Scott Diamond is a pitcher right out of the Twins’ old school “pitch to contact” playbook. He is a lefty with below average velocity (an average of 89.4 MPH on his fastball) that gets almost no swings and misses. (In his career so far, he has gotten swings and misses 6.4% of the time. League average is 8.9%.). Diamond wasn’t even drafted out of Binghampton College, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Braves. He was claimed off waivers by the Twins from the Braves in 2010.
Going into the game on Sunday, he had a 65 ERA – (with 100 being average and 62 being Cliff Lee’s 2011 ERA -) but 103 FIP – on the year. This obviously suggests he has been very lucky. He had struck out less than 5 batters per 9 innings at 4.82. Of course, he hasn’t walked anyone either (at 1.29 BB/9IP) and had a monster ground-ball rate at 3.11 GB/FB with a slightly below average 19.2 LD %. This is an expected OPS of .788 on balls off the bat and .694 expected OPS overall (versus a .740 OPS against, suggesting that he has actually been unlucky. According to Runs Saved, the Twins are roughly an average fielding team). So I watched Diamond pitch against Reds on Sunday June 25th.
The first hitter (Chris Heisey) hit a ball all the way to the wall, but it turned into a out on the warning track. He responded by getting a strikeout of Wilson Valdez, admittedly not a very good hitter, on pitches 87-89 MPH. Against Votto, he threw a really good 89 MPH fastball on the low away corner, then had him whiffing on a 90 MPH pitch. Votto reached for an 83 MPH slider and fouled it off. The next slider was in the dirt and Votto chased it for a strikeout. Pitch F/X (at least on Gameday) called this a curveball, but it looks more like a slider (Brooks Baseball also calls it a slider, saying he has only thrown 11 curveballs at about 76 MPH in his career). He used an 81 MPH slider to get a quick ground-out to get the first out of the 2nd. The big thing for Diamond is that he wasn’t getting behind. He was almost always even or ahead in the count which plays into his (perhaps lack of) stuff. He had an ill-advised walk with 2 outs and no one on in the 2nd in a long at-bat where he couldn’t locate his fastball. He then got a weak ground-ball on his slider to 3rd to get out of the inning. Diamond started the 3rd by giving up a hard double down the left field line by Mesoraco on a high fastball. A sacrifice bunt and a fly-out to medium shallow left made it appear that Diamond would get out of that inning. But Valdez hit a fastball weakly the other way and it went just over Justin Morneau’s (the 1st baseman) head. His 2nd appearance against Votto started almost as impressive as the first one, getting ahead 0-2. He then plunked Votto on an 88 MPH fastball after Votto fouled off a slider. Diamond then showed off control that would be sub par in major college baseball, but hitting the next batter as well with an 88 MPH fastball. A 90 MPH fastball on the outside corner to Jay Bruce was hit for a relatively deep fly-ball off the bat in left to avoid further damage. It certainly helped that the two most dangerous hitters the Reds have (Votto and Bruce) are left handed. The 4th was easy for Diamond, as he got a ground-out on a fastball, then a strikeout on a change and a 3 pitch strikeout on all sliders (of the tighter 83 MPH variety) of Mesoraco. The 5th started with him hanging a slider to Mike Leake, a good hitting pitcher for a single but got an infield fly-ball on a soft slider and then a double play on a fastball. He got ahead of Votto 0-2 again, staying away, and getting him to chase a fastball low and away. An 83 MPH slider was hung to Jay Bruce and Bruce hit it hard for a single. An inside fastball was stroked by right handed batter Ryan Ludwick but the Reds were too aggressive on the bases and Bruce was out by a mile at home, bailing Diamond out. Diamond continued into the 8th, not reaching 80 pitches until the 4th batter of the inning. On a low 91 MPH fastball (his peak velocity of the day), he got a ground-ball but it turned into a Wilson Valdez infield hit. Joey Votto, who had basically owned all day, turned a low 91 MPH fastball into a 2 run homer. It didn’t get to the outside part of the plate, where he had been locating to Votto all day.
Compare the above picture to how he went after Votto in previous at-bats:
Diamond recovered to get 3 quick outs.
When the slider was at 81 MPH, it sometimes hung in the strike zone and was flat. He could throw it for strikes, but it really doesn’t look like a good pitch. When he threw the slider 83 MPH and down out of the zone, it was a pretty good pitch. A lot of Diamond’s success seems to not only have to do with fastball command, but also when he throws his good slider.
Dallas Keuchel is another lefty with sub 90 MPH velocity and no real strikeout skills that is having success. On Saturday, he averaged 88 MPH on his fastball but threw a complete game against the Indians, giving up one run. In his first two starts, his ERAs have been 1.00 and 1.80 but his FIPs have been 4.17 and 4.66. Certainly the FIPs are more accurate, but there is a chance that Keuchel could be a back of the rotation starter mainly because of the good movement on his pitches:
Jake Buchanan is a right handed pitcher is averaging just 3.27 pitches per plate appearance with a 2.73 K/BB ratio in AA. He is getting ground-balls 56.1% of the time he gives up contact. Just 19 percent of balls hit are going to the outfield as fly-balls. He has a solid FIP of 3.72 and SIERA of 3.73. Last year in Lancaster, he lead his team in innings. Lancaster is an extremely hostile environment for pitchers. How hostile? Out of the 5 pitchers on Lancaster that threw at least 100 innings, Buchanan was the only one that had an ERA under 6! He posted a 3.45 FIP and 3.72 SIERA. Against Frisco, the best team in the Texas League (AA) with the best prospect in the minors (Jurickson Profar), on Saturday Buchanan posted his best game score of the year in a game I happened to watch. He did it with sinker after sinker, hitting 88-90 MPH occasionally hitting 91 MPH. He got 15 ground-outs versus 2 fly-outs as hitters were dribbling weak grounders around the infield.
Will Scott Diamond, Dallas Keuchel, and Jake Buchanan become starters that dominate and become top of the rotation starters? No. Can they be good middle of the rotation or back of the rotation starters? Maybe. They don’t have the velocity and strikeout ability that you want in pitchers, but getting ground-balls, not walking a lot of batters, and avoiding line drives are ways to get hitters out as well.