Yeah, sorry this article probably doesn’t interest you. To be honest I’m writing about this with the hope of making myself interested. I’m not sure what I’ll conclude, and I’m not going to provide you with cherry-picked data. Whereas someone like Yandy Diaz or Brandon Nimmo I’ve been eager to write about, there was always near-star potential for both. This guy, I’m not so sure. But he’s interesting, and unfortunately, not very fun.
In a salary dump in December, the Yankees moved Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for Jabari Blash. At this point, you have a 50% chance of figuring out who this article is about. Except Chase Headley isn’t really a new toy for the Padres, considering it was his original organization. So, in short, I’m sorry you felt like you wanted to read about Bryan Mitchell, but here it is.
Mitchell was drafted in 2009 by the Yankees for $800,000 in the sixteenth round. He was basically the second or third best prep arm out of North Carolina that year, which is significant, but nothing that blows you away. It’s a ham-fisted way of saying he doesn’t have much of a pedigree. He never ranked within the Top 10 Yankees prospects for Baseball America, but made the organization list for seven years, often bouncing between #10-20.
The first thing you’ll notice about Bryan Mitchell is that he has two first names. The second thing you’ll notice is that he hasn’t been very good so far in the majors, sporting a 4.94 career ERA in 98.1 innings pitched. He also carries with him a 5.68 K/9 to go along with a putrid 4.03 BB/9. Naturally, he’s a lock for the Padres rotation despite only starting nine games for his career.
But, the Padres essentially were buying Headley to acquire Mitchell. AJ Preller described Mitchell as “a guy that our scouts were on for the past few years”, adding “he’s a guy we felt like ultimately needed an opportunity”. There’s obviously something the Padres are seeing.
For his career, Mitchell has a 51.5% ground ball rate for his career.. That’s really good. Of all qualified pitchers last year, only five maintained a rate higher than that. Here’s where it starts to get weird. He has a LOB percentage of 64.9%, which is bad. With as small of a sample size as 98.1 innings, you’d think it’s probably more of a fluke (league average is about 70-72%), but he’s been consistently bad in the minors too, hovering anywhere from 60-65%. I tried watching some video of him and couldn’t really figure it out.
And then it hit me. Maybe he’s got a bad LOB% because he’s just bad. And yeah, sure enough in the minors he was never very good, either. His best season was with the Yankees in AAA in 2015 with a 3.12 ERA (3.18 FIP). Sure enough, yeah, in that season he had a LOB% of 72%, or, average.
But I digress. For a guy that seems to get hit hard, you’d think he’d have a high HR/FB rate, right? Not quite. He’s sitting at 8.9% for his big league career, and the last two years in AAA, he’s been at 2.3% and 1.5% respectively. All throughout the minors he’s managed to keep the ball in the yard. Confused yet? Me too. I seriously promise there’s no big reveal, he’s just really weird.
I decided to very hastily draw up a chart of guys who threw hard, or threw what Mitchell threw or faster. He sits at a pretty hefty 96 MPH. Basically I wanted to see the correlation between the value of a fastball and the velocity of the pitch. I know it’s riddled with inaccuracies and flawed logic with how/why I used this, but bear with me.
There’s a pretty strong correlation between fastball velocity and pitch value. Basically a guy who throws 96 MPH is much more likely to have a better fastball than someone who throws 94 MPH, for example. Mitchell’s fastball had a pitch value of 0.8 last year, which basically doesn’t help us at all identify him as any sort of outlier, because he’s essentially on the trend line. Lost yet? Great, let’s go further down this rabbit hole.
Mitchell also throws a cutter and a curveball and I guess a changeup, which he throws around 1% of the time. Since the average velocity of his cutter is 91.5 MPH and his average changeup velocity is 92 MPH, it’s safe to say these “changeups” are likely just really bad cutters that PITCHf/x couldn’t pick up.
Brooks Baseball describes his four-seam fastball as “a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of ground balls compared to other pitchers’ four-seamers, has some natural sinking action, has well above average velocity and has slight arm side run”. He’s got a nice fastball, and with a horizontal movement of -7.51 it’s comparable to the movement of a two-seamer or a sinker. It’s a nice pitch to be sure. The 8.32 figure for his vertical movement isn’t nearly as attractive as his horizontal movement, but the movement is still in line vertically with an average four-seamer.
Here’s where things, I guess, start to get complicated. Mitchell throws his curveball hard at an average of 83.2 MPH last year. There were only two qualified pitchers in baseball who bested this velocity; Corey Kluber and Jimmy Nelson. It’s a rare curveball, but whether it’s any good is the next question.
His curve is pretty average in terms of vertical movement (he’s at -5.26 despite league average being about -5.8), and his horizontal movement sat at a poor 4.84 (league average 6.1). In 2015 he sat as high as 6.99, and 2016 he was at 6.57, both numbers are marked improvements, but the lack of consistency in his curveball is frustrating.
Eric Longenhangen recently wrote that his curveball “is hard, in the mid-80s, and has well-above-average spin. It also has slurve shape, though, and plays down because of it”. This is what will eventually make or break Bryan Mitchell. He has a good fastball, and with the way it induces grounders and weak contact, could be considered a weapon. He can command it well. But his cutter is bad. We’ve established that he doesn’t really have a change-up. There are plenty of pitchers who can succeed with two pitches. Not many starters, but plenty of pitchers.
It’s going to sound weird, but basically Mitchell needs to pick a path for his off-speed. He either needs to create more depth for a curveball, or create more horizontal movement for his slider. Don’t want to believe me? Sounds good. But consider this.
In a February Eric Longenhagen chat, he briefly touched on Bryan Mitchell and other prospects with high spin rate pitches saying a “mid-80s curveball with 2700rpm is like Jose Fernandez metrics, but the axis means it plays like a 45 slurve”. When I say his pitch needs to pick a direction, that’s what I mean. The slider/curve (slurve) combination is a really ineffective pitch for Mitchell, and judging from how bad his cutter is, I think it’d be wise to try and create some more vertical drop. With that spin rate and that fastball, a curveball with significant downward action is going to create even more ground balls and would probably generate more swing and miss and improve a putrid career 7.4% SwStr rate.
Is this guy really all that bad? Yeah, probably. He’s got #4 starter upside but should likely be used in a multi-inning relief capacity where a guy with two good pitches and decent command could actually get some quality innings. He should, in a sense, still be considered a prospect and it was a completely harmless gamble by the Padres. In terms of him being fantasy relevant, probably not. But Bryan Mitchell is another component of what’s shaping up to be a quietly intriguing Padres team with some guys on the fringes of being decent big-league contributors. The good teams that rebuilt took gambles with major league talent, and with Mitchell he’s being given this opportunity. Let’s see if he can make anything out of it.