Very little gets past the Eyeball Scout. Despite Dillon Overton’s slight frame, the Eyeball Scout used a combination of sight and savvy to notice that the A’s LHP was making his debut against the Angels last night. But the Eyeball Scout offers far more than simple confirmation of a pitcher’s existence...
Sitting next to Captain Obvious, who noted that Overton sure gave up a lot of home runs, the Eyeball Scout took note of Overton’s arsenal. (“Are you staring at my arsenal? Eyes up here, mister!”) Overton’s fastball came in most frequently at 88-89 MPH, occasionally hitting 90 MPH and sometimes down at 87 MPH (cutter). His changeup is his signature pitch and occasionally Overton mixed in a curve.
I tend to look at LHP finesse pitchers with plus changeups as belonging to a group most defined by their fastball velocity. If you’re Cole Hamels, throwing 93-94 MPH, you are a front-of-the-rotation pitcher and if you’re Jason Vargas, throwing low 90s, your better seasons put you solidly in the middle of the rotation. Dallas Braden was another mid-rotation pitcher who sat around 90 MPH. If you’re in the upper-80s you’re Tommy Milone, whose 87-88 MPH fastball was good enough to make him a solid #4 in his best seasons but who is now shuttling between AAA and the big leagues.
For better or worse, the pitcher Overton most reminded me of last night was Milone. Now before you take that as an indictment of Overton’s ability or potential, remember that Milone was 25-19 in 2012-13 for two A’s playoff teams, with an ERA around 4.00 throwing 190 IP in 2012 and 156 IP in 2013. That’s a very useful pitcher at the back of a rotation — and like Braden, Milone’s heyday was somewhat brief.
Similarities between Overton and Milone begin with fastball velocity but do not end there, and it’s worth noting that if you are only looking at fastball velocity Overton does have a slight, but perhaps important, edge of around 1 MPH.
Like Milone, Overton’s mistakes were hit far. Even in his best seasons, Milone gave up 24 and 25 HRs but because he limited walks and pitched well situationally it was no coincidence that many of the HRs were solo shots that at least did minimal damage. Also similar was Overton’s fastball being located beautifully and appearing faster due to the threat of his plus changeup, but lacking any great sinking or tailing action that would garner ground balls. Milone’s changeup was his best DP pitch and Overton seems to share that he wants the fastball taken for a strike, the changeup swung at, because contact on the fastball is often pretty solid.
What got hit out? Kole Calhoun got a fastball in that did not get in far enough, demonstrating Overton’s lack of margin for error with his fastball. Mike Trout hit a hanging curve. In one key at bat, Overton fooled and froze Albert Pujols with a fastball for a called third strike. The next at bat, Pujols was ready for that same fastball and launched it into the LF bleachers.
In a nutshell, Overton once threw 93-94 MPH and might have been a Cole Hamels in the making. Following Tommy John surgery, for whatever reason he came back throwing 89-90 MPH and that missing velocity has never returned. In this iteration, what will prevent Overton from being more than a solid #4 SP at his peak is that he has so little margin for error and his fastball does not appear to be a pitch with which he pitch to contact. A little sinking action could go a long way, but could also interfere with his essential ability to locate his fastball.
So like Milone, I saw a polished and mature pitcher who controlled bat speed from hitters even as great as Mike Trout and who, like Milone, paid for his few mistakes. He looks to me like a solid back-of-the-rotation SP, ideally a luxury #5 SP. Because, like Braden (injury) and Milone (success) before him, his window of success could be relatively short, if I were the A’s I would get him up, keep him up, and utilize him fully now knowing that he may have 2-3 good years in him but may not be one of those pitchers whose success sustains for 15 years. For one thing, Overton cannot afford even a small drop in his current velocity and for another, with one TJS already in the rear view mirror he is likely one more injury away from being cooked.
One final note: only Overton’s left-handedness, and the fact that he does not feature a big 12-to-6 curve, stops me from making another comparison to a pitcher who also anchored the back of the A’s rotation for a couple years but had a short window of success. That’s A.J. Griffin, who also walked few and who also watched many HRs -- mostly solo — even in his best seasons.
So think of Overton as another Griffin or another Milone and you have a sense of what the Eyeball Scout saw last night. You don’t want 5 of those in your rotation, but at the same time it’s great to have 1.