On Monday, the Diamondbacks rolled out some fresh blood when 2013 first-round pick Braden Shipley took the mound. The team’s top prospect, his debut was certainly a welcomed sign given all of the turmoil surrounding Chip Hale’s job and the front office. For a day, anyways, the attention was back on the field where it belongs. The young righty’s final line wasn’t pretty: 5.1 innings pitched, eight hits, six earned, three homers, four walks and four strikeouts as he took the loss against Milwaukee. There were some bright spots, however, and that’s what we’re looking for.
Pitching starts with the fastball and there’s no way around it, especially for starting pitchers. There’s been a lot of talk about Shipley dialing back his fastball, a four-seamer, in order to get control of the pitch. In the lower minors, he’d struggled with issuing free passes while consistently working 94-95 with his heater. The walks were killing him and he took a little off in order to throw more strikes, something that had worked well for him at Mobile and Reno this season. His 3.71 ERA in Reno wasn’t overwhelming, but considering the way baseballs can fly in the PCL, it was certainly respectable.
He’d increased his ground ball rate by throwing his fastball a bit softer and consistently low in the zone. True to form, he began working early to establish the fastball low, but the command wasn’t quite as sharp as he would have liked. In fact, the fastball gave him trouble as he only threw 56% of them for strikes. For a pitch that’s designed to get the pitcher ahead in the count, the number of fastballs that missed the zone was somewhat concerning, especially since commanding the pitch has been such a crucial part of his development. Perhaps it was the rookie jitters, but he’ll have to locate them more consistently going forward.
The pitch has nearly eight inches of vertical movement, which isn’t as much as it may sound. The pitch has just over six inches of arm-side run, a more impressive number, keeping it from being a straight offering. In fact, that kind of run is pretty impressive for a four-seamer and will make it tough to square up. He was able to reach back for more velocity at times, hitting 95 on occasion, but living closer to 92. It looks like an average fastball with some extra wiggle, and while more velocity may come, it’s more likely that he’ll routinely sit 91-93 with the pitch, choosing to locate it and let the movement do the rest. When located, it can be effective. Watch it run back over the plate here:
After struggling to locate the heater, Shipley quickly switched gears and began using his curveball to steal strikes early in counts and get ahead. He threw 74% of his 35 curveballs for strikes. The pitch isn’t 12-6, but more 11-5 to hitters as it has noticeable horizontal movement to the glove side. It’s firm, sitting in the low 80’s, and has hammer movement with over seven inches of drop, very similar to that of Archie Bradley‘s. The break may not be quite as late as Bradley’s but it’s not a slow breaker with a big hump, either. The pitch looks more than serviceable as six of his eight swings-and-misses came on the curve.
He also hung a couple, and those ended up getting pounded. The death blow, a three-run homer off the bat of Martin Maldonado, was on a curveball that started up and finished low in the zone, then went a long ways.
His changeup, the pitch he’s most notorious for, was thrown most-sparingly. He threw just 19 of them, 12 for strikes. It only elicited one swing and miss but did make for some weak contact, including a key double play ball to end the fifth. The pitch does look a lot like his fastball out of the hand, but has more sink and fade. It does lack extreme vertical depth, however, relying on timing to throw off the hitter. Add this to the fact that it was thrown in the 85-86 range (only seven or eight mile-per-hour slower than the fastball) and it doesn’t look like a pitch that will generate a lot of whiffs. That can be okay as long as it makes up for it with weak contact, but by reducing his fastball velocity, he’s also reduced the differntial in speeds between his heater and his offspeed offering. Oh, and he hung one of those, too.
Overall, we saw a profile that’s probably that of a number four pitcher. There are command issues yet to be worked out. There’s a fastball that’s not going to miss bats and, while it has some good run, it isn’t a great pitch. It can be serviceable should he locate it, however, and that remains the key. He’s got a swing and miss offering in the curve and the changeup will play. He’s not going to get great strikeout totals, so it’ll be about locating his pitches and trying to manage the contact he yields, something that we’ve seen be quite difficult at Chase Field and around the NL West. He’ll need to make significant progress in the command department to improve his stock, and that can be done over time, perhaps ultimately making him a mid-rotation starter down the road. We’ve seen one start — he’s got a long ways to go.
As an aside, I had one major problem with Shipley’s debut, and it wasn’t about Shipley. As we’ve discussed in the past, Hale has often given his starting pitchers too much leash, and with the team down a run in the top of the 6th, Shipley was due to hit third in the inning. After the first two batters made outs, the team was down to 10 outs left in the game, down a run. Shipley was at 92 pitches and had rolled a double play to get out of trouble in the bottom of the 5th. He looked done and, given that it was his debut, there was no reason not to send him out on a high note while using a pinch-hitter to try to get a run back.
Instead, Hale sent him out to hit for himself, wasting an opportunity to use a better hitter without much game left to be played and trailing the Brewers. Shipley had hit a double in his first at-bat, but that doesn’t mean he was the best option. Just because a guy, a pitcher, made good contact once doesn’t mean he should be given one of the few remaining opportunities to hit. That was a poor decision. Hale should employ the player with the highest likelihood of getting a hit with chances dwindling, not make a decision based on recency bias.
Though he was clearly on his last legs in the 5th, he started the 6th and ended up giving up a three-run homer to Maldonado (above) on a pitch that missed its location. He’d been struggling with location all day long and that was unlikely to improve as he approached 100 pitches and was visibly tiring. That homer ended up making Shipley’s line look worse than he pitched, and while he was facing the bottom of the order, a middle reliever should have been called upon. This has been a perpetual shortcoming for Hale, one of the few things that he could improve. He pulled Corbin more quickly in the game that followed, so perhaps he took something away from Shipley’s attempt at the 6th inning.
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