Friday, May 06, 2011

Where Did Brandon Beachy Come From?

Brandon Beachy has truly been one of the surprise stories of the 2011 MLB season. He wasn't on anyone's top prospect list. He wasn't drafted. He beat out Mike Minor (who was on top prospect lists) for the job in Spring Training and has since thrown seven starts for the Braves. And he's been terrific! Who the heck is this guy and where did he come from?

If you look at Beachy's Wikipedia page, you'll learn that he played Indiana high school ball with his two brothers and helped take his team to that state's Class AA championship. But he wasn't offered a big time college scholarship and went to a small Indiana college where the biography goes on to say that he played the infield and pitched occasionally. It wasn't enough to get him on anyone's draft radar. Somehow, the Atlanta Braves found him and signed him to a free agent contract in 2008. Nice find, that.

And so this amateur free agent that nobody but the Braves noticed went to their minor league system and rose like a rocket. 2010 became a magical season. He started in the Southern League (Double A) and started a handful of games but pitched mostly in relief. He was fabulous. He got promoted to the International League (Triple A) and all he did there was pitch with a 2.17 ERA with a 9.45 K/1.2 BB ratio. Just two years after he was signed, he made his major league debut.

Beachy made three starts for the Braves after his call up. He lost his only two decisions. His walk rate wasn't what it was in the minors, but he gave up no homers and finished with a 3.00 ERA. Hardly anyone noticed. That was enough, though, for the Braves to invite him to Spring Training where he flat out beat Mike Minor for a job in the rotation. Again, this is a guy who wasn't on anyone's prospect radar. Skeptical was the only word for his expectations.

But here he is now after seven starts to begin the season. His WAR is tied with David Price, Tommy Hanson and Jaime Garcia. That's some pretty good company. His won-loss record continues to be unlucky and he's only 1-1, but his ERA is an impressive 2.98. And if you think that ERA is fluky, his FIP is exactly the same at 2.98 and his xFIP is only slightly higher at 3.19.

All of Beachy's numbers are good. He has struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings, which leads starters on his team. He's walked only 2.3 batters per nine for a very impressive 4.09 strikeout to walk ratio. His WHIP sits at 0.969 and he's been stingy with hits with only 6.4 hits per nine innings. Yes, his BABIP is very low at .245 so he may regress a little bit. But when you are striking out that many people, BABIP isn't as important as if more balls were being hit in play.

Fangraphs' Pitch/FX data shows his fastball to average about 91.8 MPH. That's not blow away fast, but Fangraphs does rate the pitch this year at well above average in effectiveness. His other very good pitch is the slider. He throws the slider 16.6 percent of the time and Fangraphs again rates that pitch as well above average. His change up, which he throws 9.6 percent of the time and his curve ball (9.9 percent) are both given negative scores by Fangraphs. One interesting statistic is that Beachy gets batters to chase 33.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. It will be interesting to see if teams start making him throw strikes as the season progresses.

The fifth starter of any rotation is a guy you hope will at least keep his team in the game for a chance to win. Most teams around the league struggle with this rotation spot. But the Braves have a guy who is rated currently among the top pitchers in the league. Brandon Beachy has been a startling story to this point and despite the Braves' somewhat sluggish start this season, gives the team hope that they can remain relevant throughout the season.

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