Feierabend, Take One
I posted a brief review of my feelings on Ryan Feierabend’s performance in the game thread last night, but I figured I should put up something with a little more detail today, for those who didn’t catch his season debut.
The fastball was consistently 86-90, all of the four seam variety, and usually up in the zone. It’s easy to see why he’s a predominantly flyball pitcher, as he lived above the belt with the fastball. From his arm slot, he got a decent amount of run in on right-handed pitchers, though the mistake to Shea Hillenbrand showed what will happen if his location isn’t good.
He threw two offspeed pitches – a slow, slurvy curveball that came in at 76-78 with little downward break and generally floated into the strike zone. It had a good amount of left to right break, and he generally tried to locate it on the inside corner to right-handers. It actually got a decent amount of called strikes as he threw it in a couple of fastball counts and caught hitters off guard, but the pitch itself was basically a meatball. Without any real biting movement, the ball stayed on the same plane that it was on when it left his hand, making it an easy target for hitters. He also left it up in the zone far too frequently. As the scouting report on him gets around the league, he’s going to have to throw that thing less, or get better downward movement on it, because the curveball he threw last night wasn’t a major league pitch.
His change-up, on the other hand, was terrific. He consistently got it down in the strike zone at 77-79 MPH, keeping a consistent arm speed with his fastball and adding to the deception. The pitch showed good fade away from right-handed hitters at times, and he commanded it better than either his fastball or curve. It was clearly his best pitch, and the only thing he threw that could be considered an out pitch.
His pickoff move came in with the billing of being the best in the organization, and it didn’t take long for him to confirm that. He comes very close to driving his front foot towards the plate before the step over, but he’s mastered the art of getting as close to a balk as possible without violating the rule. It’s a great pickoff move, similar to Andy Pettitte’s, and is one of the best in baseball.
Overall, Feierabend did a good job attacking the strike zone with his pitches and not throwing in a predictable pattern. The fastball is a bit below average, but the change-up is well above average, and he should be able to mix those two pitches enough to keep hitters off balance when he’s ahead in the count. The problem will come when he falls behind hitters, however. He doesn’t have a fastball he can throw by hitters and the breaking ball he showed last night needs an awful lot of work.
Feierabend is going to rely heavily on commanding the strike zone early in counts to get into good pitcher’s counts, where his change-up and fastball will be enough to put hitters away. He’s going to run into trouble when he doesn’t start out strike one, because he doesn’t have the stuff to put away a hitter who is able to load up for a fastball in a particular count.
If Feierabend can improve the breaking ball or master the command of his change-up to where he feels confident throwing it for strikes in any count, he’s got the makings of a solid #5 starter, a guy who is a perfect fit for Safeco with his flyball tendencies and left-handedness. On days where he doesn’t have the feel for his change-up, however, he could get pounded early and often, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a few disaster starts along the way.
In an ideal world, he could hang out in Tacoma this year, working on improving the curveball and mastering his command of the change-up, but the Mariners need competent starting pitchers, and Feierabend showed enough stuff and command last night to constitute an upgrade over Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez. The M’s are going to want to get a return on their significant offseason investments in that pair, but if they’re more concerned with winning games than salvaging some value out of guys they would have been better off never acquiring, then they should leave Feierabend in the rotation. Right now, he looks like the 5th best major league starting pitcher in the organization, and in a pennant race, the team can’t afford to have that guy not pitching every five days.