Getting to Know Tyler Thornburg

Before his trade to the Red Sox this offseason, Tyler Thornburg’s four full years in the majors were all spent with Milwaukee. The right-handed reliever has had variable results, with his ERA+ ranging from very good (191 in 2012) to mediocre (90 in 2014 and 109 in 2015, both seasons in which he spent significant time on the DL with an elbow injury). His career ERA+ is 141, and he comes off a season when he was healthy and had excellent results in 67 appearances (199 ERA+; 0.940 WHIP; 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings). Although he had some experience as a closer with Milwaukee in 2016, in Boston he will mainly be a setup man for Craig Kimbrel.

What he throws: Thornburg throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”), curve (“CU”), and changeup (“CH”):

Pitch usage and trends: Thornburg’s main pitch is his fastball, which he throws about 66.4% of the time. His curve (24.7%) makes up most of the remainder, with his changeup only being thrown about 8.9% of the time. His fastball, averaging around 94.7 mph, has good but not extraordinary velocity, and he maintained its speed well throughout the 2016 season (the bottom chart of the two below):

Thornburg uses his fastball and curve against both left- and right-handed batters, but his changeup is mainly used against lefties. When ahead in the count, he is more likely to use his curve; when behind, he cuts back on the curve and uses his fastball more:

Pitch value. All three of Thornburg’s pitches are more valuable than average, based on total bases per 100 pitches. His fastball, in particular, is an excellent pitch, yielding just 5.54 TB/100 compared to the average of 9.8 TB/100; it’s more effective against left-handed batters (3.8 TB/100), but is still above average to righties (6.7 TB/100). By comparison, his curve is an outstanding weapon against left-handed batters (1.0 TB/100) but is somewhat worse than average against RHB (8.7 TB/100), and his change is just average overall and downright poor against RHB (15.4 TB/100), explaining why he preferentially uses this pitch against lefties. Overall, Thornburg had a moderate platoon split in 2016, with opposing right-handed batters OPSing a still-respectable .635 against him, and lefties OPSing just .413:

Pitch location: The charts below show the typical location of Thornburg’s pitches. Although his fastball has no strongly preferred location, his changeup typically ends up in the same general area (outside to left-handed batters, inside to righties). To LHB, his curve tends to be in the strike zone, though with wide variability, but it typically drops out of the zone to right-handed batters:

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Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.