15 June 2013

Delmarva's Josh Hader and Two Bowie Knuckleball Trainees

Sometimes, you get lucky; sometimes not. For example of not getting lucky, on my recent scouting trip I took in the June 5 Bowie at Harrisburg game, and the Bowie pitchers were veterans Eddie Gamboa and Zach Clark, who are trying to salvage their careers by developing a knuckleball. You probably already know that their careers are on life support, and if you didn't, you could guess. The only interesting thing about them I can report after my observation is that Gamboa's knuckleball is a flutterer, whereas Clark's is sharp-breaking.

In contrast, the last day of my trip was scheduled for Salisbury, MD, the home of the Delmarva Shorebirds. Tropical Storm Andrea wreaked havoc with the schedules of most Atlantic Coast teams, and what was originally scheduled to be a 2:05 single game ended up a 1:05 doubleheader. Facing a three-hour drive home and work the following day, I chose to stay only for the first game and was fortunate that the Shorebirds game 1 starter was Josh Hader. Hader was Baseball America's preseason #19 Orioles' prospect and he has also been named the Shorebirds' representative in the South Atlantic League All-Star game.

Hader pitched the first 6 2/3 innings of the Shorebirds' 8-0 win (in the minor leagues, doubleheader games are scheduled for seven innings.) I was surprised that Hader came out for the seventh inning, as he had thrown 86 pitches through six and he's still only 19 years old. In his 6 2/3 innings, Hader allowed four hits and two walks and a hit batsman; he struck out 6. He walked two of the first three batters he faced. and hit the last batter he faced. Of the four hits he allowed, one was a checked-swing soft liner served over the second baseman's head; another was a grounder to deep short that Roman Quinn simply outran; another was a slow-medium speed grounder that found the hole up the middle. Only one hit, a double off the left-field wall, was hard-hit. Three outs were recorded on hard-hit balls — a fly to deep right field, a one-hop grounder right at the first baseman, and a line drive to third.

Hader has a low-three-quarters delivery, which means that he's not a true sidearmer but that he's about one quarter of the way up from true sidearm to true overhand. Usually, the lower a left-handed pitcher drops, the harder he is on left-handed batters; left-handed batters went 0-for-8 with the hit batsman and three strikeouts against Hader. Hader seemed to be throwing mostly fastballs, and they ranged from 87-94 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun; most of them were in the 89-90 range.

It's interesting to look at how many pitches he threw with different counts:

0-0 26 25
1-0 11
0-1 14

The interesting thing here isn't that he got ahead of batters with his first pitch slightly more than he didn't, but that only one no Lakewood BlueClaw was dispensed with one pitch. In fact, that one batter was the last batter Hader faced, whom he hit with the pitch. I haven't looked to see if this is a Hader trend, a Lakewood trend, or a deliberate Lakewood approach to facing Hader.

2-0 5
1-1 10
0-2 8
3-0 2
2-1 3
1-2 15

Hader generally isn't falling behind hitters.

3-1 2
2-2 3
3-2 3

Hader is generally retiring batters efficiently. Because of two-strike foul balls, it's may not be directly shown in the count log, but he threw five or more pitches to only 8 of the 26 25 batters he faced. Again, I don't know what this means, but Lakewood did not have a single foul ball on a 3-ball count.

In my opinion, Josh Hader resembles Zach Britton. They're lefthanded starting pitchers with good but not great control and fairly good strikeout rates. When they're on, they keep the ball down and induce weak contact. Hader is a year ahead of Britton; when Britton was 19, he was pitching in short-season ball while Hader is already at low Class A, a level Britton reached the following season. It's tempting to conclude that Josh Hader is on the Zach Britton career path, but it's also important to remember that Zach Britton's present wasn't inevitable. The ceiling of Josh Hader isn't Zach Britton; it's what Zach Britton could have been three and four years ago. He's a real prospect, and is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

June 17 update: Sometimes I can't read my own scoresheet. Hader was relieved by Sander Beck after giving up a single to Carlos Tocci to put runners on first and second. It was Sander Beck who hit Brian Pointer with his first pitch, and I've corrected the details of the post accordingly. My conclusions are unchanged.

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