The Braves Go to Beachy

Shortly after it was announced yesterday that breakout prospect Brandon Beachy would be making a spot start for Jair Jurrjens, Craig Calcaterra tweeted this about the week’s series between Philadelphia and Atlanta: “Philly starters: 765 career starts. Braves starters: 59. 52 of those are Tommy Hanson‘s.” The other seven belong to Mike Minor, whose August debut I profiled in this space. I figured it was only fair to extend the same courtesy to Beachy. Where Minor pitched against a hapless Astros team in his debut, Beachy’s first test was a much taller order: on the road, against the rival and hottest team in baseball, in the midst of divisional and Wild Card races.

You could excuse a 23-year-old kid, particularly one who was an undrafted free agent and former NAIA pitcher, for being a little nervous. And there’s no question he was often during his 82-pitch debut, for which he was ultimately credited with the loss. Beachy allowed three runs, but just one earned – as Jason Heyward dropped a line drive for a three-base error to start the fifth inning and the bullpen allowed its lone inherited runner (Chase Utley) to score – in 4.1 innings. He walked three, two of them intentional — albeit one IBB was after two normal pitches missed the strike zone — and struck out just one (Chase Utley) of 21 batters faced. In fact, Beachy induced just five swinging strikes all night, two on fastballs and three on change-ups.

It was mostly just those two pitches for Beachy, as just eight of his 82 pitches were curveballs. The 6-foot-3 right-hander used the pitch in a weird fashion, throwing 5 of the 8 to left-handed batters. In a game against four right-handed hitters, just three times did he throw the deuce. One of them, and perhaps this was why the usage diminished, was a hanging curveball that Carlos Ruiz smacked to left field for an RBI double. Only once did Beachy drop the pitch in the dirt — it’s more of a control pitch that he uses to freeze hitters expecting an early-count fastball.

The book on Beachy, which was unwritten entering the season, is centered around his excellent control. He walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings this year, matching his career minor league rate, which is 208 innings long. Given his overall success, the implication of control AND command certainly exists, and the Braves television team reported to hearing just as much within the organization. But while color man Joe Simpson said in the fourth inning that Beachy was “locating his fastball real well,” I certainly beg to differ. I can’t fault the kid for being off given the environment, but let’s not pretend something was there that wasn’t. Beachy did not have good command for the majority of last night, neither with his fastball nor his change-up.

For the most part, however, the Phillies good offense didn’t make him pay. The team hit three or four balls hard but foul, including an almost-homer on a fastball to Raul Ibanez that caught too much plate. In the next at-bat, a 10-pitch battle with Carlos Ruiz, another missed fastball was almost a double. Beachy learned quickly that you can’t miss the catcher’s mitt with a 89-92 mph fastball at the Major League level.

Generally speaking, though it received more derision from Simpson, the change-up was the better commanded pitch for Beachy. Though that should be clarified: the change-up hit the vicinity of the catcher’s mitt more often than the fastball, but he had a couple misses with the change-up that promise his HR/9 ratios (just 0.3 in the minors) will see an up-tick in the Major Leagues. To lead off the third inning, Beachy threw change-ups to Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco that he was truly lucky weren’t put over the fence. Unsurprisingly, the next nine pitches were all fastballs.

But where I can’t see the swing-and-miss in Beachy’s fastball, not at that extreme over-the-top arm angle with that velocity, his change-up will have to be the out pitch for Beachy to post requisite strikeout numbers in the big leagues. At times we saw it, including in the aforementioned 10-pitch at-bat versus Ruiz, which included a swinging strike one, a good miss low-and-away, another just-miss that Ruiz offered at, and another pitch he dribbled foul. Four change-ups in one at-bat, and all of them were good. The pitch has potential, and I started to really find that to be true later in the game.

In that way, it was sort of a funny outing for Beachy. I thought he was getting better at the end, though that’s when the “damage” came. He threw two really good change-ups in the fifth inning, including the one that Placido Polanco dribbled to shortstop for the second-run of the game. His final batter faced was Utley, who he initially froze with a curveball, then jammed him inside with a fastball, and then Utley executed some great hitting skills by taking a good low-and-away fastball and smacking it to center field. Where I thought he deserved a beating early, there were some redeeming traits shown later in the outing that, because of the runs, probably were unnoticed.

Given the sheer depth of the Braves pitching staff, it’s hard to project a starting role for Beachy in this organization. He throws 3 pitches, but not one of them is a plus offering right now, and I think maybe only the change-up profiles at plus. He’ll need better command to have any success, because I think he’s going to have problems sustaining his strikeout and home run ratios given the fairly pedestrian stuff. If the young right-hander can paint the black with his fastball, and refine his change-up into an out pitch, he could be a back-end starter in the big leagues. I’m willing to believe that better stuff will be seen in subsequent outings, in less hostile environments, but for now he gets a second-divison starter or middle relief grade from me.

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24 Responses to “The Braves Go to Beachy”

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  1. NEPP says:

    His breaking ball was good but his fastball was very flat and very hittable. Luckily for him the Phillies hit it right at guys and the wind was blowing in.

    He needs a 2 seamer or something.

    A full 3rd time through the lineup would have been messy for Beachy.

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    • Bryan Smith says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I agree with everything but I think you overstate the breaking ball. It has a lot of movement and he spots it well, but it lacks the bite to be a swing-and-miss pitch and as I said in the piece, it doesn’t seem he can throw it out of the zone. It’s by no means a bad pitch, but it’s pretty rudimentary for me.

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      • NEPP says:

        He dropped it in a couple times but was generally inconsistent with it. There were flashes of a nice breaking ball though.

        One thing that he did benefit in the early going was from a fairly large strikezone (especially the low strike call that he was getting the first few innings). Had he had a tighter zone, I think it would have gotten messy fast. Granted he was pitching against a very good lineup that is very hot right now.

        Carlson was calling the low strike all night and a bit off both sides of the plate…Beachy was able to take advantage of that for a couple innings until the hitters started to adjust.

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  2. Hunter says:

    I watched last night’s game, and I felt the Phillies should have scored some more runs on Beachy. There were a lot of hard hit balls for outs; the Phils got bit by the BABIP fairy. As the article mentions, there were also a lot of potential XBH that were just foul.

    The results seem to say that Beachy did a decent job, but the results are misleading. I agree that right now he seems to profile as a bullpen arm.

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  3. Jamie says:

    Phils seemed to hit a lot of hard balls right at fielders last night. Beachy was fortunate to get out of it with just the 1 earned.

    the guy did not look impressive at all. he kind of reminded me of the Phils guy in the bullpen that got a spot start a few weeks ago. straight as an arrow fastball that must be commanded. and then just some fringe off-speed stuff.

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    • NEPP says:

      Vance Worley and its a fairly good comparison. Comparable fastballs and breaking stuff. Both rely on location and luck basically.

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  4. Tim says:

    I agree Beachy should have given up more runs. That said, I’m not going to put too much stock in this outing because making a MLB debut in Philly in the pennant race is about as tough as it gets. Not sure how much that could affect the quality of his stuff, though.

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  5. Holier says:

    I’m ready to write him off after seeing him throw 82 pitches at one of the NL’s best lineups too.

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    • Bryan Smith says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Good reading comprehension.

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      • Holier says:

        I don’t mean to sound too callus, but the last sentence is a bit damming. A middle relief grade is pretty tough, even if he didn’t light up radar gun or make hitters look silly. Its a lot to put much stock into a 82 pitch outing compared to his work to date.

        Also, his curve has been considered + by multiple sources (Callis and Law off the top of my head), so while his changeup can certainly improve, it’s not going to be his best pitch. You’re taking an opinion of 8 pitches, most which were show-me strikes.

        Lastly, his FB was a little slower than it was in the minors, possibly due to his layoff for a few weeks, higher innings total that past years (which you’ve mentioned), or both.

        I just don’t think there’s much to be taken out of the start, to be honest.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        I’m glad you re-articulated, because this is much easier to respond to.

        I agree the middle relief grade is tough, but it’s just my grade for one outing. I’m not writing him off, and said as much in the post.

        “You’re taking an opinion of 8 pitches, most of which were show-me strikes.”

        If the pitch was a plus pitch, or had the potential of being more than a “show-me strike,” why didn’t they call it more. Why did he throw just three to right-handed batters? He was very articulate and self-aware below, but I don’t hear anything about just not having feel for the curve in the bullpen before the game. And the pitch lacked bite, too.

        I’m happy to re-evaluate him if we do see more velocity, more usage of the curve, what have you. My long-term grade wouldn’t be submitted for a couple outings anyway, this is just one the one appearance (which I said twice in the post was under rough conditions) showed me.

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  6. Jake says:

    Braves fans “in the know” already knew that the most likely scenario for Beachy is that of a career middle reliever.

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  7. Ted says:

    Great article Bryan, I was saying this exact stuff to Braves fans last night.

    His inability to miss bats and a pretty flat fastball isn’t good, and as mentioned a lot of balls were hit hard for outs. Also check out this out distribution:

    2 groundouts // 10 flyouts // 1 strikeout + 1BB + 2IBB

    You can almost get rid of one groundout as Polanco was trying to put the ball on the ground to get Victorino home in the 5th, but the fact still remains its hard to pitch in the majors successfully if you can’t miss bats and/or get ground balls, Beachy did neither effectively last night. Regardless, I still think he performed well in the enviornment with the help of some BABIP luck and a generous strike zone from the home plate umpire.

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  8. geo says:

    I saw very little of this game, parts of the first and second innings, and the first thought I had when I saw Beachy was “wow, that’s sure a STRAIGHT fastball.”

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  9. Thomas says:

    I don’t know how much you can take from his 4+ innings yesterday. He hadn’t pitched in a game in over two weeks after pitching more this season than his previous two combined and he only found out he was pitching for sure four hours before the start of the game. It was also his first start of his career in the bigs and he admitted to beat writer David O’Brien that the adrenaline affected his control.

    Beachy: “Those first two innings, I guess I had a little too much adrenaline going. Rushing myself through my delivery, and as a result the ball was up. The whole first two innings, I was lucky to get out of that with what I did.”

    DOB “Satisfied as you walk off in fifth?”

    Beachy: “Definitely not. Not really happy with the way I threw the ball today. Not really up the standards I set for myself. No matter what the result is, whether they swing and miss or hit a home run, I want the pitch to go where I wanted it to go, and that just didn’t happen very often tonight. I usually have a lot better control than I did tonight.”

    From Baseball America: Beachy has a 90-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball

    Considering Beachy’s game is plus comand of a fairly run of the mill action/speed fastball setting up his plus curveball and a change that could or maybe is currently a plus change, if he doesn’t comand his fastball because of nerves/adrenaline then the rest of his gameplan doesn’t work and the result looks bad. When he settles down and comands his fastball like he can things will fall into place and I believe he can be an effective big league starter.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      I thought those were very good and self-aware comments from Beachy. As for the BA scouting report, I’ll have to believe it when I see it. The fastball was 89-92 and the curveball wasn’t plus, I know that much.

      But, I’m willing and hopeful to be proven wrong. I hope the two weeks off are the explanation, though I would guess he’s been on a regular throwing schedule. We’ll just have to see going forward.

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  10. ABravesFan says:

    Best case scenario is for Beachy to develop into an end of the rotation type starter. His stuff wasn’t that good but his minor league track record this year obviously earn him a long look at the Bigs. Since the Braves’ rotation is fairly set, Beachy could either become a reliever (can he up his velocity a bit?) or more likely a trade bait (hello KC or Pittsburgh alas Kyle Davies or Charlie Morton).

    Nevertheless, a gutsy performance by Beachy last night. He was definitely lucky that he wasn’t hit harder for all his mistakes but not lucky enough to avoid a loss.

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  11. Phantom Stranger says:

    It is very tough as a rookie to get your first start against the best lineup in the NL in the middle of a pennant race. Beachy pitched okay last night, and likely would have had better results against a team like the Pirates.

    The offense for the Braves is falling apart. Why Cox continues to show trust in Melky who has yet to hit well all year or play great defense is beyond me. He has been the very definition of replacement level this year, and hit into a brutal double play last night with a runner on third.

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  12. Mick says:

    If any of you would have taken the time to see Beachy through the summer, you would have seen the plus curveball that is accurately referred to. In his last start at home for Gwinnett he sat on 93-94 with his fastball. While I will admit that his curveball has not been the same since his first outing for Gwinnett, given the fact that he has only pitched full time for 2 years and is still learning the trade makes it ridiculous to project him as anything less than a 3 or 4 starter.

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  13. KJ says:

    I thought it was a gutsy performance by Brandon but I do agree that the Braves are so stocked with young pitching (Hanson, Jurrjens, Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino) that he will likely never see a role as a permanent starter.

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