- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Walden’s Heat

Jordan Walden has thrown 40 pitches in the major leagues, 30 being fastballs, but one thing is evident: he throws really, really hard. How hard? Baseball Info Solutions has the average velocity at 98.9 miles per hour. If Walden qualified that would rank second only to Joel Zumaya’s 99.3 MPH heater. Back to Walden, though, he throws hard and he’s been a top prospect with the Angels for a few years now. Here’s what Marc Hulet penned about him in February:

Walden’s 5.25 ERA in ’09 was pretty ugly but he was hurt by a .377 BABIP and his FIP was just 3.77. Overall, he allowed 72 hits in 60.0 innings and made just 13 starts due to a forearm strain. The injury is worrisome (because it can lead to Tommy John surgery), but he appears healthy and ready to compete in 2010. He showed a pretty good strikeout rate in ’09 at 8.55 K/9 but his control was modest at 4.35 BB/9. He had a lot of troubles against left-handed hitters and posted a walk rate of 7.83 BB/9 against them in a smaller sample size. The right-hander has top-of-the-order stuff if he can harness it.

Hard-thrower with an ugly technique is usually another definition for “reliever” and the Angels decided to shift Walden to the bullpen permanently this season. Walden responded by striking out 38 in 43 Double-A innings and, while the walks were still there, you would have to think he can lower his total or at the very least leverage them better in shorter stints.

This is too early of a stage for anyone to decree whether Walden’s career will go the route of dominant closer or unsuccessful hype. The early returns do have him striking out three of his first 10 batters faced while only walking one, but … I mean, that’s 10 batters faced. That tells us virtually nothing. Even the velocity readings are skewed by small sample size. If that velocity does maintain Jeff Mathis will have to dust the ball for ashes before returning it to Walden.