The Miami Marlins turned to Anthony DeSclafani for their last start versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he impressed. Miami got seven strikeouts versus just one walk and one homer, with seven hits allowed total over six innings of work.
How did he do it? What was he throwing? Let's take a look via data from Brooks Baseball.
It's important to note what DeSclafani was said to have in his arsenal before this start. Here is what Sam Evans said about the pitches he threw before the 2014 season.
DeSclafani throws an impressive fastball in the low 90's, a rapidly improving but still not all that exciting changeup, and an average slider. Part of the reason the Marlins were able to steal DeSclafani away from the Jays was that with an arsenal like this, most would expect DeSclafani to be bound for the bullpen. However, the way DeSclafani gets results has little to do with his repertoire, and much more with his makeup, knowledge, and control of his pitches. DeSclafani has fantastic control of pretty much all three of his main pitches and he has great confidence in his fastball to get outs. DeSclafani is a prototypical ground ball pitcher who, when he is most successful, pitches low in the zone.
You can see why it was said that he profiled best as a reliever. A pitcher with a slider and a fastball and weak offspeed stuff would show the same struggles that other right-handers of similar ilk have with left-handed hitting. The slider shows significant platoon splits, and things get worse when you deal with the sinker.
But here is the data from Brooks Baseball on the pitches from last night.
That last pitch, a breaking ball of some sort, showed up as a curve and not a slider. And you can see that the movement matches that of a curve. The slider is a pitch that tends to break away from same-handed pitching laterally but generally deviate very little from what one would expect from break from gravity. In that sense, it is a "neutral" pitch with very little horizontal or vertical break, as measured by Pitch F/X. Nathan Eovaldi's slider, for example, has a horizontal break of 2.4 inches and a vertical break of 1.4 inches for his career.
The curveball on the other hand has more vertical drop in its movement, either in a 12-to-6 or more lateral movement style. That leads to negative vertical break, as shown by this pitch and by other types of curves. Jacob Turner, for example, has horizontal and vertical break on his curve very similar to the pitch DeSclafani threw last night.
You can also visualize that drop on the breaking ball in this GIF, provided by the excellent site PitcherGIFS.
You can visualize that the pitch dips significantly and actually buckles Hanley Ramirez at the knees, getting the called strike three. In that way, it works just like a curve and is named as such for now.
Pitch F/X has the raw data for the fastball at 93.7 mph, but Brooks Baseball has it one mph higher than that. Either way, we're looking at a pitch that reaches the low-to-mid 90's. The vertical movement is a tad lower than the average four-seamer, meaning there is likely some sink to the pitch as well.
Here are some of the relevant stats on the pitches.
It is still early and there is only one game in our sample, but it looks as though DeScalfani's slider/curve could be a legitimate punchout weapon as well. He got eight swings and misses on the pitch in just 25 pitches thrown. He placed it in the strike zone plenty of times, and we saw it buckle Ramirez at the knees already once before. The benefit of the curve is it serves as a pitch agaisnt opposite-handed hitting that can get whiffs and called strikes, and that appears to be exactly what DeSclafani did.
The fastball was a strike-pounder, and in his first start, it appears as though DeSclafani has taken on the adage of the Marlins of pounding the zone. If he can display that kind of command of the pitch regularly, he could very well become at least a Tom Koehler-like middling starter who attacks the zone for marginal results. If his fastball is any better than Koehler's at times replacement-level heat, he could become better than that.
It is one start, and for now it seems DeSclafani is destined for the pen after the signing of Randy Wolf. But Miami may have another interesting diamond in the rough after this first bout of strong play.