Brandon Beachy: Who Knew?

Leading up to the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Phantastic Four of Halladay, Hamels, Lee and Oswalt dominated any discussion about the NL East. Philly’s rotation has proven worth the hype, leading the majors in starting xFIP (2.69) by over half a run per nine frames. But the Atlanta Braves’ starters have been among the best in the majors, too, putting together a collective 3.35 xFIP that places second in the NL. While Philly’s rotation is fueled by guys making eight figure salaries, one of the key contributors for Atlanta is a rookie righty who didn’t hear his name called on draft day in 2008.

Within the course of a few years, Brandon Beachy has evolved from a part-time pitcher at Indiana Wesleyan who couldn’t buy a Kia with the free agent signing bonus that the Braves gave him ($20,000) to a starter who ranks among the likes of teammate Tommy Hanson and Clayton Kershaw in xFIP.

After punching out nearly ten batters per nine innings in his quick trek through the minors and making three starts for Atlanta toward the end of last season, Beachy has a 3.15 xFIP in 42.1 innings pitched in 2011. That’s 15 percent better than the big league average and ranks in the top 20 among NL starting pitchers. How is Beachy befuddling hitters? Let’s take a closer look.

Beachy is doing a nice job of putting batters at a disadvantage from the get-go, as his 61.8 first pitch strike rate is three percentage points above the big league average. He’s also getting hitters to chase his stuff off the plate, with a 33.4 outside swing percentage (28.6 MLB average). Beachy’s O-Swing rate is in the top 15 among major league starters. Getting ahead in the count, and then inducing hitters to expand their strike zones — that’s a winning combination.

The 24-year-old has a diverse arsenal of pitches, coming at batters with a low-90s fastball, a low-80s slider and changeup, a mid-70s curveball and an occasional cutter that registers around 90 MPH.

His fastball, averaging a bit under 92 MPH, has been a dominant offering. Pitch F/X data from Texas Leaguers shows that Beachy’s gas has a 9.8 percent whiff rate, compared to the six percent MLB average. Opponents are chasing that fastball out of the zone — according to Joe Lefkowitz’s site, Beachy’s heat has a 27.9 percent chase rate. For comparison, Harry Pavlidis says that batters chase fastballs off the plate 22.7 percent of the time.

The 6-3, 215 pound Beachy has shown a sharp slider and changeup, too. His slider is getting whiffs 15.3 percent (13.6 MLB average), while tempting hitters to swing at would-be balls 35.6 percent (32.1 percent). Beachy’s changeup isn’t getting lots of whiffs (9.4 percent, 12.6 percent average). But it’s getting a ton of swings on out of zone pitches — 51.7 percent, compared to the 33.7 percent average.

Is Brandon Beachy this good? Chances are he’s not. That’s no insult, however. How many pitchers strike out well over a batter per inning while keeping a walk rate in the low twos? Beachy’s rest-of-season ZiPS projection shows about 8.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 3.14 FIP in a swingman role (26 appearances, 11 starts). As a full-time starter, we should expect fewer whiffs and a FIP north of 3.50.

Beachy’s not going to keep a sub-.250 BABIP, and his extreme fly ball tendencies (his ground ball rate is just 30.5%) could lead to some home run issues. It’s also possible that the Braves find ways to give him extra rest or occasionally skip him in the rotation, as his 134.1 innings pitched between the minors and majors last season were a career high.

Still, he looks like a good bet to remain an above-average starter and is a must-own in all leagues. If you took a flyer on Beachy, you’re in a good position — you can try to pry a tasty trade package from an owner who’s a little too enthusiastic about his start, or you can hold on to him and enjoy what should continue to be an impressive rookie campaign.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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Nathan
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Nathan

“Brandon Beachy: Who Knew?”

I knew (that he could be this great in the bigs)! That’s why I picked him up as soon as I saw that John Lackey was going to be a bust of a late round flier.

He’s my #6 fantasy starter behind Halladay, Kershaw, Hanson, Chacin, and CJ Wilson. Not bad for a #6 guy.

But my big concern is what will his numbers be like once he faces a team for the second time? Will the batters adjust to him or will he still be able to beat them?

We’ll see. So far he’s only faced Milwaukee twice and he owns a 0.75 ERA in 2 starts vs. the Brew Crew. In his second start he fanned nine in 6.0 shutout innings. He did give up 5 ER in 5.1 IP to the Fish the first time around, a team he’ll face often.

We’ll see.

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