“Certainly confidence has to be a huge deal with what goes on. For some reason he’s confident here and when he’s gone out he’s performed well. Then it just builds to the point where he knows if he goes in and makes his pitches that he’s going to get people out.”
-Ron Roenicke on Tyler Thornburg
The Brewers’ trip to Texas enacts Ron Roenicke‘s six-man rotation plan, in order to add Marco Estrada to the rotation (after his injury) and give youngster Tyler Thornburg a consistent opportunity to start. Thornburg’s 2013 campaign is much-improved, compared to his 2012 efforts, but the righty has yet to receive a specific, consistent role from the Brewers organization. As the Brewers look to build from their recent .500 play down the stretch, Thornburg will arguably have his chance to make an impression and make his case for whether he should work in the bullpen or rotation in Milwaukee. Although scouts have been ambivalent about Thornburg’s chances as a starter, the righty can take his fate into his own hands now that he has a consistent job in the rotation.
It’s interesting to note that Thornburg’s 2013 success has come while using similar pitch selections to his 2012 campaign. One of the subtle changes is the movement on his secondary pitches:
|Thornburg||2012 Vertical||2013 Vertical||2012 Horizontal||2013 Horizontal|
Thornburg is throwing his change and fastball less frequently in 2013, which means that his curve is receiving notably more selections. In 2013, his curveball is dropping more than last year’s bender, although it is not breaking away from righties as much as the 2012 version. The biggest change in movement and execution for Thornburg is his change up, which is not dropping as much in 2013, but instead is “breaking” in against righties.
This pronounced movement has helped Thornburg to completely remake his change of pace, for several reasons:
(1) Thornburg is throwing the pitch for strikes more frequently, but…
(2) Thornburg is also getting three times as many swings and misses with his 2013 change, and…
(3) Batters are also looking at the pitch for a strike more frequently than in 2012.
Oddly enough, Thornburg has accomplished these feats while throwing his change up slightly less frequently, overall, in 2013. According to FanGraphs, Thornburg’s fastball is his most valuable pitch in 2013, and one wonders whether Thornburg’s ability to establish the change up for a strike is also improving his ability to induce outs with his fastball. It’s a simple, general baseball theory, but if batters see Thornburg’s change up for strikes, and Thornburg is also pounding the strike zone with his fastball, batters arguably won’t be able to simply sit on fastballs and square up on that pitch. Oddly enough, batters are swinging at Thornburg’s fastball more, missing it less, and more of those pitches are going into play, too. That more fastballs are resulting in batted balls in play, and the pitch is Thornburg’s most successful, suggests that batters are unable to make solid contact against that pitch. I’d argue that, in part, Thornburg’s success with his change up in the strike zone helps to explain his success with his fastball.
It is worth noting that although Thornburg’s overall pitch selections in 2013 show that he’s selecting his change less frequently, his recent stretch of starts shows more change ups than when he’s relieving for the Brewers. One area of Thornburg’s selections to watch during this closing stretch is the role of his change up as a regular starter. Specifically, if Thornburg can continually throw the pitch for strikes, break it in against righties, and make batters miss on the pitch, he will have an off-speed weapon worthy of frequent selections. Again, it might be basic baseball theory on my part, but I’d wager that if we see Thornburg successfully execute more change ups as a starter, his fastball will also earn the youngster more success.
Although there is still a chance that Thornburg will end up in the Brewers’ bullpen, perhaps anchoring the late inning relief corps some day, it’s hard not to root for the righty to succeed in the rotation. As much as fans criticize GM Doug Melvin for his inability to produce homegrown starters, there is some hope that if Thornburg can stick in the rotation, and another youngster (such as Jimmy Nelson) can make the rotation, the 2014 Brewers could field a serviceable rotation of organizational arms. Perhaps the club’s early struggles in 2013 have soured fans on the prospects of a successful homegrown rotation in Milwaukee, but it’s worth noting that a rotation anchored by Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta, with Nelson and Thornburg in back, is not the same as a rotation featuring Estrada and Mike Fiers.
Perhaps the Brewers can use the Texas Rangers series to usher in this forthcoming rotation, led by a successful late season stretch by Thornburg. Should Thornburg capitalize on a regular role in the rotation, the Brewers’ outlook for 2014 could gain an argument in favor of competing, rather than blowing up the roster.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
IMAGE (Charles Cherney): http://www.greenwichtime.com/sports/article/Bianchi-s-single-gives-Brewers-DH-sweep-of-Cubs-4696459.php