Thursday, August 8, 2013

View From the Rock: Scouting Ayala, Kimbrel, Wood

Bryce is back with some scouting reports on a few Braves pitchers.  A car accident can't keep him down!  I've seen pictures of the car and I'm happy Bryce and his mother weren't more hurt than they were considering how bad the car looked.  Bryce is a former pitcher and has a real eye for scouting them.    

Less than 24 hours removed from a significant car accident, I am back. I bet you’re excited, because if I ain't dead I’m going to share my thoughts with the Braves with you. Bet you’re now wishing I did die, huh? Well, too bad! You’re stuck with me! Buahaha!

All jokes aside, I am miraculously fine despite my car being totaled and besides a nagging pain in my ribs (bone bruises) and a twisted ankle, I am Ibuprofen’d up and here to share some thoughts on some recent observations I've made about a few Braves pitchers.

Luis Ayala

I don’t have much to say about Luis Ayala other than he reminds me of former-Braves sinkerball artist Chad Paronto minus some 75 lbs. He is Paronto-lite—literally and figuratively. Like Paronto, Ayala’s sinker is heavy, but he doesn't feature much else. In low-leverage situations he’s actually a pretty solid pitcher. However, if the Braves are using him come playoffs time, I will be extremely disappointed in Fredi Gonzalez…or extremely depressed that injuries have forced Fredi G to use Paronto-lite in important spots.

Craig Kimbrel

He was dominant throughout the weekend, yes. He’s been dominant for much of the season as well. There’s not much to tell you about Kimbrel that you haven’t already figured out from watching him close games for the Braves for the last 2+ years. However, I do want to express some concern over Fredi’s usage of The BlitzCraig. Sunday’s game was Kimbrel’s third straight appearance and second straight weekend in which he appeared in 3 straight games. He was obscenely dominant, but so was John Smoltz when Bobby Cox started to run him out there everyday during his run at a single-season saves record. What I noticed on Sunday was Kimbrel’s fastball lacked the “extra gear” John Kruk was claiming guys like Kimbrel have. While there was no visible decrease in velocity, Craig’s fastball lacked the giddy up to get by hitters’ bats and his slider did not have the ridiculous bite we've become accustomed to as Braves fans. That can only mean Kimbrel’s a little bit tired and in need of some rest down the stretch. Luckily for the Braves, they have the human balk.machine-delivery of Jordan Walden ready to step in at a moment’s notice to shut down the opposition.

Alex Wood

I will skip the whole spew about how his unorthodox and quirky mechanics are reminiscent of Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale and go straight to my own personal assessment of Wood’s latest start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

Despite having to suffer through the non-sense of Kruk and Orel Hershiser on commentary, I was extremely impressed with the natural movement on Wood’s changeup. That single pitch in his arsenal is so dominant that I felt it was inappropriate to call it a “plus” or “nasty” offering. I was so impressed that I went as far as to coin a new term to describe the pitch’s dominance. So let me just come out and say it. Wood’s changeup is bastardizing. It takes quality major league hitters and makes them appear illegitimate. It is bastardizing.

I can’t say the same about his other two offerings, though. While Wood’s changeup is a superb pitch, I feel both the fastball and knuckle-curve he has adopted need some refinement.

First, the fastball Wood features has some great sinking/tailing action due to his mechanics, but Alex needs to improve his command of the pitch—even if it’s ever so slightly. During the Phillies game (and I will admit it is a small sample size), Wood seemed to struggle when trying to get his fastball in on the hands of a right-hander. Aside from Delmon Young, who doesn't look comfortable against any pitcher, most right-handed hitters seemed to be diving out over the plate knowing Wood’s bread and butter is that changeup. If he is able to develop more touch on his heater and keep righties honest in off the inside corner, he’ll begin to take the next step towards being a front-line starter.

Then there’s the k-curve. I saw two sides of this pitch during his start and it was literally feast or famine. There were moments when Wood hammered the curve down into the lower part of the strike zone and forced hitters to chase it in the dirt or even had them buckling their front knees in the case of lefties. However, there were instances where he’d spin one off and it was a completely non-contested pitch—hanging and fluttering way outside of the strikezone or spiking it well short. Wood needs to work on his consistency with this grip, as I understand from Thomas that Wood picked up the grip in spring while playing catch with Jonny Venters and Kimbrel, but the excellent news is that time is absolutely on his side.

If, and it’s a big if, Wood can refine his control with the fastball and gain confidence in throwing it in on right-handers he will do just fine in the rotation in his current capacity as a back of the rotation starter. If, and its’ also a big if, Alex can gain comfort with the new-found k-curve grip heading into 2014, we could be looking at a very special pitcher who might even match lofty comparisons to said ace, Chris Sale.

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