Donn Roach was the 2nd player the Padres acquired in the Alexi Amarista/Ernesto Frieri deal with the Angels. A 23 year old right-handed pitcher, Roach was picked by the Angels in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft out of the same university that Bryce Harper attended. I watched him pitch in a spring training telecast, and we now have Pitch F/X data on him. In this post, we will take a look at Roach from both the visual and the data perspective.
Listed at 6-1 200, Roach doesn’t take a big stride, and it makes his delivery seem really simple. He brings his leg up high, but it is all really standard. He was throwing 90 MPH, with some serious arm side fade to begin the game. His break and location was really inconsistent coming out. He threw some really good sinkers dropped down, and everything did move. He looked like, just on the eye test, that he threw a seperate 2-seamer that he would throw glove side. He came inside and broke the bat of Hiroyuki Nakajima, but showed in that at-bat that he didn’t have a put away pitch and ended up walking him. He threw a ton of sinkers/moving fastballs. When he buries it, it can be a whiff pitch, but he wasn’t showing a whole lot else.
The other pitch he did show was his curveball. At 78-79 MPH according to the gun, it looked okay, but he kept it up. It had mostly vertical drop, though it was not hard or sudden (his velocity was not a slow curve, but it didn’t move hard). He got almost all groundouts and he has been extremely good at getting grounders in his minor league career, with an absurd 67 GB% since 2011. However, he has also gotten a decent amount of strikeouts, with an acceptable 20.1 K%. After initially struggling in Orem after the draft, Roach has been dominant over the last two seasons, with his ERA, FIP, and SIERA all under 3, reaching AA. In AA, we have a little more pitch data, and we see that he got basically no swing and misses outside of the zone. It is a small sample size (230 pitches), but he threw strikes just 59.1 % of the time, got way less swings than average, and gave up way more contact than average.
We now have data from 2 outings from Roach, both from this spring training. As we saw with the eye test earlier, it isn’t hard to see what he was trying to do. Out of the 57 pitches he has thrown measured by Pitch F/X data, 48 of them have been sinkers. He is an extreme sinker-baller pitch, relying on nearly just one pitch to get hitters out. Of course, the two outings were in more of a relief role, so I don’t know how much we should read into it. Since 2010 (when MLB AM started distinguishing between fastballs, 2-seamers, and sinkers), just 12 pitchers have thrown at least 200 innings and thrown sinkers at least half the time. Jonny Venters, Aaron Cook, and Brandon League have all thrown sinkers at least 65 % of the time. Roach does seem like he is ready to put himself in this category, as every time the batter was ahead, he threw a sinker. However, before talking about his sinker more, let’s talk about the 3 different off-speed pitches he showed.
Roach threw just one slider according to Brooks Baseball in his two outings. It is under 81 MPH, well below average velocity wise. Just 6 out of the 56 right-handed relievers that threw at least 200 sliders in 2012 have that soft of a slider, with at least two of them being sidearmers. It also has below average movement.
Roach threw 4 curveballs in his two outings according to Pitch F/X, averaging 79.01 MPH. This is the pitch I talked about above. For (right-handed) relievers, this is actually below average velocity. As I noted, it didn’t have really any horizontal movement, and would be one of the worst, if not the worst, in horizontal curves according to Pitch F/X movement. Vertically, the movement is a little better than average. This all meshes up with the eye test pretty well.
Roach has also thrown 4 changeups, averaging 85.39 MPH, which is probably his best velocity pitch, at least by league wide comparisons. It has good horizontal movement, and peculiar vertical movement. It has negative vertical movement, like a curveball, meaning it has topspin. From my count, only 7, 2 sidearmers, pitchers in the Pitch F/X era get this kind of spin on their changes. Without exception, these are absurd groundball pitches. This fits in with his sinker repertoire.
What about his sinker? This is, after all, the key pitch for Roach, as shown by his pitch selection. At 91.40 MPH, this is slightly below average, closest to Luis Ayala in right-handed velocity. He gets really good horizontal movement on it comparatively, but his vertical movement is not really notable (other than as we saw, he was occasionally able to bury it for a whiff).
As you can see, Roach clearly repeats his delivery very well, with a really nice and consistent release point
This not only helps him throw strikes, which he seems to do very well, but helps his ability to stay healthy, and repeat his delivery as a starter.
That is one of the really big questions when it comes to Roach. Is he a starter? He certainly doesn’t seem to have the pitches of a normal MLB starter, and the stuff is well below average for any kind of medium to high leverage reliever. However, the control, ability to get grounders, and delivery repetition does make him sort of an attractive back end starter. Roach doesn’t seem to fall into the sinker/slider camp, but is probably best suited for the bullpen anyway just because he can go to his sinker and changeup exclusively and not worry about his other two pitcher that seem well below average. He is quirky, and it is hard to find comps for him using the data, but there isn’t a lot that shows me that he is an impact MLBer. The release point does seem to be out a little bit, which makes me wonder about platoon splits. Over the last two years in the minors, he has no platoon splits, equally as good against both sides, which could be partially explained by the changeup.
He also seems to get good spin on the ball:
This may help him with the splits, but can be easily overstated. He does get good movement and spin on his sinker/change, but that isn’t going to miss a lot of bats. His best bet, in my opinion, is to be a high groundball strike throwing swingman/emergency starter. He isn’t ready for the Majors quite yet if the strike data from AA is indication, but he repeats his delivery well and that shouldn’t be a problem. He should be ready soon, but what he can actually do is a little unclear, and he doesn’t have much of a ceiling.