Aug 1, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (48) walks in the dugout before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros call up Mike Foltynewicz

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The Houston Astros made some headlines Thursday by  fleecing the Marlins for Colin Moran and Jake Marisnick. Today, the fans in the Big H received more good news when it was announced that one of their top pitching prospects would make his debut, Mike Foltynewicz. One shudders at all the misspellings that could happen on his apparel, especially after seeing what wend wrong with Troy Tulowitzki t-shirt giveaway.

Folty’s calling card is a high heat fastball that can reach upper 90s, sometimes triple digits. While his fastball is intimidating, so is his frame; he stands 6’6 and weighs in at 220 pounds. He’s filled out his massive frame well, despite being just 22, and he’s an impressive figure to watch.

His lack of secondary stuff is concerning, and the reason he hasn’t seen major league action sooner. He throws a slurvey hybrid that flashes plus potential, but a lack of consistency on it leaves it still in the developmental stages. His changeup has good late fade, and will catch hitters out in front thanks to its high 80s velocity readings. It’s rarely thrown though, in part because of the effectiveness of his first two pitches, and second part due to his slower mechanics that give it away. Hitters tend to pick up on that, which helps explain his brutal 5.08 ERA and 4.75 FIP.

Throwing a plus-plus fastball has helped elite pitchers such as Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg reach their pedestal, but it’s been their secondary offerings that have put them on top. Without those other offerings, Folty becomes similar to Tony Cingrani, who had a great beginning in The Show, but cooled off quickly and was eventually sent back down.

Also concerning about Folty is his lack of control. He’s never been the type of pitcher who can stay in the zone all day, but his walk percentages haven’t been in single digits since short season ball. That’s terrible for a minor leaguer, and the stars in the majors will pick up on those issues. Trouble staying in the zone leads to walks, and giving up too many free tickets to the bases makes every hit just that much more harmful. The silver lining is he’s getting around 48% grounders, which is above average and should help him induce double plays to limit damage.

Let’s combine the mix of high strikeouts and high walks that Folty has shown, and look at the company he’s joining, using stats from the past two years:

Player Year Strikeout% Walk% Groundball% xFIP SIERA
Ubaldo Jimenez 2014 20.1% 13.7% 45.7% 4.40 4.65
Justin Masterson 2014 20.6% 12.4% 58.5% 4.04 4.06
Francisco Liriano 2014 25.0% 11.5% 52.6% 3.52 3.68
Drew Pomeranz 2014 21.2% 10.1% 46.8% 3.87 3.94
Ubaldo Jimenez 2013 25.0% 10.3% 43.9% 3.62 3.67
Ryan Dempster 2013 20.8% 10.5% 40.8% 4.21 4.19
Mike Foltynewicz 2014(AAA) 22.8% 11.6% 48% N/A N/A

(I used xFIP and SIERA because they take into account batted ball profiles, SIERA more so. ERA can be very misleading, and FIP is basically K/BB ratio, with a dash of home run rate which wouldn’t be helpful. Even though Folty doesn’t have stats for those because of lack of public access to the minor league numbers, it paints a much better picture of his cohorts.)

It’s a league of pretty ordinary gentlemen. The only two players with similar peripherals in 2013 either were out of the game (Dempster fire) or completely blew up (Jimenez). What these players do that Foltynewicz does not however, is throw multiple pitches. Even the lowest fastball thrower, Pomeranz, still throws a knuckle curve over 20% of the time.

Mike Foltynewicz is going to grab attention because of his dominant fastball, and for being part of Houston’s elite prospect corps. But he’s going to face struggles in his career if his control and repertoire don’t improve. The best place for him to work on that may be in majors, but the road is going to be rough before we start seeing real results.

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