Baseball’s regular season may remain in its infancy, too young to take seriously on matters of importance like statistics and standings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some of its fruits. Take the time-honored tradition of acknowledging and admiring dazzling pitches. Reader, would it be such a crime if we were to highlight new or otherwise unheralded pitchers who can, in so many words, bring the funk and the noise? We say no.
Let’s get to the high-quality pitches from five under-the-radar arms.
We’re starting with Brandon Brennan out of deference to the alphabet. The Mariners nabbed him from the White Sox as part of a Rule 5 draft trade with the Rockies. It may seem silly to read too much into 10 innings of work from someone who couldn’t crack Chicago’s pitching staff, but Brennan’s availability was due in part to a rash of injuries he’d suffered in recent years. Now hearty and hale, he’s excelling behind a mid-90s sinker and a changeup that checks in 10 ticks slower and features good arm-side movement and diving action.
Batters have proven unable to lift his offerings (65 percent groundball rate) and have whiffed on nearly 60 percent of their swings against the cambio. Keeping the ball on the ground and dodging bats is a good way to live. Provided Brennan can stay healthy, he could play a large role in the Mariners bullpen.
The Red Sox haven’t had much go right for them this season, but the bullpen is an exception. Boston entered Friday with five relievers who have an ERA of 2.00 or below. One of those is Colten Brewer, who has fanned nine batters in 5 ⅔ innings. Although Brewer is in his age-26 season, he’s bounced around, having already spent time in the Pirates and Yankees systems, and having debuted in the majors with the Padres last year. The Red Sox traded for Brewer last November, and it’s easy to see why: he combines a 93-mph cutter with a devastating curveball that has seen batters swing over the top of it on 63 percent of their attempts. Here’s him throwing it for a strike. If Brewer can find consistency with his command — or at least some semblance of it — he’s going to prove to be a savvy acquisition by Dave Dombrowski.
From a current member of the Red Sox to a former member. Ty Buttrey was sent to the Angels as part of the Ian Kinsler deal last July. He’s since tossed 22 innings in the majors, over which he’s recorded 29 strikeouts and permitted five walks. That’ll play. Buttrey does most of his work with a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a slider. Both pitches can miss bats, with the slider avoiding lumber on more than 60 percent of the swings taken on it so far this season. Here’s an example of Buttrey overpowering a good hitter by throwing his heater above the hands, and here he is letting his slider do that wicked thing it does. On occasion, he’ll even throw a changeup:
The Angels don’t have a ton of big names in their bullpen, but Buttrey looks like a keeper.
Admittedly, it’s weird to include Chad Sobotka at a time when he’s sporting a 6.35 ERA. We just can’t keep ourselves — much like the opposition when faced with one of his sliders. Sobotka has thrown 12 breaking balls this season, and batters have whiffed on 10 of them. Add in how Sobotka has a hard, high-spin fastball, and his prominence in Atlanta’s bullpen will be limited only by his ability to throw quality strikes. If Sobotka can locate, he’ll pitch late in games.
We’ve featured four relievers so far. Let’s end with a starter: Trent Thornton, who has fanned 15 batters over his first two starts. Thornton is a short right-hander with an unusual delivery that features a rocker step, a high leg kick, and a short arm circle. He doesn’t throw hard, but he does impart impressive spin on his pitches. His curveball, for instance, is one of three to average more than 3,000 RPM — Ryan Pressly and Seth Lugo employ the others. Thornton has a 61.5 percent whiff rate on that pitch to date.