OK, so in the early going it appears that our pitching, hitting, and defense could use some work but otherwise we’re off to a rollicking start. The important thing is we’re still just 0.5 game back of the Astros and Mariners and we haven’t hit our stride yet, so the AL West crown is still very much in sight. (I didn’t say the A’s had a chance to capture it, I just said it was in sight.)
Anyhoo, this isn’t a year to focus on the win-loss record so much as it is a chance to glimpse at the future and see if it causes joy, hope, bliss, a rash, headache, or diarrhea. Eh it’s baseball, so obviously you will be experiencing all of those.
Now let’s talk about a pitcher whose performance so far has caused only the last 3 of those symptoms: Ken Waldichuk...
When a pitcher has surrendered 7 HRs in 8.2 IP, it’s too easy to take pot shots. The question here isn’t “So, how’s he doing?” but rather “Why has this talented prospect gone all Dillon Overton on us?”
Waldichuk has been a blend of bad control and extreme hit-ability, meaning that he has thrown few strikes but the ones he has thrown have been knocked around the yard. Keep in mind that along with the 7 HRs Waldichuk has allowed 10 other hits, and the ones which have stayed in the park generally haven’t been cheap either.
BABIP doesn’t even include homeruns, and Waldichuk’s is currently sitting at .357. Sadly, the Eyeball Scout does not chalk this up to “bad luck” so much as “Wow they’re hitting the ball hard off this guy.”
So then, what is causing the problem? The Eyeball Scout sees several contributing factors above and beyond the obvious drawback of not throwing any of your pitches where you want them to land.
Hitting The Black
The best pitch in baseball has always been the fastball, partly because secondary pitches work off of the fastball. And a key location for pitchers is the outside corner at the knees. That’s the “pitcher’s pitch” that is hard to pull, hard to drive, the one batters will generally concede a strike if you can hit your spot because it’s a difficult pitch to put in play successfully.
Waldichuk has not mastered the ability to spot his fastball on the black, often getting way too much “arm side run” when he aims for the outside corner and seeming more comfortable throwing up in the zone.
If I were working side sessions with him I would focus first on finding that low/outside corner consistently and repeatably as the spring board for all his other pitches and locations.
Sweeper? I Barely Knew Her!
Waldichuk’s breaking pitch has a lot of movement, sometimes starting well off the outside corner only to wind up in the strike zone, but it is not a terribly effective pitch.
I think the reason is that he does not throw a harder breaking pitch and when you throw a slower breaking pitch to an opposite hand hitter, the batter gets a good and long look at it as it arrives. It may be a hard pitch to track, but this is the big leagues and hitters are going to track it.
In contrast to Waldichuk’s “sweeper” Sam Moll throws a breaking pitch with a lot of movement but much of that movement comes sharply late. JP Sears throws a hard slider he can start in the strike zone and land near the batter’s right foot as he is swinging over it.
But Waldichuk’s “sweeper” comes right into the swing plane of a RH batter and you can ask Isaac Parades how appealing that can be. The solution? I really think Waldichuk needs to throw a harder breaking pitch — and then he can use the slower one to “steal a strike” but not to try to put hitters away. He needs to channel his inner Sears and borrow that slider.
Here Waldichuk shares responsibility with his catcher, Shea Langeliers, but pitch selection is important regardless of your repertoire. In the fateful 2nd inning last night Waldichuk bounced back from loading the bases and struck out back to back hitters, Yandy Diaz and Wander Franco, on high fastballs across the top of the zone.
Having found the arm slot and location to tap into the deceptive ride on Waldichuk’s fastball, what did the lefty throw to Parades? That roundhouse sweeper which gives a RH batter a long look as it comes into the plane of the swing.
Sure it was a poorly located pitch up in the zone and too fat, but it was also just a bad idea in general. That slower breaking pitch is a ‘steal a strike’ pitch to a RH batter and had no business giving Parades such a good look at a pitch when accomplished hitters like Y. Diaz and Franco had just swung late through high fastballs and Waldichuk was on a roll with that pitch.
It’s a bit concerning that Waldichuk’s 4-seamer is averaging 93.1 MPH instead of last year’s 94.1 MPH, though a single MPH can sometimes be attributed to the colder weather of spring and arms that are not yet fully stretched out.
But Waldichuk is throwing a lot of 92 MPH and that plays a lot differently from 94 MPH. I don’t believe it’s indicative of any injury; I suspect it has to do with mechanics and maybe arm slot.
Sean Manaea is a classic example of a pitcher whose deceptiveness relates heavily to his ability to find the arm slot that hides the ball out of his hand, and whether it’s trunk/legs aligning with the arm, ideal arm slot for velocity and deception, or both, I suspect Waldichuk’s slightly lower velocity and lack of command/deception, are related.
So there’s some food for thought as to the areas Waldichuk could maybe work on — be it in Oakland or in the minors.
We end with a note about a “whole nother player,” Ryan Noda. Our worst fears have been realized so far: Noda is striking out at a 40% rate, otherwise known as “Dermis Garcia levels” and recognized as a rate no player has ever sustained on their way to a successful career.
So I guess this guy has been a flop so far, eh? Did you know that after 7 games Noda’s slash line is .235/.350/.647, good for a .997 OPS and a 177 wRC+? He has also shown some speed and excellent base running skills and his 1B defense has been solid.
Like everyone else I would really, really like to see the K-rate go down but...have yourself a first week, Ryan Noda!