“How does he get guys out?” That was my question for Bob Melvin at the Winter Meetings, and I asked it six times. I queried the Oakland skipper about three of his starters: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Brandon McCarthy, and a like number of relievers: Craig Breslow, Andrew Bailey and Fautino De Los Santos. Here are his capsule scouting reports on each, plus a bonus question about pitchers and data.
Melvin on Trevor Cahill: “He’s a little against the grain for a sinkerballer in that most sinkerballers pitch in to a righty and away from a lefty. His bread and butter is actually the other way around. It’s off the body to a lefty and a backdoor sinker to a righty. Certain pitchers have certain holes they go to, and that’s what he tries to establish. It’s what he’s always done.
“Usually, the arm-side slot is the easier one to throw to, and he’s throwing to the glove-side slot, which is a little more difficult to do. I think he’ll get better when he pitches to both sides equally effectively, so not only is he a talented guy with a lot of movement, he has some upside as well.
“Even if he gets behind in the count, he has secondary pitches that he can get over, so along with the movement on his sinker, his unpredictability is one of the biggest reasons he gets hitters out.”
On Gio Gonzalez: “He’s got a plus fastball that rides and a plus-plus curveball. They’re kind of out of the same plane. If he throws a high fastball, he’s very good about throwing a curveball out of that same slot. It looks like that high fastball that you need to take, and it ends up being a strike. And with two strikes, he can bury it in the dirt. He can pitch up and down as well as he can in and out.
“He’s definitely a power pitcher. If you look at the strikeouts in the American League this year, he was up there. I know that he walked some guys, and that’s something he needs to get better at, but he does pitch like a power pitcher. There’s no question.”
On Brandon McCarthy: “The cutter… he’s a mini Maddux is what he’s doing now. It’s cutters and sinkers to both sides of the plate. When guys are on him a little bit, or if he doesn’t have as good of command, he’ll start mixing in his breaking ball. There are times during games where he doesn’t really need it early on, because he has such good movement on his sinker and cutter to both sides of the plate.
“He made some adjustments the last year or so. He watched some guys like Halladay — I think he watched quite a bit of them — and changed his mechanics a little bit. He lowered his arm slot a little bit and that created some more movement for him.
“He’s a smart guy. He leaves no stone unturned. His preparation… he’s continually trying to get better, not only understanding his own strengths and weaknesses, but he understands the strengths and weaknesses of the hitters as well. He‘s very well prepared.”
On how his pitchers utilize data: “As an organization, we [use data] a lot. That said, certain guys are able to use it and some guys aren’t, at least not as much. It’s our job to be able to give information according. Guys like Brandon McCarthy want a bunch, but a guy like Gio Gonzalez maybe doesn’t need as much.”
On Craig Breslow: “Craig is a smart guy. He analyzes everything and like Brandon McCarthy knows his strengths and weaknesses. He’s got some ride on his fastball, too. It doesn’t look like it has a lot of movement, but it has a little late hop to it in the zone. For a lefty who doesn’t have plus-plus velocity — he’s typically around 91-92 — you’ll see guys take late swings on it. I think he’s a little bit deceptive with his delivery. The ball gets on hitters a little quicker than maybe the velocity plays.
“I think his stuff is better than some people think. If you’re just looking at it on TV, it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of movement. It doesn’t look like his breaking ball is real sharp. But, like I just said, he does add some deception because of his delivery. In the last two feet, his ball has a little different hop to it.”
On Andrew Bailey: “He can throw the ball by hitters very well — his fastball is 94-95 — but he also throws a cutter 91-92 and has a plus curveball. He doesn’t need [his curveball] a whole lot, because as a closer, sometimes there isn’t time to establish a third pitch. But he certainly has a third pitch and it’s in the back of the hitters’ minds, and therefore his ball gets on you a little quicker than you’re expecting,
“For the most part, you know it’s going to be hard coming out of his hand — a hard cutter and a hard fastball. If you look at Mariano Rivera, he’s basically got one pitch. Closers typically have two pitches and very rarely do you see three. Andrew has the weapons to do that at times.
“He’s got a lot of tenacity to his game. As a hitter, you know he’s coming after you and he’s not scared of you. I think that plays into his success as well.”
On Fautino De Los Santos: “We like him quite a bit. He’s a guy who pitched in our bullpen and moved up into, at times, a seventh and eighth inning role last year. He’s probably the true power pitcher that we have, other than Bailey, in our bullpen. Everything is hard — his fastball and slider — so you have to start your bat early.
“He can locate his slider well enough now to where he’s having success at the big-league level. We think that the ceiling for him is high. I could see him becoming a closer.”