Brandon Beachy’s Secret Weapon

Brandon Beachy turned in one of baseball’s most surprising performances this past season. After rising through the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system in 2010, Beachy wrestled the fifth starter slot away from Mike Minor in 2011. The undrafted Beachy shocked the baseball world, posting a 28.6% strikeout rate, 3.19 FIP and 3.16 xFIP en route to 2.8 win season. While his success was unexpected for many analysts, Beachy had a secret weapon that may have been the key to his transformation.

A look at Beachy’s Pitchf/x numbers from the past two seasons show that Beachy started using his slider again in 2011.

Brandon Beachy Pitchf/x FB% FC% SL% CU% CH%
2010 55.2% 6.8% - 11.5% 22.9%
2011 50.3 9.4% 19.1% 9.5% 10.2%

In this instance, the stats match up with the story line. Early last season, Beachy announced that he was going to reintroduce a slider to his repertoire. Beachy used the slider as an out pitch in college, but the Braves asked him to scrap it in favor of a curveball after he signed. A day after that story came out, Beachy went out and dominated the Milwaukee Brewers for six innings. That performance inspired our own Dave Cameron to write up a post that claimed Beachy was here to stay. A big reason for Beachy’s sustained success was his reliance on his slider throughout the season.

Beachy’s new toy became his second most valuable pitch last season, according to his Pitchf/x pitch values. His confidence in the pitch was even more impressive. Beachy quickly realized that he could get strikeouts with the pitch, and he was right. Beachy’s slider had the highest Swing-Miss% of any of his pitches against both righties and lefties. Lefties were able to put the ball in the air when they made contact, but righties consistently pounded the slider into the ground, leading to a 52.1% ground ball rate.

When Beachy got ahead of batters, the slider was his dominant pitch. He relied on it heavily when he had two strikes on batters. Against righties, Beachy threw his slider 33.3% of the time in 0-2 counts. That number jumped to 40% in 2-2 counts, and sat at 32.1% in 2-2 counts. Outside of his fastball, it was the pitch he threw the most in those situations last season.

Beachy still relied on his slider against lefties, but he mixed in breaking pitches against opposite-handed hitters. Beachy was more willing to throw his curve or his change-up to keep lefties off balance. Against left-handers, Beachy used his change-up when he got behind in the count. In every count in which Beachy trailed a left-hander — with the exception of 3-1 — he threw his change at least 20% of the time. When he needed strikeouts against lefties, he opted for a fairly even mixture of sliders and curves. With the addition of his slider, Beachy used a four-pitch arsenal against lefties.

And when the pressure was at its highest, Beachy relied on his slider even more. Beachy’s slider usage actually increased when men were on base or they were in scoring position. With the bases empty, Beachy threw his slider about 17% of the time. That number rose to nearly 24% with men on base and in scoring position. He threw his change-up and his curveball less frequently in these situations.

Since reintroducing his slider, Beachy has gone from a fringe-starter to a potential top-of-the-rotation stud. Even though he didn’t throw his slider for a number of years, it instantly became his most reliable breaking pitch in every situation. Some doubts might remain about whether Beachy can continue to dominate, but as long as he keeps throwing his slider, he’s a good bet to repeat. Yeah, Brandon Beachy is definitely here to stay.

*Big thanks to Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitchf/x site. Without it, this article would not have been written.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


44 Responses to “Brandon Beachy’s Secret Weapon”

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  1. Cody says:

    I knew this article was coming. His value just shot through the roof in fantasy leagues.

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  2. wily mo says:

    if he announced he was going to do it before he did it i don’t see how it’s a secret

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  3. Backrent says:

    I traded away Minor at the end of last season because I had Beachy too. I’m hoping he has the staying power. Also, this is a pretty great baseball story. Love it when guys come out of virtually nowhere.

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  4. Joe says:

    As a Braves fan, I just hope that he depresses his home run rate. 10% (right?) was pretty high, or at least it seemed high. I wonder if anybody measured his “high leverage” home run rate.

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  5. TK says:

    I hope his slider really is that good and not just a pitch you have to see a couple of times. Anyway, like has already been said, Beachy is a great story, and hopefully he does turn into a top of the rotation guy – that would be almost unbelievable.

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  6. doctorogres says:

    Information on why the Braves told him not to use it would be helpful and add a lot to this discussion. Was it to force him to develop his other off-speed offerings? Did they think he relied on it to dominate less experienced hitters, and needed to put it on the shelf to learn to pitch? OR (and this is most important) is there something mechanically unsound about it?

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    • JT Grace says:

      Good point. If you watch Beachy pitch he has the inverted W pitching motion. Maybe the Braves staff felt like the slider (and using that motion) would increase his likelihood of injury.

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    • Paul says:

      Braves fans could probably say why, but for sure it’s a Braves thing. The Royals, now that they have all the Braves people with them, do the same thing. Luke Hochevar was garbage for at least three years because they had him throwing a mediocre curve and ditched his slider almost entirely at one point. Aaron Crow’s second half sucked due in large part to throwing a mediocre curve instead of the slider, which is one of a handful of true 70 pitches in the game.

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  7. Bobby Ayala says:

    Minor will still be better, long term.

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  8. Catch 22 says:

    This does not surprise me. I am an NL fan and the two best young starting pitchers I saw last year were Beachy and Peacock and I had Beachy as number 1 on the list. I agree that he has top of the rotation potential. He might even end the year in the top 2 or 3 of the Braves rotation. This guy has the potential to be scary good.

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  9. Paul says:

    He worked on the slider in spring training, which some of us noted in the comments to a skeptical FG article before the season (oddly not referenced). Kudos to Dave for recognizing that Beachy was for real, but it wasn’t that hard. His slider is good, but what gives him staying power is his FB command, which McCann said was ultra elite. The cutter and changeup are also plus pitches. His whiff rate on the change was just under the slider rate, but was put in play more often.

    I love that some people are still in denial. It makes the story so much more fun for me.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      I tried to find the quote, but I couldn’t locate it; I believe McCann was asked about him in spring training, and said that Beachy had the best fastball command he’d ever seen.

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  10. johndd1 says:

    I remember when Beachy was called-up in 2010, hearing Wren describe Beachys command as “The best in our system”

    I know we are used to hearing such superlatives from the Braves organization over the years, but it was almost always Cox who raved about even the worst players (remember his man-love for Jo-Jo Reyes?). I can’t remember hearing such praise from Wren, though, so for that reason the comment has always stuck with me.

    I also remember hearing Tom Glavin, last season, say that he was teaching his kids to pitch like Beachy as well.

    Pretty good praise there, as well…

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      One guy that Cox raved about and ended up being right was Jonny Venters. Guy was a nobody until Bobby started going on about his sinker.

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  11. Sean O'Neill says:

    There’s one question this article never really addresses, and I think it’s a fundamental one given the thesis being argued here:

    If Beachy’s slider is so important to his success, how do you explain his dominance in 2010? His K% in 2010 was 29.8%, and while it slipped at the higher levels, the sample was too small to readily draw much of a conclusion from that slippage.

    While I’m certain that the slider helped Beachy, and it may have given him an edge to bump his K% back up to its AA levels, the claim that without it he was a “fringe starter” simply reeks of the same erroneous mainstream analysis that was all too prevalent coming into 2011. The scouts missed him and so too did most of the analytical community…it happens. You don’t need to justify that mistake by overemphasizing the importance of one change he made, when his primary strength (fastball command) was still arguably the single most important factor to his success.

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  12. afrogoose says:

    What is the ‘inverted W pitching motion,’ and how come it isn’t just referred to as the ‘M pitching motion?’

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  13. timtebow says:

    It’s when the elbow comes above the shoulder prior to the hips turning. It’s not in and of itself a bad thing, but it often creates timing problems with hips opening/shoulders turning/arm coming forward. It’s the cause of a lot of tommy john surgeries. it can also be called ‘M’, but it’s just less common

    http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/PitchingMechanics101/Essays/DeathToTheInvertedW.html

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  14. JMS says:

    The Braves pitchers are truly astonishing. Just accounting for pitchers with major league experience and under 25 you have an astonishing 10!!!! high end players, with JJ and Mike Minor being the worst

    Kimbrel, Venters, Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino, Beachy, Hanson, and Jair.

    A truly historic stable of young arms.

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  15. Scott says:

    Another thing to consider is that Beachy has a “fresh arm” as Frank Wren described it. While Beachy did pitch as a reliever for Indiana Wesleyan, he was primarily an infielder. He did not pitch many innings in h.s. or college, and Beachy pitched just 208 total innings in the minors. So he still has a lot of potential to improve.

    While I am no doctor, the “fresh arm” could also mean Beachy is a few years away from having stretched and frayed his UCL to point of needing TJ surgery, even if his mechanics make him susceptible.

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  16. Antonio Bananas says:

    This could be true, as a Bravos fan, I hope so. I’m more worried about Kimbrel’s arm. His delivery (and results) are a replica of Billy Wagner’s. Hopefully Kimbrel can be as good despite the near guaranteed injuries.

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    • But Wagner was extraordinarily durable, as relievers go. In his 16-year career, he pitched over 60 innings in ten different seasons. Excluding 1995, when he recorded just one out, he only had two seasons when he pitched fewer than 47 innings: 2000 and 2009.

      If Kimbrel has that injury history, I’ll take it.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Is there a higher correlation to health as a reliever than as a starter? I’d think there would be, less innings. However, it’s also more often. If Kimbrel ends up with Billy Wagner’s career (and staying a Brave), I’ll be very happy.

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      I’m more worried about Venter’s arm than Kimbrel’s.

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  17. Undocorkscrew says:

    If Hudson truly is starting the season on the DL, Beachy’s likely the opening day starter. I know who’s on the mound on opening day is borderline irrelevant, I just love how far this guy has come.

    He called ‘Sugar’ the worst baseball movie he’s ever seen though, which knocks him down a peg or two.

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    • bstar says:

      At least it won’t be Derek Lowe. On opening day of last year, I, along with the rest of the Braves nation, was stunned to see Mr. Lowe trotting out to the mound for a third consecutive time as the opening day starter. Tim Hudson finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2010, and you trot out D Lowe instead?
      Unexplainable.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        It’s a vet thing I think. Especially with the Bravos. If you’re the most senior guy, you get the spot. Like if you apply the logic to the Cardinals, you’d start Carp over Waino despite Waino probably being the better pitcher (post injury so I’m not 100% sure, just 90%).

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