Felipe Paulino’s stuff is dreamy.
His fastball has sink and sits in the 94-96 range; occasionally touching the upper 90s and has been clocked in triple digits during his minor league time. Paulino possesses the innate ability to spin the ball; a gift showcased in the form a hammer curve that alongside his heat gained him prospect status and showcased at the major league level in his slider.
He doesn’t always have full command over his pitches and he’s yet to develop a worthwhile third pitch, but the guy has the raw talent. In a little under 100 innings Paulino is walking 6% of the batters he faces while striking out nearly 21%. His line drive percentage is sub-20% and he generates 42% groundballs, yet he has a 5.8 tRA and 5.23 FIP. What gives?
18.2% of Paulino’s fly balls are leaving the playing field. Amongst pitchers with at least 90 innings this season that marks as the third highest, behind only Josh Geer and Randy Johnson. Paulino’s xFIP is 4.12; a respectable mark for a soon-to-be 26-year-old in his first semi-full major league season. As we know starting pitchers regress to a home run rate around 11%, and there is no indication to believe Paulino will be a consistent outlier. He’s given up 20 home runs in 92 innings this year and 28 in 386 minor league innings. Factor in Paulino’s sub-75% contact rate and it’s clear something in his arsenal generates whiffs.
Grumbling about whether Paulino is a future reliever will likely magnify with his large ERA, but I’m unconvinced that a transition should be made prior to next season. Allow Paulino a full season of pitching before writing him off as extremely hittable and incapable of starting in the majors. I mean heck, this same organization gave Brandon Backe 70 starts over the last four years to prove he didn’t belong in the league, and he didn’t have the upside of Paulino.