Jacob Turner: Marlins Pitch F/X Scouting Report

Kevin C. Cox

The Miami Marlins have a number of young players who could become key cogs in future seasons. One of those players is starter Jacob Turner, whose repertoire includes one plus offering, one improving pitch, and one declining pitch.

The Miami Marlins have a number of young players on the 2013 roster who have the possibility of becoming key cogs for a future competitive roster. Those six young players are all going to be battle-tested through a rough 2013 season, and the team will need a few of those players to develop into regular contributors in order to support the likes of potential future superstars Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich.

One of those players, as we mentioned earlier this week, is Jacob Turner, the Marlins' starting pitcher acquired from the Detroit Tigers in the Anibal Sanchez / Omar Infante trade. Turner is a former top prospect who was renowned for his stuff coming out of high school. But his work in the minors has shown a decreased ceiling in terms of performance and stuff, in particular with regards to his fastball.

However, Turner's work in the majors for the Marlins brought some encouraging signs, and for the Fish, it is worth investigating whether or not his pitches are of high enough quality to earn Turner his high prospect status. To that end, I plan on providing a scouting report of his pitches based on Pitch F/X, using the 2012 season as our database of study.

Subjective Scouting Report

First off, there needs to be a subjective scouting report by a reputable prospect maven to which to compare our Pitch F/X data. Luckily, SB Nation's baseball side has one of the best prospect mavens out there in John Sickels of our very own Minor League Ball. Prior to Turner's 2012 major league campaign with the Tigers, Sickels provided this insight into Turner's game.

Turner is a 6-5, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 21, 1991. Turner can hit 95 MPH but usually works at 90-93, using a two-seamer to generate sinking action and ground balls rather than pure velocity. He mixes in a curveball and changeup, both rated highly-positively by scouts, and he's added a cutter this spring. With a four-pitch arsenal and a good feel for his craft, he has the upside of a number two starter. His velocity has returned to normal over the last six weeks and the Tigers are pleased with the progress of his secondary pitches.

That sounds like the prototypical scouting report for Turner. His fastball has decreased in velocity, working in the low-90's. The concerns about his velocity were due to a bout with "dead arm," but he has once again settled into that low-90's frame. Still, he was once touted as a mid-90's hard-thrower before being downgraded in recent seasons. His highlight pitch is supposed plus-plus curveball, and the changeup has also become a plus pitch as he continued to work on it in the minors.

Pitch F/X: The Basics

How well does Turner's subjective repertoire fit with what Pitch F/X saw last season. Dan Brooks of Brooks Baseball has a nifty application on his site that allows us to see "player cards" that detail Pitch F/X findings. We will be using this player card data for analysis here.

Pitch Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam (FA) 361 41% 91.81 -1.86 6.93 -2.30 5.97
Sinker (SI) 134 15% 92.06 -6.88 3.62 -2.29 5.97
Cutter (FC) 1 0% 89.36 1.31 5.98 -2.07 6.15
Slider (SL) 142 16% 85.43 2.38 1.44 -2.21 6.03
Curveball (CU) 159 18% 78.83 3.77 -3.18 -2.00 6.28
Changeup (CH) 80 9% 86.47 -8.36 1.69 -2.34 6.04

If we combine the four-seamer and sinker categories into true fastballs, we can basically point out what we have already heard about Turner. He primarily uses a low-90's fastball (averaging 91.9 mph in 2012) that has vertical break that is lower than the average fastball. That implies "sink" on his pitches, which matches the description of a fastball with less velocity and more sinking action.

His curveball is his second-most featured pitch, and looking further, you can see that he uses it versus both righties and lefties. He threw curveballs in 18.8 percent of pitches versus righties and 17.4 percent of the time versus lefties, proving that it is a true dual threat pitch. His changeup was primarily featured versus lefties as expected, and it was thrown in 18 percent of time versus those hitters and nine percent overall. It is important to note that, when faced with the possibility of the strikeout, Turner turned to the curveball versus lefties more than he did the changeup; with two strikes, he threw the curve 31 percent of the time, behind only the fastball-style pitches (45 percent) in usage, while he threw the changeup only 15 percent of the time.

The different pitch that was not mentioned in the scouting reports is his slider. Apparently this was a pitch that he was trying to refine before the 2012 season, so its inclusion in the mix during the 2012 year is not surprising. Turner predictably mixed in the pitch as an out versus right handers, as he threw it 24.4 percent of the time versus righties. Sure enough, Turner gained confidence in the slider, as he threw it 27 percent of the time against righties with two strikes; such a figure was even compared to his curveball rate with two strikes, indicating at least similar confidence against right-handers with those two pitches.

Pitch F/X: Performance Metrics

With Brooks Baseball's player cards, the calculation of most of these performance metrics has become far more routine than it was for me before their creation.

Turner, 2012 Ball/CS Swing% Whiff% BIP GB% BABIP SLGCON
Fastball 1.5 45.2 17.5 108 44.4 .231 .439
Curveball 3.9 44.0 30.0 23 52.2 .381 .609
Slider 3.9 54.2 33.8 33 45.5 .222 .611
Changeup 5.2 30.0 29.2 12 50.0 .333 .333

The numbers listed above show some interesting developments regarding Turner's stuff. The most successful pitch from last season was ironically his maligned fastball. It was the only pitch with a positive pitch value according to FanGraphs, but that was due not only to its performance in inducing strikeouts but also due to the absurdly weak contact that it got last year. Yes, Turner featured strong, zone-pounding control of the fastball, as evidenced by the balls to called strike ratio listed above. His whiff rate on the pitch, thanks to its movement, was also above the average fastball, particularly for one of his speed. As a comparison point, Justin Verlander's elite, high-velocity fastball induced swings-and-misses 20.8 percent of the time.

But the most successful aspect of Turner's fastball was the flukiest one as well; he induced so much weak contact that it garnered a lot of outs on balls in play. Opponents hit ust .231 on balls in play, and while his fastball allowed the most home runs among his pitches, the slugging percentage on contact (slugging percentage on balls in play and home runs) was low compared to his secondary offerings. While some of this may be of merit to a fastball that may actually be better than initially thought, much of that is probably blind luck and should regress in the upcoming season. Do not expect so many of Turner's fastballs to end up in the gloves of his defenders next year.

His secondary offerings still could use work. His curveball was not as controlled as initially expected, as he did not rack up the called strikes that I thought he would with a typical 12-to-6 knee buckler. It did work well as a strikeout pitch, as Turner finished off 10 of his 36 strikeouts with the pitch in 2012. Its 30 percent whiff rate is decent and comparable to most out pitches, though it was more effective at getting righties to miss (35 percent) versus lefties (24 percent).

The slider was of comparable strength, though obviously it was only thrown against right-handers. It appeared to be his best out pitch versus righties, as it induced a strong 40.7 percent whiff rate and earned plenty of swings from hitters (52.2 percent against righties). That gives Turner two potentially strong weapons against righties that could use a little more seasoning.

Versus lefties, the tools look worse, which is ironic given that his performance in 2012 was better versus southpaws (.234 wOBA against lefties versus .360 versus righties). The changeup was used more often than the curveball, but his inability to place it in the strike zone led to weaker counts. Furthermore, hitters were just laying off of the pitch too often, as it garnered swings in only 30 percent of its appearances versus 45 percent of swings with the curve. As a result, the change became more of a setup pitch rather than out against opposite-handed hitters, leaving Turner to use his fastball and curve more often. The curve was a bit worse versus lefties, leading to a lot more contact with the changeup. Unfortunately for opposing lefties, Turner ran into a lot more luck on balls in play versus them than he did versus righties, as his fastball had a BABIP at the .150 mark versus left-handers.

Grades

Given the information that we see above, what can we say about each of Turner's various pitches? Using the traditional 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is average and each increment of ten is one standard deviation from the mean, we can derive some scouting grades on his pitches.

Fastball (50): Turner seems to have strong control of the fastball and its placement as of right now. In one season of data, there is too much noise regarding the balls in play numbers to really see where that pitch in terms of preventing hard contact, but it has heavier movement and sink on its side. Next season should yield more data.

Curveball (50): The curveball is supposed to be Turner's best pitch, but it looked distinctly average last season. The traditional advantage of curves is that they can be used as both out pitches and to pick up early strikes, but Turner put a few too many out of the zone, displaying less control than expected. The pitch was also hit a little hard for my taste given the lack of called strikes. Where it performed best was as an out pitch in inducing whiffs, and it has potential there.

Slider (45): The slider is close, but its primary issue was really that Turner used it too often versus lefties thanks to a lack of tools in that category. Against right-handers, it looked like a prototypical, if only decent out pitch, but it does serve as an extra weapon for him.

Changeup (40): This was supposed to be another plus offering from Turner, but that did not shine through in the limited time he had in the bigs. He could not place it in the strike zone, and as a result hitters began to ignore it in favor of better pitches at which to swing. He needs to entice more swings, presumably by placing it closer to the edges of the zone.

The pitch with the most potential is still the curve, as it has a good chance at a 60 mark if he can place it better than he has now. The most improved pitch was the slider, though the fastball was fairly surprising. The performance of these three pitches should determine Turner's odds of success. The changeup should help him face down lefties eventually, but it does not seem ready yet as a big-league offering.

What do you guys think of Turner's pitching in 2012? Did you see anything you liked or disliked about his offerings? Let us know in the comments!

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