- September 24, 2011; Washington, D.C., USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Brandon Beachy (37) throws in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
In his first full season in the majors, Brandon Beachy showed that his aggressive path through the minors was not a fluke. Armed with a new pitch, he saw his strikeouts rise higher than ever. An oblique strain in May cost him a few starts, but his performance throughout the season was very good. His 3.68 ERA was nearly average, but his FIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 2.94 show that he has the underlying skills to sustain excellence.
Despite his velocity only being slightly above average, strikeouts are the key to his success. Aside from his AA stint in 2010, Beachy did not post a K/9 rate in double digits. 2011 saw him at 10.74 K/9, the highest in the majors, minimum 80 IP. After the organization scrapped his slider on draft day, Beachy brought it back last year. It became his most successful offspeed pitch, getting 20% whiffs with it. His 4-seamer was also very effective, getting 10% whiffs, well above the 6% league average. This is likely due to the extra two inches of “life,” or less effect of gravity. His changeup also resulted in above average whiffs, while his 12-6 curve did not miss bats. Now that the element of surprise is gone with his slider, I would expect the 28.6% K rate to drop a bit this year.
Beachy’s most consistent skill through the minors was his control. Never allowing more than 7.4% walks in any stint, Beachy maintained a 7.8% walk rate last season, a very good number considering the strikeouts. Part of this comes from throwing 60% fastballs/cutters, along with only 10% curves. His struggles came right after the All-Star break and the very end of the season, and walks were a driving factor. I do not suspect him having troubles throwing strikes, but he does need to get his pitches per batter down a bit. While they’re two different styles of pitchers, Beachy threw 4.1 pitches per batter last year, while Hudson threw 3.6 per. Strikeouts do take more pitches, but Beachy should be able to improve that mark a bit.
The most worrisome part about Beachy’s profile is his low GB rate. At 34% last year, it was among the ten lowest rates among pitchers with at least 100 IP. Flyballs do generally coincide with a lower BABIP, but it’s the ones not in play that makes them scary. Despite his very high K rate and average HR/FB%, Beachy allowed home runs at an above-average rate. As opposed to Hudson, Beachy benefits from the Braves outfield defense. Bourn has generally rated well in CF, Heyward has rated well so far in RF, and Prado was above average in his brief time in LF. His stuff does play towards flyballs, so the slider is his likely chance to get more groundballs.
Beachy has five pitches that he threw at least 10% of the time last year. I already mentioned his riding 92 MPH 4-seamer, which only has 2.5 inches of tail. Off of that, he has a cutter/gyroball that has basically no lateral movement, while maintaining the same amount of gravity resistance and velocity. This could be used to move the ball off the barrel of the bat and keep some popups in the infield. His slider has good depth, which is why he gets whiffs with it. His changeup has mediocre movement, but his arm action sells the pitch to get the whiffs. His 12-6 curve is hard to keep in the zone, so it’s used more as a get-me-over strike and a pitch to slow a batter’s timing down. This good mix of pitches limits any platoon splits, another sign he can become a top-of-the-line starter.
I believe it will be tough for Beachy to improve his peripherals, but his ERA should come down to match his skills. I expect somewhere around 170 IP with an ERA around 3.30, which is a 3-4 WAR season. It’s amazing to see diamonds in the rough such as Beachy with all the information floating around nowadays, but I’m glad he’s a Brave now.