Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.

 

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Trade Deadline Winners & Losers – American League

The non-waiver trade deadline passed two days ago, and dust is beginning to settle. Contending teams added some depth to their teams and the sellers added young prospects in hopes of building for the future. Today we’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the American League, and in a future entry we will assess the senior circuit.

 

Winners

 

Seattle Mariners – Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto, who may well win MLB Executive of the Year, was busy working the phones in July. He added depth to the Mariners bullpen, adding righty relievers Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala from the Yankees and Cardinals, respectfully. DiPoto worked a deal with the Minnesota Twins for lefty Zach Duke, and brought in outfielder Cameron Maybin from Miami to add depth to Seattle’s bench. Earlier this season, the Mariners swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Álex Colomé and outfielder Denard Span. The M’s are poised for a run for the pennant and gave up so little in return for these players.

 

New York Yankees – The Yankees needed to add a starter and got one when Brian Cashman swung a trade with Toronto for veteran lefthander JA Happ, in return for surplus infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. Cashman made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for lefty power reliever Zach Britton for three minor league prospects, and landed veteran Lance Lynn from the Twins for 1B/OF Tyler Austin and minor leaguer Luis Rijo. Austin was deemed expendable after the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for lefty reliever Chasen Shreve. Lynn was originally slotted for the bullpen, but he has since replaced Sonny Gray in the Yankees rotation going forward.

 

Losers

 

Baltimore Orioles – Will the last person to leave the clubhouse turn out the lights? This franchise needed a reboot and they are definitely doing that after they traded away everyone but the beer vendors. Zach Britton was shipped to the Bronx for three young pitchers who project to soon be major league ready. Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach were all sent to the Atlanta Braves for prospects and future considerations. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for fellow 2nd baseman Jonathan Villar and two minor leaguers. The granddaddy deal came almost two weeks before the deadline when Manny Machado was sent to the west coast with the Dodgers for five prospects. The Orioles also had a deal in place to move long-time fan favorite Adam Jones to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was shot down by Jones himself, who has a full no-trade clause as a “10/5 player” (10 years MLB service time with past five seasons with the same team). While the O’s will continue to be abysmal in the short term, they overhauled their minor league system, which will hopefully be worth it in the long run for Orioles fans.

 

Cleveland Indians – Wait a minute. How can a team handily leading it’s division possibly be considered losers at anything? Follow along. The only additions the Tribe made before the deadline was adding OF Leonys Martin from Detroit and lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Hand is a good addition for the team, but it came at a significant cost with 22 year old blue chip prospect C/OF Francisco Mejía going to the Padres. I think GM Mike Chernoff overpaid for him, and I feel Mejía will be a star eventually. Hand will help the bullpen, but the rest of their relief corps have been anything but reliable. Andrew Miller’s return will help make the pen better. The addition of Martin adds to the mix in Cleveland’s outfield, but he’s not a difference maker. Barring a disaster, the Tribe will win their division, but they may not have enough horses to make a deep playoff run, especially with a leaky bullpen. If any of their stars like Lindor, Ramirez, or Corey Kluber go down, it will leave them much more vulnerable.

 

Check back soon as we will assess the trade deadline winners and losers in the National League.