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Eyeball Scout Tries Not To See Oral History, Sees Pitchers Instead

Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles
There are Sears, and those who can’t un-see what just happened in the third deck.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

In east Oakland you stroll down the avenue past two drug deals and a scary looking pimp, keeping a keen eye down the block where gang gunfire appears to be imminent. That’s when you get out your phone, call OPD, and frantically bluster into the phone, “Help is needed, immediately! There may be two people doing something slightly lewd and lascivious in a remote section of a stadium no one came to tonight!”

To which the OPD dispatcher probably replies, “OK, calm down and let me get this right. Can you spell ‘lascivious’ for me?” Which brings up a fair question: can you really do anything lascivious that isn’t already lewd?

But I’m not here to judge a couple’ or to turn this extremely family-friendly site into sex talk. I just want to be clear about whether either of these fans could play for the 2022 Oakland A’s.

This is easy analysis. The guy could never play for the 2022 A’s because he is clearly capable of scoring. The woman could totally be on the roster, though, because she sucks.

And yes, I will in fact be here all week.

JP Sears

Sears’ latest effort was a solid one, with 6 IP of 2 run ball against a surging Orioles team, 1 BB and 5 K. Here’s what stood out to me in last night’s start: I really like his changeup and wonder if he needs to use it more.

Sears is generally associated with his fastball, which he uses well up in the zone and will hit 94 MPH (though last night he sat most often at 92 MPH, averaging 93.4 MPH for the season). He throws his fastball over 60% of the time (61.3% to be precise), mixing in a changeup about 1 out of every 6 pitches (16.1%).

Baseball is a game of adjustments and Sears ripped through the minor leagues with impressive K-rate at every level. A, AA, and AAA hitters have trouble laying off high fastball if they can catch up to it at all. But there’s a reason the big leagues are the big leagues.

The high fastball is still a good pitch for Sears at this level, but MLB hitters will just be a bit better at avoiding whiffing on it. And as we saw with Ryan Mountcastle’s line drive single to RF last night, sometimes they will even hunt for it and hit it hard. So it may be that what worked like clockwork for Sears in the minors will only work in concert with a couple other key tools.

And the changeup looks like a strong weapon, sold well with the same arm action and fading late. A few times Sears overthrew it for an easy take well off the outside corner, but mostly he had Orioles’ hitters out in front and fooled, unable to recognize it in time.

Two pitches have impressed me now as complements to the high fastball. One is the wipeout “back foot slider” that RH batters tend to chase before it dives late out of the zone. The other is that changeup, which Sears might want to mix in a bit more so as to keep hitters for successfully sitting on the fastball.

Overall I really like this 3-pitch mix, as I see all 3 offering plus potential when executed — because all 3 can appear to be strikes for a long time even when they land well off the plate, the fastball up above the swing, the changeup down below it, and the slider down and in/away to the RH/LH batter.

James Kaprielian

I’m less enthused about what I see from James Kaprielian, though he has at least cemented his place as a worthy SP somewhere in the rotation. Right now, I’m seeing much more “back end” than middle or front, and not only because he averages less than 5 IP/start (4.95 if you’re counting).

To his credit, Kap gets a fair number of swings and misses on his 4-seam fastball, at least the first time through the order, but to my eye it’s a cringe pitch as it travels because it looks really straight and hittable. 16 HR in 109 IP reflect that when batters hit it, they often hit it hard and far.

Meanwhile, while Kap’s slider is excellent when it’s on his changeup really isn’t. He is a 2-pitch pitcher masquerading as a 3-pitch pitcher, and he seems to tire pretty quickly as he surpasses 50 pitches.

What do you call a 2-pitch pitcher who is best suited to facing the order one time? We call those “relievers”. I think Kap could be a premier multi-inning reliever, but like many before him (Wade Davis, or how about Liam Hendriks?) he might find himself in that tweener position of being “not enough” as a SP but plenty as a reliever.

Out of the pen, if you saw an uptick in velocity you would have upwards of 97 MPH combined with a wipeout slider, similar to A.J. Puk’s arsenal only from the right side. Forget the changeup, forget trying to squeeze 6 IP and 90 pitches out of an arm that seems to lose that “giddy up” pretty early.

And perhaps that’s ok, come 2024, when the A’s might have Ken Waldichuk, Cole Irvin, JP Sears, the best of Adrian Martinez, Adam Oller, and Jared Koenig (my money’s on Martinez), Hogan Harris, and with the best (or healthiest) of JT Ginn, Ryan Cusick, and Gunnar Hoglund.

Supporting a rotation of that quality and upside, I would love to have Kap coming in for 1-2 “leave it all out there” innings leveraging his two best pitches. He’s a big league pitcher for sure. I’m just not certain he has a SP’s arsenal or stamina beyond filling out the back of a rotation and leaving 4 IP for the bullpen to figure out.

Curious your thoughts and observations on Sears and Kaprielian, along with any of the other young pitchers we are now seeing most every day. One of them, Oller, goes tonight (4:05pm PDT) trying to build on recent success that has called into question whether he is actually the worst pitcher on the planet. That assessment is sooooo July.