Dallas Braden: The Expectation Gap

Dallas Braden, in my opinion, is going to be a star.

Before I go on to backup my opinion with controversial evidence, I would like to explain, for what it's worth, that I've held this belief since the very first time I saw Braden pitch in 2007 and am only using the opportunity of one of his most successful major league starts to espouse my optimistic projections, not merely jumping on his bandwagon after one good start.

Firstly, there seems to be absolutely no contingent of ANers, Scouts, Bloggers, or even fans who agrees with me. Even the most optimistic projections I've seen have claimed that Braden can be a good #3 starter.

Before the year started, there were a fair amount of people that believed Braden would eventually end up in the bullpen, and most figured that he didn't enter into the A's plans after 2010 with the affluence of young pitching about to break through.



So, why you ask, will Braden be a legitimate star major league pitcher, an ace in a major league rotation, a guy who can throw 200 innings with a sub-3 ERA?

For a few reasons. In the first place, he has excellent command. Often you hear about pitchers who "throw strikes," which is sometimes code for "well, he can get it over the plate, hopefully his movement will do the rest..." Braden does not simply throw it over the plate, Braden hits targets. He has all the way through the minors with impeccable BB/9 rates, and he has from his very first hitter who he struck out looking with a 3-2 fastball right on the inside corner. 
In fact, one of the few balls that's been hit hard off of Braden so far this year, the Youkilis homerun, was on a fastball right on the inside corner. The pitch was with two strikes and was a bad call by Suzuki, as Braden had gotten two called fastball strikes on Youkilis in the at-bat, and he would have been dead on a changeup as he was in the sixth inning. 

Next, Braden's changeup is one of the best pitches I've ever seen. A 15 mph difference (87.2-72.8 avg speeds, according to Fangraphs) is devastating, and Braden generates a ridiculous amount of swinging strikes on the pitch. In fact, he appears to use swinging strikes more to keep hitters off balance and later induce weak flyouts a la Justin Duchscherer rather than to generate strikeouts, a remarkably intelligent strategy which will ultimately help him limit his pitch count (like today) and go deep in ballgames. With the amount of swinging strikes that Braden gets, he easily has the ability to be a high strikeout pitcher, but it would be a waste of pitch count, and Braden isn't playing for the scouts or the projection systems, he's playing to win.

This is one of the reasons I think that Braden hasn't gotten the projections that he deserves. His minor league career is second to none. His K/9 numbers throughout the minor leagues were 15.43, 11.77, 5.40, 9.75, 10.41, 9.11, with the 5.40 being a single start in AA in 2006. 

Dallas Braden has not just pitched well, but ultimately dominated every level he has reached, and he is showing no signs of letting up in the Major leagues, steadily improving, start by start.

I am not here to convince everyone that Dallas Braden will necessarily be a legitimate ace. But I am here to add that possibility to the conversation.

Too long have scouts written off players because of 87.2 mph average fastballs. 

Dallas Braden reminds me a lot of Tom Glavine (though the similarities do not extend to personality), another lefty whose fastball averaged about 85mph throughout his career.
In fact, their minor league numbers are fairly similar:

  • Braden ERA: 3.30
  • Glavine ERA: 3.61
  • Braden H/9: 8.05
  • Glavine H/9: 8.31
  • Braden HR/9: 0.75
  • Glavine HR/9: 0.81
  • Braden K/9: 10.13
  • Glavine K/9: 6.08
  • Braden BB/9: 2.39
  • Glavine BB/9: 4.01

Again, I'm not saying that Braden will win over 300 games and be a probable hall of famer like Tom Glavine, but I'm saying that his fastball is faster, his minor league numbers are better, and there's no reason to write off an optimistic possibility.

Also, I really love Dallas Braden... he's fun to watch...


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