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Introducing Jose De Leon’s pitches

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The newly acquired top prospect has a familiar pitch combination.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays traded Logan Forsythe to the Los Angeles Dodgers for top pitching prospect Jose De Leon last night. According to his milb prospect card, the scouting grades on his pitches are 65 fastball, 60 changeup, 50 slider, and 55 control. He’s also thrown a curveball in the majors enough for it to be considered part of his arsenal.

De Leon started four games in September 2016 to give us enough data at the major league level to get an idea of how most of his pitches look. Let’s take a look and see if we can find what makes that fastball and changeup so good.

The Pitches

Here we see he’s by and far a four seam fastball guy. He gets a 10.2% swinging strike rate on it so I can see why he likes it so much. That rate is exceptional for a fastball.

After that, he uses a change up around 25% of the time and then also sprinkles in a few breaking balls.

Of the four games he started at the major league level, he only threw one kind of breaking ball in each. The first and fourth game it was a curve ball, and the second and third game it was a harder breaking ball that both Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball classify as a slider.

Velocity is probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks about pitches. This chart shows JDL’s fastball averages around 92-93 mph, and the change up stays about 10 mph lower in the 82-83 range. The hard breaker stays right in that range too, while the curve stays about 5 mph slower than the change up, resulting in three distinct velocity levels, with the change up and harder breaking ball in the same velocity range.

The change up has an excellent 10 mph separation from the fastball, so it’s possible the Rays will make that harder breaking ball more refined in some different and more useful way.

And now we get to the pitch movements. Here we see the fastball gets good run and rise while the change up has a fair amount of vertical movement off the fastball.

Both breaking balls are close to average movements in both directions, except for the slider’s drop. The problem is, it doesn’t. For a slider anyway. It’s nearly on the same vertical plane as the superior change up, while also being in the same velocity range as the same pitch. On paper, the slider does not look like a good pitch.

The Approach

According to his Zone profile at Brooks Baseball — based on a four game sample — JDL liked to keep his fastball up, particularly to his arm side. That puts it up and in against RHH, and up and away to LHH. It’s a strategy that we see from guys that have a “rising” fastball to try to get the ball over the top of the bat when hitters think they can go up and smash one out of the park. A control guy like JDL should do well with that strategy going forward, especially with the Rays who practically preach it.

He also appears to have good control of the change up because he can throw that thing to either side of the plate, depending on what side the hitter is on. It’s clearly a plus pitch and should get plenty of whiffs.

So far JDL has tried to keep his breaking stuff to his glove side, down and away to lefties and down and into righties. And even though he barely throws them, he likes to drop them in for strike one when he does decide to throw them.

Assessment

Jose De Leon is a control guy, and that makes all of his pitches play up. The fastball is probably a 55 at best on its own, but his ability to put it where he wants makes it a weapon that he can rely on. The change up is a plus pitch because of the velocity separation from the fastball and his ability to nail either bottom corner of the plate regardless of what side the batter is standing on.

The curveball is a clear third wheel that JDL gets value out of by using it to steal first pitch strikes and show a different velocity range.

And then there’s the harder breaking ball. He doesn’t throw it much so it’s not causing a whole lot of damage, but there just doesn’t appear to be a reason to throw it at all. It’s a bad slider right now, but I’m sure Jim Hickey is salivating over JDL’s potential if he can turn that bad slider into a good cutter. Even if the cutter never develops, JDL is probably a better pitcher without the slider altogether.