Dallas Defies Doubters

Dallas Braden is like the baseball equivalent of a bumblebee. Everyone, excluding the bumblebee itself, knows that a bumblebee can’t fly. Its body is too large for such tiny wings, it’s not sleek like the wasp. Likewise, everybody, except Braden himself, knows that his stuff won’t hold up in the majors.

Braden is a classic junkballer. His calling card is a fastball that averages just 88 MPH along with a “Bugs Bunny” change up that comes in 15 MPH slower than his fastball. He also throws a slurvy offering that averages 75 MPH, a cutter at 82 MPH and will even mix in an occasional screwball. In 69 minor league games, Braden posted an ERA of 3.30, averaged a K/9 rate of 10 and a walk rate of 2.4. Despite the sexy numbers, scouts weren’t buying Braden because of the aforesaid quirky repertoire. See for yourself in Pitch F/x. The game chart is from his start on 6/5/09, when he struck out 7 Orioles over 7 innings pitched, having allowed just a run on 5 hits. I’m pretty sure those four little dots on the middle right are screwballs.


Right now in the A’s rebuilt rotation that features stud arms like Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vince Mazzaro, this former 24th round pick is leading the way for Oakland with a 4.39 tRA and a FIP of 3.72. He has 2.9 wins above replacement over 22 starts, and over his last 190 innings Braden has 3.5 WAR. That’s not too shabby for someone who was regarded as organizational roster filler coming up through the minors. Unfortunately, Braden’s season recently has been interrupted by an infection in his foot.

Braden is not getting the whiffs he was getting in the minors (5.7 K/9) and that’s a concern, but at least for now he’s proving to be an above average major league starter. Braden ought to give hope to young soft-tossers across the globe to remain undeterred when scouts tell them that their stuff won’t play in the big leagues.

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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

11 Responses to “Dallas Defies Doubters”

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  1. Atticus says:

    2nd paragraph, 3rd sentence… I think you mean “In 69 minor league games”…

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  2. Steve C says:

    I appreciate the balanced reporting. One article about a guy that gets it done with a laser rocket arm and another whose arm is a little bit more like a rubber band.

    Good symmetry.

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  3. Joel says:

    If only he were doing this for the Rockies, then he could have named the article “Denver Does Dallas”

    Actually relating to the article, I didn’t realize anyone actually threw a screwball anymore. I should actually watch him start some time.

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  4. brendan says:

    braden has been awesome this year, but he won’t sustain this level of success. he won’t maintain 70% LOB with his modest strikeout rate, and his HR/FB is low at 5%

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    • aweb says:

      Why can’t he maintain a 70% LOB? That’s actually pretty terrible, and likely unsustainable in the opposite direction. Strikeout rates don’t correlate that strongly with LOB% – others between 67 and 73% include Liriano, De La Rosa, Scherzer, Billingsley – that Braden is doomed to a 71.3% rate for his career. Now, the HR rate is really low (4.7% on Flies), an area inhabited by very few, and mostlythose who induce more grounders.

      Also, he’s only 26. There is the possibility that he will actually improve.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        The HR/FB%, while not *that* low, should stay below the mean pitching most of his games in Oakland, though.

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  5. Dan says:

    He’s throwing screwballs again? I know the screwball was what he was famous for in the early minors, but the A’s development team shut them down under the risk for arm trouble. He’s said in interviews he doesn’t throw them anymore, and wants to get out of the reputation for being a “screwball pitcher”.

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  6. Andy S says:

    Speaking of little errors, I think you meant to say “not getting the whiffs he was getting in the MINORS”

    Or else I’m misunderstanding that paragraph.

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  7. JD says:

    Is there a way to use batted ball data to see how lucky Braden is with the lower home run totals? Has he given up an extraordinary number of warning track flyouts?

    I think it’s possible that if he’s giving up lots of fly balls that are essentially medium-depth pop ups, there’s not a lot of reason to expect those to suddenly turn into 400 foot bombs. I’m not saying this is what is happening, but it’s possible.

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