Brandon Beachy has put together a wonderful start to his season, posting a minuscule 1.05 ERA his first four starts. While it’s always better to get off to a good start, it’s not necessarily indicative of true talent. The three pitchers, going into today, ahead of Beachy were Joe Saunders, Ted Lilly, and Kyle Lohse, not exactly dominant pitchers. While there are some improvements in Beachy’s approach this year, some other skills have regressed, possibly making him project worse.
Starting with the improvements, Beachy has been able to go deeper into games this year. He is averaging 19 outs per starts, compared to 17 last year. This is mostly attributed to being allowed to throw more pitches in a game, since his pitches per batter is essentially equal to last year. This seems odd, considering he is throwing the ball in the strike zone 7% more often this season and his first-pitch strike percentage is also up 5%.
Beachy’s batted ball profile is also better, allowing 5% less line drives and 13.5% more ground balls. Both his slider and curveball have gained a bit of depth but have also lost velocity. Using heat maps, it looks like location is not a factor either. Using Brooks Baseball’s nifty player card feature, the fastball and slider have seen the big increase in ground balls so far.
On the down side, Beachy has seen a sharp decrease in strikeouts, at 19.6% down from 28.6% last year. The contact rate of hitters against him is 84%, up from 74%, which is expected with the increased pounding of the zone. His curveball is the only pitch being whiffed more often, while the other pitches have seen significant rises in contact%. He has also lost some velocity, about 1.3 MPH on his fastball and 2 MPH on his breaking balls. His O-Contact% (outside of strikezone contact) is 16% higher this year. This is a common theme among second-year pitchers, with the hitters learning what his go-to pitch was and laying off it.
Overall, Beachy has shown less sustainable skills this year than last year. His SIERA this year is 3.70, way up from last year’s 2.94. Even if he is able to throw more innings, the three-quarters of a run per nine innings is too much to make up over a full season. If Beachy is going to be more than an average pitcher this year, he will have to regain his strikeout ability, especially getting hitters to whiff at pitches out of the zone.