Soroka's injury and the state of pitching

(moving over from chat)

(okay, so that sounds a bit ostentatious! Moving on…)


I’ve followed the Braves for some years now. Sort of a ‘side-project’ team that I pick up every now and then. Their farm system has been admirable. Their development program quite impressive. For position players. For years, their pitching prospects were the envy of MLB. They routinely had up to half a dozen pitchers sprinkled in, or on the fringe, of Top 100 lists. Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, Touki Toissant, Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz, Max Fried, Kyle Muller, Patrick Weigel, Bryce Wilson. ALL of these guys were Top 100 prospects over a few years’ window. Sure, many clustered at the bottom.

And…it’s time to acknowledge TINSTAAPP - "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect".

Max Fried seems a success. Mike Soroka is a success. And that’s it. Maybe Wright might offer something (although he better get busy – he’s 24). Anderson still rates as an acclaimed prospect – and he should, as No. 3 overall pick in 2016. Both those guys have below-average command/control, so…‘stuff’ may be limited.

This isn’t to rip on the Braves. I watched Soroka’s injury live and felt sick. He’s been one of my favorite young players for several years. But it really makes me wonder…If the Atlanta Braves, with a Bakers’ Dozen or more top pitching prospects and a highly regarded development program, can only get 1-2 to play out…how does anyone else expect to be more successful?


Keep in mind, the Braves have invested heavily in pitching prospects – over the past decade, 11 of their 14 first round picks have been pitchers – four of those in the top 10. That’s an enormous amount of draft capital for an incredibly small return. A couple came over in high profile trades – Gohara, Newcomb, Toissant. The Toissant deal was for years regarded a laughable steal; not so much now. Newcomb sure didn’t come cheap – he was the headliner for Andrelton Simmons.

And how are pitchers even developed now? With the push to limiting times around the line-up (twice seems max), with the explosion of bullpen usage, openers, and other highly specialized pitching approaches, it seems pitchers aren’t being taught to stretch out or pace themselves. Of course, high school and college still teaches them to do that, so there’s a huge disconnect with youth development and MLB goals.

I was watching the Braves-Mets last night (or two nights ago, maybe?) and they mentioned that while everyone talks up velocity, and everyone HAS velocity, it’s no longer a "fastball league". That HALF of all pitches are off-speed stuff (I didn’t independently verify this). They went on about how hitters can time-up on even 100 mph gas.

How the heck do you develop for this?

The Sox have been noted as being one of the teams that develops position players first, and then acquires the pitching (Cubs, Yankees area few others). Investing in pitching development seems like a Sucker’s Bet – potential high reward, VERY high risk…and completely hit or miss as to if it works. Toss in that the higher velocities and reliance on sliders and other injury-encouraging pitches means that people just generally dial in one or even two missed years due to injury.


Yet, with all the specialization, and the increasingly poor results, I’m betting fewer teams go that route. So who will other teams rely on to develop? My initial guess is that there will be heavy reliance on international pitching…but that’s equally dicey. Instead of improving the development, they simply expand the range. The same problems will crop up.

And this isn’t something teams can just flip a switch on. You can’t just say to a one-inning reliever (and nearly all of them are one inning guys now), "We need you to give us 200 innings next year." It takes years to build up durability. And you’re not ever confident in what you’ll get. I remember a few years ago the Sox tried to do that with Chandler Shepherd, and I watched that with great interest. I could even say it ‘worked’ a bit – he made it to the big leagues, albeit in limited fashion. And he still might get some time.

Anyway, it’s a real puzzle, and I think is a growing problem. Teams, in an average season, need to get about 1450 innings of pitching. With fewer and fewer starters, and ever-diminishing IP, you need more and more guys to supply those 1450. All 32 teams do! And the complaint has always been "there’s never enough pitching". That problem is only going to get worse. And with the explosion of offense…I think we might see some major changes in the next few years meant to favor pitching.

And I still hate it for Soroka. Man, what a bummer!