Originally written on Chop-N-Change  |  Last updated 10/21/14

2011 was another stop on the feel-good story tour for one Mr. Brandon Beachy. After not being drafted in 2008, Beachy went to the independent leagues, where a Braves scout took note of his 94 mph fastball and signed him later that season. Beachy entered the Braves’ system as a reliever, but a month or so into 2010, the Braves moved him into the rotation, ending the season in Atlanta. He succeeded and rapidly moved up prospect lists, and by the end of this past Spring Training, he had won a spot in the rotation. Other than an oblique injury, Beachy pitched 140 innings of excellent ball. With a strikeout rate of 10.7 and a walk rate of 3, the only issue with Beachy’s peripherals was his fly-ball tendency that allowed 16 home runs. Even with that, he contributed about three wins to the Braves’ season, which was good enough for third-best on the team.

But that brings us to the subject of this post. Can Beachy continue this into next season and beyond? Was his rookie season a fluke of sorts, and will teams begin to hit him the second and third time around? Let’s first take away the initial concerns centering around his BABiP and HR rate. His BABiP was .307, so that was in line with what we’d expect. His HR/FB was 9.8%, so that’s also about what we’d expect. When we look at his FIP and xFIP, they were 3.19 and 3.16, respectively, so his 3.68 ERA was probably a bit high for what he deserved. With that, none of our initial concerns about his performance seem fluky, but is there more?

When you see disbelief in regard to Beachy, the usual suspect is his strikeout rate. Having a 10+ K/9 when your stuff usually suggests a third or fourth starter causes skepticism. To continue this, he needs a pitch or two that are above-average in order to be so good at striking out hitters. Otherwise, he may simply have ordered them somehow to get more strikeouts than his talent level dictates. It’s not exactly “luck”, but if he doesn’t have the stuff, you can expect the league to simply adjust and hit him better the next time around.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers, Beachy’s whiff rate on his fastball is 22%, which is above the average 16%, but considering his fastball is straight as an arrow, I wouldn’t expect that to continue, even though he has above-average command and velocity. It’s not that it won’t be above-average, but I wouldn’t expect it to remain that high. Beachy’s slider was even better, netting a 42% whiff rate way above the average of 32%, and this is where he made his bread-and-butter. He has an excellent slider due to its ridiculously late break, but that’s a lot to hope for every year. The rest is much more normal. His change-up gets whiffs 28% of the time (30% average) and his curveball 20% (28%). Here’s what we know. Beachy has an above-average to plus fastball and slider, an average change-up, and a below-average curveball that he may want to just junk. What we still don’t know is how the league will react to him.

It’s a crucial question because the initial swings-and-misses may be partially due to batters not having seen Beachy. So the next thing we can do is ask how he performed against teams after his initial bouts.

 

The chart above shows how he did in his 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. times against those teams in his major-league career. If you scan down to the bottom, you see that his strikeout rate has dipped slightly and so has his walk rate, and his FIP even went down. Now, we need to be very careful. This is only 13 games worth of data, and that is not enough to glean sufficient conclusions. They are interesting, however, and at the very least, he isn't getting nailed the next time through.

What do we ultimately learn from all this? Nothing conclusive. We do, however, get more evidence for Beachy being a very, very good pitcher, and we even have some evidence that it wasn’t just some rookie fluke. What I would guess will happen is that Beachy will see a significant drop in his strikeout rate, not to 7 but I’d be somewhat surprised if it’s over 9 again, and we’ll also probably see a slight decrease in walks as he simply gets better from repetitions and more innings. In effect, I would expect something more along the lines of the FANS predictions than Bill James. While that isn’t an “ace”, that’s still a guy that fits comfortably in the middle or top of a rotation. Now, we just have to wait-and-see.

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