The Arizona Fall League is a tool for teams to get a few of their minor league players some extra work. It's usually not full of top prospects, nothing is on the line in its games, and the stats are essentially meaningless. One thing that the AFL does have going for it, though, are PITCHf/x cameras.
When a prospect goes to the AFL, we fans get a window into what his stuff looks like that we normally wouldn't for minor league pitchers. Previously I profiled Jamie Schultz and his high-powered rising four-seam fastball. Now lets take a look at Matt Lollis, a guy who features the other type of fastball: a "two-seam," or "sinker." Pitchers who throw a sinker typically strike out a smidgen fewer batters, but create more ground balls.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it, or you can view an interactive version that will let you filter by pitch types and give information on each individual pitch. The classifications are my own.
Differentiating between two and four-seem fastballs is always tricky, but with so few pitches to work with, there's a real chance that I've gotten it somewhat skewed. These numbers are meant to give a very general view of his stuff.
|Pitch Type||Velocity||Horizontal Run||Vertical Rise|
The most notable part of his repertoire is the horizontal movement on his two-seam fastball. That would actually put Lollis near the top of the major league leaderboard in that one regard, with similar run to sinker specialists like Jeff Samardzija. I want to be very clear though that the similarity ends there.
What Matt Lollis displayed in the Arizona Fall League is not an elite sinker. Consider Samardzija's pitches from September:
Note that in addition to running to the left (catcher's perspective), Samardzija's two-seam also "drops" vertically with many of the pitches having less than five inches of rise. An average four-seam fastball has about nine inches of rise due to its spin, so when something rises less than that, we -- and hitters -- perceive it as "drop."
An elite sinker can define a pitcher, but Matt Lollis's two-seam fastball rises just a bit too much for me to call it that.
Also, don't lose track of the fact that velocity matters. Samardzija averages near 95 mph on his fastball, while Lollis pitched at a few ticks below that in the AFL.
So if Matt Lollis isn't likely to turn into a number two major league starter, what can we expect from a pitcher with his repertoire? The parameters I was searching for were:
- Low-90s two-seam with good run but not much drop
- Low-90's pedestrian four-seam; average chagneup
- Changeup with similar movement to the two-seam
- Slow slider with neutral vertical movement
It turns out that as a set, those pitch attributes are pretty much as fringe-y as they seem. There just aren't a bunch of major-league pitchers who fit that description. To find someone close, I actually had to switch over to looking at lefties. Consider Craig Breslow:
If you ignore the small number of sinkers with way more sink than everything else, the fastball movement is pretty close, although Breslow's is actually slower, averaging in the high-80s. Lollis's breaking ball would sit somewhere between Breslow's 85 mph slider and his low-70s curve.
It's not a perfect match, but as far as I can tell, there isn't a perfect match to be found. Breslow has logged a few good seasons as a reliever, and he's managed to hang around the majors with an uncanny ability to limit home runs. While he's been successful, I definitely wouldn't consider him and his 4.34 xFIP a repeatable model for success.
So, is the major-league ceiling for Matt Lollis that of a serviceable journeyman reliever? Yes and no.
Lollis is a big man. I've seen him listed everywhere from 6'5" and 230 pounds (FanGraphs) to 6'9" 250 pounds (Baseball America). Other scouting reports placed him between those. Back in 2010, Marc Hulet wrote:
His fastball sits in the low-90s but can touch 94-95 mph. He also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup but nothing stands out as an electric pitch.
Aside from the curve, which we haven't seen, that pretty much describes what we saw in the AFL, but the Baseball America scouting report said that Lollis could touch 97 mph out of the bullpen. He certainly has the body to do it, so I have to assume that the Rays hope they can find the power pitcher where the Padres failed.
If Lollis can use his massive leverage to sustain a higher velocity, his sinker (which, as noted, does have good run to it) could become a major league pitch. There's also a chance he already can produce more sink on his two-seam than he showed during his couple starts in front of the PITCHf/x cameras (I'm basing this article off 45 pitches I've classified as sinkers, so it's entirely possible Lollis was just having a bad couple weeks). And if he can improve one or more of his secondary pitches, Lollis may find a path to the majors as a reliever. Any thing above that would just be a bonus at this point
Matt Lollis is currently a project for the Rays pitching development program. Most of the time projects don't turn into stars, but sometimes they do. Lollis not lost.