If you are even mildly a fan of baseball outside of the Royals sphere, then you are aware that Dallas “Get Off My Mound” Braden threw a perfect game the other day.  The story was made more dramatic with the fact that Braden’s grandma, who had raised him after his mother passed away was in attendance and to make the story sufficiently Hollywood-esque, it was Mother’s Day.  While that is all interesting, it is best left to be written about by someone other than myself.

What I was much more interested in, however was the angle that Joe Posnanski took.  He wrote about how Braden was never a prospect and how part of that is because he didn’t have a particularly high speed fastball.  He goes on to say that Braden is effective because he has good control and throws lots and lots of strikes.  For awhile now, I’ve been thinking that teams should spend less time focusing on the radar gun and more time on the strike zone.  If there is anything we’ve learned from Kyle Farnsworth, it’s that major league hitters will hit the snot out of a fastball if it is straight, regardless of its velocity.  On the flip side, watching Soria is like seeing a magician.  His fastball is decent, but it doesn’t light up the gun, yet he is able to throw the pitch right by the batter, and if you didn’t know better you’d think he hit 100+ on the gun.

Maybe Braden is an anomaly, maybe he is just lucky or one-of-a-kind.  That theory might hold some weight, but he isn’t the only one.  There is a long list of effective pitchers who don’t have amazing fastballs; guys like  Mark Buehrle, Doug Davis, Jamie Moyer, Livan Hernandez and Justin Duchscherer to name a few recent examples.  Most of those pitchers are lefties, which certainly helps them get a chance in the majors.  However for the most part, these are also extremely durable pitchers.  It’s a pretty simple correlation to make that throwing in the upper 80′s rather than the upper 90′s is much better for a pitchers arm and shoulder.

It seems that if given a chance, a pitcher who likely is a lefty and can pound the strike zone, can be effective and durable.  Two very nice attributes to have in a pitcher.  I put together a few stats from those previously named pitchers in the MLB and the minors, to see what they had in common.

Player BB/9 K/9 FB Speed MILB BB/9 MILB K/9 Round Drafted
Moyer 2.56 5.38 81.6 2.6 6.9 6
Braden 2.76 5.65 87.5 2.4 10.1 24
Davis 4.06 6.71 85.6 2.8 8.6 10
Hernandez 3.09 5.60 85.3 4.5 7.9 FA
Duchsherer 2.40 6.87 85.9 2.2 6.8 8
Buehrle 2.06 5.16 86.3 1.4 5.2 38
2010 mlb avg 3.50 7.00 91.0

Pretty much what I expected.  These pitchers have slow fastballs, decent strikeout rates and fantastic walk rates.  Other than Doug Davis, these pitchers had extremely good walk rates in the minor leagues, and other than Buehrle, they had very good strikeout rates as well.

The other interesting fact was that all of the players drafted were low, to very low round draft picks.  That shouldn’t be too big of a surprise, high velocity fastballs get scouts excited and are also easy to quantify in a short visit.  Scouts don’t really get a chance to watch pitchers day in and day out.  They get into town, scout a guy and move on.  They have to, its part of their job.  So if they see a guy who has a fastball in the upper 80′s, they mark it on their sheet and move on.  They probably don’t get a chance to see that over the course of 10 starts that pitcher walked only 10 guys, and that he has pinpoint control.  So when draft day comes along, the fire throwing pitchers go first and the low velocity guys get picked up as organizational filler in the later rounds.

Clearly there are lots of slow tossing pitchers who don’t make the majors because they aren’t effective. However, it could also be a case of guys not really getting a chance to perform in the majors.  It seems that so far there are some real benefits to soft tossing starters: they can be effective, they are durable and finally they are cheap.  A 10th round selection costs very little money or resources from the club.

The question then kind of begs itself: Do the Royals have any guys who fit this bill?  Check out this current Royals minor leaguer’s statistics.

Year Age Level ERA BB/9 SO/9
2006 18 Rk 0.92 0.5 8.2
2007 19 Rk 2.47 1.8 10.9
2008 20 A 3.38 2.2 9.7
2009 21 A+ 4.33 1.7 6.9
2009 21 AA 3.72 2.4 5.7
2010 22 AA 1.09 0.8 6.8
Total 3.18 1.9 8.2

Good walk rate: check.  Good strikeout rate: check.  Lefty: check.  But does he have a weak fastball? Here are some scouting reports on this as yet unnamed pitcher:

“he is a “soft tossing” lefty that exhibits an 85-87 mph fastball with a refined curveball and change up.” – Royals Revival

“He doesn’t throw hard at all. Topping out at 88-90 he doesn’t have much room for error and he profiles like a lot of other soft tossing lefties who have gotten hitters out in the minors (but not necessarily the majors).” – Talking Chop

If you haven’t figured out who this unnamed minor league pitcher is yet, it’s Rule V pick Edgar Osuna, who is currently tearing up competition for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in AA.  I am not saying he will throw a perfect game like Buehrle and Braden, or that he will have the longevity of Moyer and Hernandez; however, he could be an effective and durable left handed starter for the Royals in the future.  Personally, I hope he gets a chance to show what he can do at the highest level, despite not having a big time fastball.  It all goes back to the old fable: “The Colt Griffen and the Mark Buerhle”…errr I mean “The Tortoise and the Hare”.  Fast guys don’t always finish first.

Year Age Level ERA BB/9 SO/9
2006 18 Rk 0.92 0.5 8.2
2007 19 Rk 2.47 1.8 10.9
2008 20 A 3.38 2.2 9.7
2009 21 A+ 4.33 1.7 6.9
2009 21 AA 3.72 2.4 5.7
2010 22 AA 1.09 0.8 6.8
5 Seasons 3.18 1.9 8.2