What Sets Rookie Jacob Faria Apart from Other Young Pitchers?

Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jacob Faria was a mid-ranked prospect who was promoted to the majors in early June, and has done nothing but excel in his five starts since then. Pitching into the seventh inning in four of his starts, the right-hander has given up just one, one, one, three, and two earned runs for an ERA of 2.23 to start his major-league career. His BABIP of .259 suggests that there has been some luck involved, but given his strong results throughout the minors (1.92 ERA in A/AA in 2015; 3.72 ERA in AAA in 2016, although he also put up a less impressive 4.21 ERA in 14 AA starts that year) the Rays hope that the 23-year-old will continue to succeed in the majors.

What he throws: Faria has a straightforward repertoire consisting of a four-seam fastball (“FF”), slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”), and curve (“CH”). His fastball has decent but not exceptional velocity, averaging 92.1 mph with a maximum of 94.4. Although there is just one fastball cluster (suggesting he doesn’t throw a distinct two-seam fastball), the four-seam does have a wide range of horizontal movement:

Faria’s fastball also has very good vertical movement, averaging 11.6 inches of “rise” compared to the path it would follow due to gravity alone. The chart below shows Faria’s fastball (red dot) compared to other right-handed pitchers this year; in terms of vertical movement, he is 38th of 441 right-handed pitchers this year:

The combination of good vertical movement and unpredictable horizontal movement should make it hard to make good contact with his fastballs.

Pitch usage and trends. Faria’s main pitches are his fastball (57.5% of pitches) and slider (25.2%), but his slider is almost entirely used against right-handed batters, with his curve being deployed against lefties. When behind in the count, Faria relies heavily on his fastball (74.5% of pitches); he hasn’t used his curve at all when behind in the count in 2017. He has thrown his changeup preferentially to left-handed batters, and when ahead in the count: on 0-2 and 1-2 counts, his changeup has made up 28.9% and 34.0% of pitches, respectively, compared to 6.7% and 0% on 2-0 and 2-1 counts:

With just five major-league games under his belt, it’s too early to say whether Faria’s game-to-game variations in repertoire are normal for him, whether he is still looking for a comfortable mix, or whether the pitch mix reflected particular matchups in those games. Most of his curveballs were thrown in his second game, while in his latest two games he has shown far more changeups and very few curves:

Pitch value. The small sample size for Faria’s pitches means that we need to take his pitch values with a grain of salt, but so far most of his pitches have been better than average in terms of total bases per 100 pitches, and around average for balls per 100 pitches. His slider, to left-handed batters, has apparently been awful (20 TB/100), but as his usage chart shows, he hardly throws any sliders to lefties: This represents two singles out of five sliders thrown to lefties in his career. Similarly, none of the 16 curves he has thrown in the majors have been hit, although half of them have been balls (including one hit-by-pitch), possibly explaining why he has been reluctant to use the pitch in most of his starts:

Pitch location. Faria has done a very good job of throwing strikes so far – perhaps too good. His fastballs, especially to right-handed batters, have mostly been straight down the middle. So far, presumably, the good movement on his fastballs has protected him from much damage from this location. His sliders also have tended to be pretty much in the middle of the strike zone to right-handers; to lefties, who rarely see sliders from Faria, the pitch is less likely to be in the heart of the zone. His changeup is the only pitch that he often throws outside the strike zone, and so far he has managed to get a good number of swinging strikes on the pitch (22.1% swinging strikes, vs. the league average of 15.2% swinging strikes on changeups); this may change as scouting reports come in:


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Featured image courtesy of Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

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