Baseball America podcast, 1/24/13:
J.J. Cooper: To me, if you’re the Diamondbacks, you want Delgado, not Teheran, would you agree with that?
Matt Eddy: Absolutely. You could find scouts a year ago who preferred Delgado to Teheran. I mean, Delgado has two plus pitches.
Eddy: Furthermore, do you think it was really a situation where the Braves said, ‘No, you can’t have Teheran?’ You don’t think they would’ve traded him? I think they would have much rather traded Teheran than Delgado.
Cooper: If Julio Teheran doesn’t break camp in the rotation, that’s a pretty good reminder that if you’re the Diamondbacks, this trade was about getting Delgado, instead of Teheran.
ESPN: Baseball Today, 1/24/13:
Keith Law: Randall Delgado, for me … He’s got [a] fastball, changeup, below-average breaking ball, he’s tried to throw a curve ball, he’s tried to throw a slider, he still doesn’t have either. I think he’s probably a fifth starter. If the control takes a big step forward, he might be a fourth starter.
I’m not going to tell you if the breaking ball shows up. It’s probably not, at this point. He’s been around long enough that we can probably write off the possibility of him finding an average or better breaking ball. So you’ve either got a back-end starter, [or] maybe a good reliever.
Baseball Prospectus, Transaction Analysis, R.J. Anderson, 1/24/13:
[Delgado] used to elicit Jair Jurrjens comparisons (before that was a bad thing) because of his polish and his arsenal: a fastball capable of touching the mid-90s, a plus curveball, and a developing changeup. Delgado profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
It’s not especially uncommon for baseball people, particularly prospect people, to disagree over the value of a given ballplayer. Some analysts and publications zero in on tools when evaluating a minor leaguer. Some prefer to break down statistics. Every analyst has favorite skill profiles, and every analyst has least favorite skill profiles. I understand when different people talk about the same player, with the same skills, as being of very different value.
What strikes me as strange, and it happens from time to time, is when different people talk about a player as though they were not even watching the same player, or as though the data were telling two diametrically opposed stories about the guy. So it is right now with Randall Delgado.
However you add it up, Delgado is one of the two most important pieces the Arizona Diamondbacks got in return for their potential superstar outfielder Justin Upton. As you can see above, though, there’s a fair amount of disagreement over what Delgado is worth, and that somewhat colors the varied (not that widely varied, but varied) opinions set forth on the deal.
I am not sufficiently versed on Delgado to offer a comprehensive evaluation of my own. I want to dig into these evaluations a bit, though, and see whose stances are better backed by the hard data we have at the ready.
The key area of dissension seems to be the quality of Delgado’s secondary pitches. Eddy made reference to Delgado having “two legit plus pitches,” but didn’t specify whether it was the changeup or curve that rated so alongside the fastball. Too bad, because the other two evaluations above split sharply on that issue. Anderson wrote at BP about a “plus curveball and developing changeup.” Law said (and his tone carried more dismissal of the breaker than the words even convey) “a below-average breaking ball,” but later that the changeup “can miss bats.”
I have some good news: I found a (now dated, admittedly) audio report from 2011 by Mike Newman, breaking down Delgado’s repertoire. I have bad news: Newman liked both offerings and didn’t commit to one as the better pitch.
More good news: Newman wrote up Delgado in the wake of this deal. More bad news: He now seems uncertain of the quality of either secondary pitch.
That’s okay. I don’t really want to use Newman to break the ostensible tie here. I want to figure out why the people quoted up top see Delgado so differently. One thing is clear: All parties agree Delgado’s command must sharpen in order to clear his way to meet his full potential. He walked a shade over 10 percent of opposing hitters in 2012, backing that up. He’s a live-armed hurler, but his delivery is clean, and there seems to be some agreement among the major parties that the control issues will iron themselves out.
The data don’t really solve the problem of the disparate secondary-pitch grades for us. In 2011, Delgado’s curve showed as a plus pitch according to linear-weight value. The changeup appeared to be subpar. In 2012, the two swapped places in that regard. No help. I’ll say this: I don’t necessarily buy Law’s assertion that average breaking pitches don’t show up this late in a player’s development. I also think it’s easy for changeups to promise development or improvement that never show up. Law makes the most ardent and specific case for his position of any source above, though.
I’m at an impasse. I’ll address just one more discrepancy, one I find particularly grating. Law calls Delgado a fifth starter. The other two listed organizations refer to him as a mid-rotation guy, at least in the long term. I see these distinctions as thin, watery and needlessly pejorative. The categorization of pitchers by where they fit in a rotation is as imprecise as it is uninformative. What we really want to know is how good the pitcher is.
Delgado had a 4.37 ERA in 2012, 11 percent worse than a league-average pitcher in the same environs. He had a 4.07 FIP, four percent worse. He’s a ground-ball pitcher, he’s going to strike some people out, but he will sometimes walk people, too.
He stands six-foot-three and weighs 200 pounds. He’s durable. He throws comfortably around 92 miles per hour, but can touch 95, maybe graze 96. He sort of reminds me of Carlos Zambrano so far.
Delgado’s repertoire isn’t much like Zambrano’s, though. Zambrano threw a bit harder. Zambrano had a slider on which he relied pretty heavily. Delgado throws fastballs between 65 and 70 percent of the time, split between a two-seamer (his primary weapon) and a four-seamer from which he gets those radar-gun readings in the mid-90s if he needs them. He throws his curve less than 15 percent of the time, and his change 20 percent or so.
It’s actually very rare, these days, for a right-handed starter to throw a curve with any regularity. Rare for non-Braves, anyway. Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran are the most similar pitchers, accounting for role and handedness. Luis Mendoza of the Royals is the best fit outside the organization. Medlen, clearly, has command and polish on his secondary stuff that Delgado can’t match. Mendoza is the most informative comp, and while not awful, that’s not encouraging.
There are three other curveball-change right-handed starters of note: Phil Hughes, James Shields and Ryan Vogelsong. However, they’re all different in a fundamental way from Delgado. Shields and Vogelsong have added cutters that have helped them keep hitters off-balance. They also each have (not merely good) elite command. Hughes throws harder than Delgado, and mixes in a cutter and slider occasionally, too.
Those three are all fly-ball pitchers, too. Their cutters and their reliance on curves and changes lead to more pitches up, more flies and more homers. Delgado could make the same adjustment they have, and might get more strikeouts out of the deal, but it will probably take time for him to execute that approach without giving up a lot of homers in Chase Field. In the meantime, that 4.37 ERA looks fairly reasonable as a projection for him. So that’s what I’ve got for Delgado. Not great. Then again, what do I know? Three real experts in this kind of thing can’t even get together.
UPDATES: Law, Eddy and Anderson have graciously replied to me on Twitter, so I want to add a few notes from what they said. Eddy clarified for me that he meant Delgado’s change rated plus, and added that the curve showed the same potential in the minors. Unlike Law, he still believes in Delgado developing three useful pitches. Unlike Law, he likes the pickup even in the context of the trade.
Anderson chimed in to note that he made a mistake in describing the pitches. We’re finding consensus on that: average-plus fastball, plus changeup, below-average breaking ball. That’s Delgado. Eddy and Anderson are perhaps more bullish than Law on the breaking pitch coming along.
Law objected to my objection to classifying starters by slots. I hope everyone is clear: That was not a poke at Law, nor anyone else specifically. I just think the terminology is past its utility, noe that we have more nuance in our ability to evaluate pitchers. I don’t think the industry needs those distinctions anymore.Next post: Why I Think the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers are the Best Chances Michael Bourn Has Left
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