a 97 mph fastball:
(vs Spencer Steer)
Great result, but if you watch this at-bat closely you’ll catch something. After the fastball got a way to go 2-2, he’s checking something out. (Is the radar reading out in left field? I have no idea.) And then his catcher offers up a challenge to do something different…throw a changeup with two strikes, and Brash quickly opts to a fastball.
This is an example of what I’ve seen from Brash over his double-A starts that bums me out. He has a chance to pitch to development but opts instead to pitch to results. Challenge yourself! I understand he had a no-hitter going in a one-run game, but he was already over 60 pitches and never going the distance:
Strikeout nine we get another first-pitch changeup, finishing off with another 97 mph fastball:
(vs Trey Cabbage)
Strikeout ten was my favorite because he went slider, slider, changeup!:
(K vs Jermaine Palacios)
After a two-pitch groundout (fastball, slider) and a six-pitch flyout (no changeups) to end the fifth, the sixth and final inning he goes three-pitch flyout (slider, fastball, poorly spotted changeup), six-pitch pop out (no changeups), and the eleventh strikeout:
(K vs Chris Williams)
Brash then gets one batter in the seventh, ceding a seven-pitch walk to Morales with no changeup offerings. After 90 pitches (60 strikes) Brash looked whipped.
So after the exciting strikeout via changeup, we saw it what? Two more times? I’m still itching for more.
The Pitching Speculation Rash
This 2021 version of Matt Brash spawns the usual pitching speculation questions. We want to try and predict the future, and in his case, this changeup thing may be the looking glass. We have an exciting pitcher here with two offerings he doesn’t need to be super locked in to get results. Great for now, but that’s an unlikely prolonged major league career as a starter.
The two-pitch attack needs to be significantly more precise and/or a third pitch becomes an effective weapon. I’m just not sure which direction Brash is trying to go. Are we trying to really hammer in the two-pitch control, or are we developing that change up? Both? Which is the priority? Or are we feeling it out?
Seems to me, when calls for changeups get shaken off, or falling back on the same plan redundantly, the former is not the priority. It’s the pitching to results versus pitching to development dichotomy. My excitement happens when young pitchers challenge themselves more, and my preferable investments.
That being said, we cannot minimize what the young man is doing. He’s been a bully. And we cannot minimize the progress he is making, nor have any idea what’s being worked on outside of game action. Thursday night was his best start in terms of challenging himself, and one in which, although tame and leaving me wanting more, the changeup seemed to have a plan; first pitch offering, mostly the second time through the order to righties.
It’s one thing to sit on your couch being critical, and another to be up on the mound in a close game with competitive juices flowing, but I can’t help but feel there are missed opportunities to get better every outing.
The Pitching Stat Line Rash
Social media is all over Brash’s incredibly impressive stat lines, but that alone doesn’t tell the story of a pitcher’s development. Brash could continue through the rest of the season bullying hitters with his two-pitch attack, putting up lines like the other night.
The number next to his name on lists will get smaller, etc. But, what if results took a step aside and the changeup usage doubled? I imagine the ERA and other things become less attractive, while Brash becomes a more viable major league pitcher.
In essence, sometimes bad numbers are a good sign. We aren’t real great at understanding this in the dynasty world.
It’s understandable though. Watching a guy like Brash’s progression is laborious. Many of us don’t have time to binge-watch eight double-A games, but if we do, pitching, as the precipitant (hitting the reaction), is the easiest to assess.
For me, the most important part of evaluating a pitcher, and you here Nick talk about it all the time, is intent versus execution. How good is the pitcher at making the ball do what he wants it to? There is no stat or metric for this and never will be. You can only get a sense of it by watching.
Yet, it may also be the hardest to predict. Pitchers can change on a dime; learn a new pitch, find new mechanics adding velocity, refine control, on and on…
The Dynasty Investment Rash
Any dynasty owner currently holding a Matt Brash share has already profited in some manner, as he was most likely a free addition. Back on July 7th, his ownership rate on Fantrax was 1%. It’s grown to 6% today.
I asked my friends and league mates for their favorite waiver wire pitching prospect additions of the season, regardless of league size:
That’s 38 talented arms. Some of which have reached top 100 status on prominent lists. One is actually my most coveted pitching prospect in all of the land. 2021 was an unprecedented prospecting year after a dead season, so perhaps that played a role, but when looking at a list like this, you can’t help but wonder if “punting” pitching prospects is worth it.
Why invest FYP picks or other draft capital when you can potentially replenish your roster with young, free, quality arms? It’s a great question and I only have a long vague answer:
The general thought is pitching becomes a higher priority in points leagues, and even more so the larger the league. I aggressively agree, whether a 10 or 30 team league, owning elite pitchers increases your chances of winning a title more so than owning elite hitters, in any head-to-head format, simply because there are less of them. (We aren’t talking roto here, where everything is equally important.)
In addition, I’m not sure head-to-head category leagues should be played differently than points leagues. But that is all kind of neither here nor there or a discussion for another day. (I haven’t been playing mine any different…results pending.) If there is truth in any of this, it’s that you can’t ever have enough pitching. It’s just impossible.
So do you bother farming pitchers or not? In my opinion, yes, because they are still, relatively speaking, just as fine chances at becoming equally valuable fantasy assets as prospect hitters. But there is a huge caveat: IF your league has a format whereupon you have to use/”call up” prospects immediately, I’m calling the punt team out all day.
There’s been about one pitching prospect who straight-line ascended from draft day to elite fantasy asset: Clayton Kershaw. (This work solidified these ideas for me last winter: Using MLB and NFBC Draft Histories To Make Informed Mistakes.)
I would, and am playing the pouch the wire and trade for pitching exclusively in such a league. The overwhelmingly large majority of pitchers need a few seasons before becoming reliable fantasy assets, and who has time for that on their “major league” roster while trying to win titles? (This is a misguided system in my opinion.)
In systems whereupon there is a realistic aspect allowing you major league development time before deciding to burn up a roster spot, I’ve recently changed my tune. I literally never invested high draft capital in pitching, but I think I leaned too far that direction, as this season it all came crashing down.
The free pickups and Matt Brash’s of several years back just didn’t get it done. Like most anything baseball, there aren’t many absolutes. Always be on the prowl for free gains, but growing your own seems a necessity for prolonged success.
The Debut Rash
Practice maximum patience with your pitching prospects. You do not have another Kershaw on your hands. Get over that. Your pitching prospect will put up horrible numbers at some point, and like we mentioned earlier, that could be a good thing too. Don’t sell for less than you valued him after a few major league starts that didn’t go well or a trip or two back to the minors.
The Injury Rash
Good luck. So maybe baseball has two absolutes we can bank on; you never have enough pitching and your pitcher is going to lose at least one season to injury, at some point. Plan accordingly and keep the patience if you believed enough to pay for the talent. There are plenty of hygena’s winning leagues off of the lack of patience in these regards.
The “Elite Stuff” and Predicting Spots In the Rotation Rash
Pitching grades are dumb and meaningless to me. And a pitcher having “elite stuff” usually means he’s not a pitcher yet, just a guy getting by on arm talent. And “most (or more) MLB ready” usually means he’s one of the best pitchers out there but how can I say that when his “stuff isn’t elite”? Draft those “ready” guys: 5 FYPs To Fleece.
Of course, these statements are over-simplified, but most ranks…are a hierarchy of idealistic dreams of all the “stuff” being used by a “pitcher”. I prefer to go the other way around, as stuff can be taught. The precision, consistency, and mentality type of things are much trickier talents to obtain.
No one can predict where a pitcher is going to be slotted in a rotation nor much precision identifying a pitcher’s ceiling. What kind of “ceiling” did Jacob deGrom have when he was a position player prospect? Or Corbin Burnes coming out of St. Mary’s? Corey Kluber was a “back-end of the rotation guy at best?”
We could go on for days like this. And it’s a different kind of conversation than the hitter’s version. Exponentially more pitchers exceed these caps bestowed upon them than hitters.
In my perfect world, pitching prospect ranks would be solely based on a pitcher’s last start or two with a blurb about their recent progression (or lack thereof). Exactly what we see being emphasized and how it’s playing out. Hmmm…..
Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)