The Eyeball Scout is loathe to make many judgments on a pitcher’s major league debut, as often control, command, and even the action on the pitches, are skewed by the unique adrenaline and bundles of nerves that accompany debuting pitchers to the mound.
For example, in Daulton Jefferies’ debut he overthrew his changeup and it became a 90MPH meatball that resulted in a couple monstrous HRs. No one could have predicted that once he settled down Jefferies would go on to be a pitcher who ... served up HRs like they were going out of style. Wait, that didn’t work. But you get the idea.
Perhaps said nerves were evident when Koenig’s first pitch in the big leagues landed under the feet of Ronald Acuña, who surprisingly didn’t hit it for a HR anyway because A’s in June. Presumably, though, Koenig then settled in to be roughly the pitcher he is give or take a little command.
Spoiler alert: As much as he wants to believe in every A’s pitcher, the Eyeball Scout was not overly impressed. There were some positives, so we will highlight those first.
Though not a “strikeout pitcher,” Koenig’s first K came in precisely the situation where he needed a K: runner at 3B and one out. In that sense, Koenig showed an ability to pitch to the situation, and to get the K he used what proved to be his best offering, the sharp curve down and in, breaking late enough and sharply enough to look like a strike on its way to being unhittable.
Koenig also proved to be hard to rattle, surviving a leadoff single in the 1st, a leadoff bloop double in the 2nd, and minimizing the damage after a “2nd and 3B one out” jam in the 3rd.
All this is consistent with the “he knows how to pitch” meme that served as Koenig’s primary reference as former employers acknowledged that, in the damning of faint praise extravaganza, that he’s “not a ‘stuff’ guy”.
Indeed, Koenig’s fastball sat mostly at 89-90 MPH and he threw more curves (38%) than fastballs (30%). Does he have the dazzling assortment of off speed pitches, and the command of them, to pull it off?
The Eyeball Scout says no, and here’s a primary reason: Koenig’s debut was most notable for his lack of a “putaway pitch,” and therein lies one of the most fundamental distinctions between AAA and the big leagues. In the minors, batters will put themselves away in a way major leagues hitters won’t, and if you lack a putaway pitch big leaguers will foul off the same pitches that ended at bats in A, AA, and AAA.
Koenig’s curve was effective when he kept it down with a sharp break, but all too often he lopped that same curve up in the zone and without as sharp action on it. He actually got lucky it wasn’t hit more, probably because unfamiliarity benefits the pitcher but is fleeting as batters see you again and again (if you stick around).
The 10 pitch at bat that ended with Ozzie Albies’ sacrifice fly in the 4th is a good example. In that at bat, Koenig lobbed two curves up in the zone that Albies could have mashed but instead fouled off. Third time’s a charm: the at bat ended with one of those “hit me curves” right out over the plate, and Albies lined it hard to LF for the sac fly.
If you’re going to have a middling fastball you either need to have pinpoint command of every pitch or you need to have a pitch that consistently flummoxes hitters, like a plus changeup or the “Travis Blackley/A.J. Griffin/Bruce Hurst” (am I going back too far? Does anyone remember Bruce Hurst?) 12-to-6 hammer of a curve.
Koenig showcased a forgettable changeup that coaches describe as “a work in progress” and a good curve he could sometimes locate, along with a cutter he mixed in to vary the fastball look.
My bottom line is that without a particularly good changeup, and without the ability to consistently execute the curve, a pitcher throwing 89-90 MPH just doesn’t have the means to put hitters away. And that’s what we saw Tuesday night.
Without a doubt, Koenig earned the promotion to Oakland and a chance to pitch in the big leagues. But honestly I saw more in Zach Logue, whose fastball comes from a more deceptive delivery and whose changeup is more refined.
I could see Logue coming back up to be serviceable at the back end of the rotation, whereas based on what I saw last night — and granted it’s all of a 4+ IP sample of a guy making his debut — it’s difficult to envision how Koenig’s arsenal is going to subdue MLB hitters for more than a smoke here and a mirror there.
We’ll see if Koenig gets a second big league start and if so how it looks different from this one. But so far? Great story, but not sure we will remember it 2 years from now.