Jean Machi is enjoying some unexpected success out of the San Francisco Giants bullpen. Of course, it is an extremely small sample size out of the bullpen so far, and he pitches in a park that seems to create illusions when it comes to evaluating pitchers. However, for him to even be here is a little surprising. Machi didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 30 years old, which was in 2012. He started pitching in the minor leagues in 2002 in the Phillies organization, and from 2006 to 2009 he was stuck in AA with three different organizations with very mediocre numbers and 258 innings, mainly in relief. The Pirates finally gave him a shot in AAA, and he pitched pretty well for a season plus but didn’t make it to the Majors. In 2011, he went to the Mexican League, where he dominated, not with an overpowering strikeout rate, but by not giving up a homer in the hitter friendly league. The Giants signed him towards the end of 2011 and let him pitch in AAA. Then in 2012, Machi was finally given his shot in the big leagues, pitching in 8 games for San Francisco (after a bunch of appearances in AAA). So far in 2013, he has been successful, but has had a stint in AAA as well.
Looking at Pitch F/X data, Machi’s closest release point comparison seems to be Mike Adams, a successful reliever with below average velocity and very little as far as platoon splits. Here is a comparison of the two right-handed relievers’ mechanics at the time of release point (the Adams screenshot is obviously from 2012, and at a little bit different angle).
Looks pretty similar to me. Adams head seems to be a little more straight, but Machi’s arm slot is slightly higher. In graph form, this is what Machi’s release point looks like:
So we have a comparison release point wise to a big league reliever, but what is Machi’s stuff like? Here is Machi’s spin and speed chart, labelled by the MLBAM tags:
According to my rough classifications, the fastball is pretty good, averaging 94 MPH, with 11.7 percent of all pitches thrown over 95 MPH. It is at least a big league fastball, even above average. You can get a lot of MLB hitters out with that fastball.
Since we saw some variance in release point and the head in a not exactly desirable spot in his delivery, what does his command look like? Here is his strike zone with all the pitches he has thrown so far in Pitch F/X games:
There is a definite concentration of pitches thrown low and glove side (which for him, is inside to lefties, outside to righties). Here are his average locations, using my rough classifications:
Surprisingly for a right-hander, his average pitch is actually on the glove side of the strike zone. This could be because of his delivery or the fact that he seems to stand on the 1st base side of the rubber. Most of his pitches are going to be inside to lefties or outside to right-handers. His fastball is thrown higher than the average pitch and the change a little lower, which is standard, but his curveball is on the far glove side part of the zone. In the spin and speed chart above, we saw that the MLBAM tags classified some of them as sliders (but since most of them were classified as curveballs, I called them all curveballs, just to go with a majority, and there was no reason to differentiate the pitch). The location makes calling it a slider a lot of sense, as curves are usually going to be in the low middle part of the plate, and sliders on the low glove side part of the plate, one of the reasons it is such a heavy platoon split pitch (a low and inside pitch with some velocity taken off of it is a rather easy pitch to hit). Machi treats the pitch like a slider, throwing just one of the curve/slider pitch to lefties, at least from what I can find. So it makes sense to call it a slider, but clearly it is not a very hard slider, as the original spin and speed chart shows, as most of them are in a 81-84 MPH slider range. This is usually what you would see in a slider from a pitcher with average starting pitcher velocity (~91-92 MPH). This will limit its effectiveness, and he will have to use it only with the platoon advantage, sequence with it well, and locate it well to have any real success with it. The fastball is his best pitch against right-handers, though he isn’t afraid to throw his changeup to both righties and lefties, which is probably why he doesn’t locate it arm side on average (like most pitches use their changeups, trying to keep it away from hitters that have the platoon advantage).
So can Machi continue to get hitters out in the big leagues? He won’t be a dominant reliever, but I could see him having success, with an ability to get lefties out with his fastball and changeup. How you view the changeup probably shapes how you view Machi as a big leaguer. That pitch will be his out pitch, more so than his slider, since it is less reliant on platoon splits. But the fastball is real, and I think Machi is too.