Before I start the analysis of Justin Duchscherer (hereafter called “The Duke”), I want to confess that The Duke is my favorite pitcher of all time. He gets it done at the major league level without a 90+ mph fastball and throws five pitches for strikes, relying on his pinpoint control and his ability to change speeds and locations at will. He has been a setup man, a closer, and now finally gets his wish and has been converted into a starter (he did win a minor league Cy Young, after all). How does the Duke do it?
Well, the Duke throws the following pitches (source: Fangraphs):
- Fastball: 86 mph (47.1%)
- Slider: 81.3 mph (3.2%)
- Cutter: 81.6 mph (26.0%)
- Curve: 69.8 mph (22.8%)
- Change: 79.9 mph (0.9%)
A soft-tossing righty junkballer that dominates the American League? You bet. More after the break…
The Hardball Times has some of the best free stat breakdowns of players today. Here’s what the Duke looks like from a statistical standpoint:
Let’s take a look at his Basic Pitching chart first. The Duke has thrown 54.3 innings with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, surrendering only 2 home runs and a .285 SLG-Against statistic (much better than Batting Average Against). He has a 38:15 k/bb ratio, or 2.53:1 (good). Furthermore, he also controls the running game very well - he has a short, compact stride and is quick to the plate. He has a good pickoff move to keep the runners close, and he varies his hold times well to confound would-be runners.
As we focus on the THT Pitching chart, we get to the good stats. The Duke’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stat is 3.22 - when you compare this to his actual ERA (2.32), we can see that he has been a bit lucky in regards to balls put into play. Sure enough, his DER behind him is at a .750 rate, giving him an approximate BABIP of .250 (we’ll check Fangraphs for the exact number later). Most pitchers surrender a BABIP of .298 or so, confirming that the Duke is a bit fortunate. He has actually induced more fly balls and his Infield Fly (IF/F) percentage is low. The key stat here is the HR/F stat - or Home Runs on Fly Balls. It is a ridiculous 3.9%. HR/F is a stat that normalizes in a small range (11-12%) for most pitchers in the league, and the Duke has shown no ability to depress this rate at such a high level. Lastly, his LOB% is low, at 72.2%. When you add everything together, you can draw a very simple conclusion: The Duke is getting really lucky on balls put into play this year!
However, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Duke is posting an above-average k/bb ratio of 2.53:1 (league average is about 2), and he is actually giving up a bunch more line drives than usual:
Though we can expect the Duke to regress to the mean, we should also expect his LD% to go down a bit while his GB% also goes up. This should help him, since it’s pretty hard to hit grounders over the fence!
The Duke’s BABIP is indeed below league average:
Fangraphs says BABIP under .298 is “good,” when in reality it should read “lucky.” This will regress slightly back to the league average, meaning that the Duke can expect more bloopers and grounders to find holes and create hits.
So, what does it all mean? Statistically speaking, we should expect the Duke to give up some more hits and home runs on his flyballs throughout the year, and his ERA will certainly finish above 3. However, what we know about the Duke is that he has pinpoint control and depresses SLG-Against well. He doesn’t give a lot of free passes on the bases, and when you don’t walk batters and it’s tough to hit doubles or home runs off a pitcher, it is consequently difficult to score runs. My prediction for the Duke’s final ERA would be around 3.70 - still quite good!
Before I go into the video of the Duke (taken from his start vs. the Tigers on June 4th), I’d like to discuss this photo I ran across while doing a Google Image Search for him:
This is a perfect example of what Tom House calls “equal and opposite arms.” Note how his glove arm mirrors his throwing arm - this helps to keep the pitcher balanced and free of timing flaws.
Here’s a video of the Duke inducing a groundball to Hannahan at third base with a cut fastball:
Note how quick and low his stride is - as a runner, it’s very difficult to pick this up. When you combine it with frequent throws over and an ever-changing hold time before leg kick, it’s nearly impossible to time the Duke to successfully steal.
The Duke does an outstanding job of keeping his shoulders closed and turning his hips well ahead of his upper body. This is a major component of velocity, though in the Duke’s case, you might not notice it! Regardless, it is a major plus to look for in a pitcher’s mechanical analysis. The Duke has a nice clean pendulum swing arm action and his elbow stays below the level of his shoulders throughout his delivery. He does not reverse rotate his shoulders or hips, adding to the deception on his pitches and helping to ensure his arm gets up on time at footstrike. The Duke also does not feature much horizontal abduction (scapular loading) of his arms, which should reduce the load on both the anterior and posterior structures of his shoulders.
At footstrike/point of turning the shoulders, the Duke’s arm is up through the horizontal plane and not late. This will reduce the load on his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL). I give the Duke’s arm action an Excellent rating - in fact, the best I have analyzed on this site! (No bias, I swear!)
Out of the stretch, the Duke is 16 frames from maximal leg lift into footplant. This is Excellent.
Ball Release / Followthrough
The Duke points the Pitching Arm Side (PAS) shoulder at the target after release and sets himself up for a good followthrough phase. Furthermore, the Duke “yanks” his head out of the way at the last minute as he delivers the ball from a high 3/4 arm slot, much like Tim Lincecum. This will add to the deception and make it harder for the batter to pick up the pitch on time - giving the Duke a few more mph in perceived velocity. His ball release phase is Excellent.
As for the Duke’s followthrough, it is picture-perfect - Excellent. He passively decelerates his arm uniformly across his body, letting his pitching hand slap against his left hip/butt as he points the PAS shoulder at the target. He firms up the glove arm and doesn’t “sling” it back (much like Scott Kazmir), giving him a stable foundation to throw against. He doesn’t lock out his Glove Arm Side (GAS) knee, which I don’t care much about, but it will reduce the load on his knee/hips.
Overall, the Duke is mechanically outstanding. The only problems he will have are due to supinating the release of his breaking pitches - his overhand curve, his cutter, and his “slider” (I think he only throws a cutter, so the Pitch f/x or Fangraphs system might be picking up cutters as sliders). This will cause soreness in his elbow due to the olecranon process slamming into its fossa, and he will lose range of motion and flexion about his elbow joint with every supinated release. He can also strain his upper arm muscles as a result of this mechanical flaw, as fans saw him land on the 15-day DL with biceps soreness/strain. Hopefully as the Maxline Pronation Curve makes its way through baseball, we will see less of these injuries.
The Duke’s back injuries are not a result of pitching and more of an unfortunate reality that athletic competition does not affect all humans equally. The Duke is almost certainly genetically predisposed to back problems/injuries, and will suffer them throughout his life. Hopefully the Oakland A’s medical staff has good chiropractors and massage therapists on hand to work with the Duke between starts.
This fanboy gives the Duke two thumbs up from a statistical, mechanical, and performance stance. There’s something awesome watching a right-hander get people out without throwing over 88 mph and usually sitting well below that by using his pinpoint control and wits to outsmart the hitter.
Read more about pitching/hitting mechanics at Driveline Mechanics.