Scott Proctor’s MLB career ended like this:
It was a microcosm of Proctor’s season. He was throwing 95 MPH, but was ineffective. In 40.1 innings with the Braves (who later released him) and then with the Yankees (who he originally came up with), he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2011. In fact, he was historically bad. No one since 1990 has had a 190 FIP – or worse with at least 40 innings pitched, which is what Scott Proctor’s 2011 season was. He was obviously left off of the playoff roster, and as Longoria rounded the bases, it was clear that Scott Proctor would no longer pitch in the Majors.
Fast forward a year later, and Proctor is an elite closer in South Korea, in the Korean Baseball Organization. In 57 games, (55 1/3rd innings) Proctor had a 1.79 ERA and 2.68 FIP this year for the Doosan Bears. Now it appears the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB (Japan, a higher level of competition) are interested in adding Proctor, who is now 35. So Proctor went from really a laughing stock to a closer in another country with options on the table. Why the difference? Is it the inferiority of the competition? Sean Henn didn’t find things as easy, as he went from really good PCL reliever to someone who couldn’t cut it in the KBO (all within a couple of months). Has Proctor gotten better? Has he made a change? Has he gained more command of his pitches? Is he throwing harder? According to KBOData, here is what he was throwing this season with the Bears:
89.9-95.5 MPH on his fastball, with 92.44 as the median, which we can use as an average for practical purposes. This is actually below his 2011 average of 93.7 MPH. In fact, he got up to 96.8 MPH with his fastball (the hardest he threw in his big league career was 99.1 MPH) and his lowest was 87.5 MPH in 2011.
Proctor’s median slider velocity was 80.91 MPH in Korea. In the Majors, it was quite a bit harder, averaging 83.5 MPH for his career.
His “Forkball” (which is really a change, or at least this is what he threw in America) had a median velocity of 88.04 MPH. Unlike the other two pitches, this is actually about a mile and half per hour faster than what he was throwing in the big leagues. I assumed this was a classification error until I started watching some video of him. He sure looked like he was throwing a pitch that was diving in the dirt at 88 MPH that looked an awful lot like a forkball or hard spliter. Several years ago, there were rumors that he was working on a forkball but neither Fangraphs, Texas Leaguers, or Brooks Baseball lists him as throwing a forkball in the Majors. Instead they have him throwing a rare changeup or a sinker. In none of the videos on Proctor from 2011 could I find him throwing anything remotely looking like a forkball. Yet there he was in Korea, throwing something at 88, 4-5 miles per hour slower than his fastball, that dives quickly into the dirt.
He has totally ditched the curveball it looks like, which seems like a good idea considering it was his worst pitch according to run values.
Here is Proctor’s heat map for 2012 in the KBO:
Compare this to his 2011 Heat Map:
When you combine the LHB and RHB for Proctor in 2011, the heat maps look pretty similar. He likes to go away from both platoons and will work both high and low fairly equally.
One thing you usually look at when a pitcher has an abnormal season (whether better or worse than his career averages) is mechanics. I am no pitching guru, but the mechanics are the same throughout the delivery. There is at least nothing notably different in the way he is delivering the ball. I took these screenshots of when he comes set to show how he looks exactly the same (I could have broken it down further with more screenshots, but that seemed fruitless):
His command sure doesn’t look like it had improved. He walked 21 batters in 55 1/3 innings, which isn’t bad, but isn’t excellent or anything. He averaged 3.91 pitches per plate appearance, but that is not necessarily a good indicator of control. The average “foreign pitcher” in the KBO averaged 3.82 pitches per plate appearance, but some of those were starters. Other than that, there aren’t a lot of good indicators of control beside selection bias through video watching (he threw 4 wild pitches, which was a little more than an average rate, but that is a pretty small sample size and the difference between a passed ball and wild pitch is very subjective). According to the scouting report, one of his weaknesses was an inability to overpower hitters which seems a little surprising considering the fastball velocity. However, he did strikeout less than a hitter per inning in 2012. He was also somewhat predictable pitch selection wise if I am understanding the translation of the report correctly. This is surprising when you look at his pitch selection chart from last year:
I think that chart shows you just how different he is now as far as pitches go. He has the forkball now, and while he used to throw the curveball quite a bit, he doesn’t really throw it anymore. The Korean report has him no longer throwing the sinker either, but sometimes it is hard to identify the sinkers, so I wouldn’t read too much into that.
So to the real question: does this mean that Proctor could be successful in the Majors, or even in the NPB?
I seriously doubt he would have success in the Majors if he came back. However, he couldn’t possibly be as bad as he was. I really would have liked to have seen more strikeouts in Korea. His command seems to have been really spotty, and the apparent loss of fastball velocity is concerning.The forkball seems to be somewhat of an out pitch, but there wouldn’t be a lot of reasons to trust him, and he wouldn’t get a guaranteed contact (which it would seem to rule out any return to the states since he can easily get a guaranteed contract in Korea and most likely in Japan as well). I could see him throwing well in the NPB though. Compared to many Japanese relievers, even when you toss aside the sidearmers, he is a pretty hard thrower. His pitchability would probably be below average, and he wouldn’t overpower hitters (if he can’t in Korea, then it is hard to expect he will in Japan with better competition), but I could see him as an adequate reliever over there.