Jacob Turner and the Lost Fastball

The scouts were filling up the press box Tuesday night in Detroit. Two prospects took the mound for the Angels and the Tigers, Garrett Richards and Jacob Turner, with each presenting a possible trade chip as we approach the July 31st trade deadline. Richards was impressive, hurling seven shutout innings. Turner, on the other hand, couldn’t make it out of the third inning, allowing seven runs on six hits, two walks, and three home runs.

Turner entered the 2012 season as the Tigers’ top prospect after blazing through Double-A (3.48 ERA, 3.68 FIP in 113.2 innings) at just 20 years old. He has had similar success at Triple-A in 2012, allowing a 3.16 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 62.2 innings. It all starts with the fastball for Turner, a pitch he can get up to 94-95 MPH and command well according to our own Marc Hulet. That command completely disappeared Tuesday night, leaving Turner and the Tigers hung high and dry by the Angels by the third inning.

Turner threw 22 fastballs to Angels hitters, and the results were horrible: eight balls, four called strikes, four fouls, one groundout, two singles, and three home runs. Turner was either well outside the zone or well inside it — there was no working of the corners to be found:

One can forgive turner on one of the worst ball calls of all time (see also here), but more often than not Turner was missing in all the wrong places. When he went outside the strikezone it typically wasn’t close; when he went inside it he clustered right down the middle of the plate.

Control was not the issue for Turner — 68% of his fastballs went for strikes. This is a perfect of illustration of what happens when control exists but command departs. Throwing a strike turns in to a cookie down the middle; trying to nibble turns into an obvious ball six inches off the corner. Turner has exhibited excellent command his entire minor league career, as partially shown by his ability to suppress home runs — his highest HR/9 in any minor league stint is 0.71 in 17 starts at Double-A in 2011.

In 19.2 major league innings, Turner has now allowed six home runs, three times as many as he’s allowed in 62.2 innings at the Triple-A level this season. Turner’s stuff and minor league performance keeps him a top prospect — 19.2 innings don’t kill a career, especially for someone who just reached legal drinking age this May — but his command must translate before the Tigers can even think about him contributing at the major league level.

PITCHf/x data from Brooks Baseball

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