After using his fastball to dominate AA hitters over 6 starts and excite scouts or scouting type writers, Burch Smith was promoted to the big leagues by the San Diego Padres to make 3 starts. They didn’t go well for the 23 year old right-hander selected in the 14th round of the 2011 draft, and he was sent back to the minors. Even though the starts were a disaster, he will probably be back in the Majors some time soon, so I wanted to take a look at his Pitch F/X data and see if he profiles as a big league regular.
Let’s look at the pitches he threw in his three starts by looking at his spin and spin chart with the results of each pitch acting as a label:
I see a curveball, a changeup, and an above average fastball. The MLBAM tags add a cutter for Smith, but there is no reason for it using the movement and spin data. I changed them all to fastballs, but it seems that the MLBAM tags just labelled the lower velocity fastballs as cutters, evidently not believing that he would have such a large range of fastballs. Movement data did suggest he was throwing a moving/2-seam fastball differently from his 4-seamer, so I left those tags alone. To see where he located the ball, I broke down the averages on each pitch, along with some results:
He kept his fastball high and arm side, a little more than usual, though his average pitch was thrown right at where you would expect for a right-handed pitcher. The run scoring plays and homers came on balls that were high and in the middle of the plate, no real revelation. Surprisingly, even though his curve doesn’t have slider movement or velocity, he located it like one, on the glove side part of the plate. His change location is normal, but his whiff locations (basically right down the middle) is a little unusual, suggesting that his stuff or lack of scouting reports helped him have better than average suggest on pitches down the middle.
Here is what Smith’s release point looks like:
His average release point is -2.03 horizontal and 5.19 vertical, which is so low that it is hard to find starting pitcher comparisons. Paul Byrd and Chad Gaudin are a little higher but really the best comparisons when factoring in horizontal release points. Joe Kelly of the Cardinals provides a similar height, but like Gaudin is more of a relief pitcher. When inputting relievers as well, Joey Devine, Roy Corcoran, and Franquelis Osaria all have similar release heights, but are not exactly big names. Smith projecting more as a reliever than a starter does make sense though, because he did a terrible job of maintaining his velocity as his starts went on, as this graph shows:
Perhaps his arm strength wasn’t built up all the way yet (even though he had already made 6 regular season starts before his 3 in the Majors). More likely, even though it seems he did at least an okay job of repeating his delivery, his low release point isn’t one that is conducive to throwing a 100 pitches in a game effectively, and he is unable to keep it up, causing his velocity to fade. I think is hard to imagine, unless he fixes his release point, that he will not have to move to the bullpen. As a starter, throwing a curveball over a slider is usually preferable, but probably not as a reliever. The fastball is enough that he is interesting and will get his shots in the Majors, and it is always good that he has such confidence in the changeup. One could see a late inning bullpen guy here, which is a good find in the 14th round. But, he also has the potential to be a frustrating pitcher whose stuff doesn’t have or breed consistency.