Pitching Profile: Atlanta Braves Starter Matt Wisler

While the Atlanta Braves offense has struggled to score runs and their rotation lacks a true ace, the team does have some players to watch. The team has bolstered their farm system via trades, and there’s one player in the rotation that has a bright future ahead of him. Ian York uses PITCHf/x to break down the repertoire of Atlanta Braves starter Matt Wisler to determine what kind of role he can play in the rebuild for the scuffling organization.

Matt Wisler was one of the players the Atlanta Braves received from the San Diego Padres in the spring of 2015, in return for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. At the time, the 22-year-old Wisler had yet to throw a pitch in the majors, but on June 19 he was promoted to the big leagues to start against the New York Mets. He ended the season with a 4.71 ERA, a 4.93 FIP, and a 1.459 WHIP in 109 innings. On September 3rd, he was briefly demoted to the bullpen. However, he quickly returned to the rotation and finished the season with 4 strong games in a row. So far in 2016, Wisler has put up a 3.10 ERA, 4.18 FIP, with a 0.934 WHIP in three starts. The difference between his ERA and FIP is likely explained by his abnormally, and almost certainly unsustainably, low .207 BABIP.

Wisler throws a common mix of pitches: four-seam fastball (“FF”), two-seam fastball (“FT”, often called a sinker), slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”), and curve (“CU”). PITCHf/x mis-identifies many of his pitches, confusing his slider with his curve and his two-seam fastball with his change; here I have manually re-categorized the pitches to correct this:

He mixes his pitches very differently to right- and left-handed batters. Righties see more four-seam fastballs, far more sliders, and very few curves or changes:

In 2015, Wisler’s most interesting pitch was probably his slider – his only positive pitch, according to FanGraphs. He throws it significantly slower than the average slider (82.3 mph vs. the average right-hander’s 84.7) and it has much more horizontal break than average (6.5 inches vs. 2.7 inches). His other pitches are generally average in velocity and movement, with the exception of an unusually fast changeup (86.7 mph vs. the average RHP 83.7 mph). That leads to about a 6.7 mph difference between his 93.4 mph fastball and the change; conventional wisdom suggests that more separation is needed for an effective changeup:

Wisler’s location seems to be decent, but not excellent, consistent with his mediocre walk rate of 3.3 BB/9 (28th-worst of 133 starters with at least 100 innings pitched in 2015). In these heatmaps, the strike zone as it was called in 2015 is shown as a grey polygon. The zones are shown from the umpire’s viewpoint, and the batter’s location is indicated with the silhouettes:

Wisler’s four-seam fastball is generally thrown in the heart of the strike zone to RHB. His two-seam fastball does a better job of finding the edges of the zone, and probably helps set up and make his four-seam more effective. His slider is often well below the strike zone, especially to LHB.

The overall picture for Wisler’s 2015 is of a mid- to lower-tier pitcher. That may seem disappointing for Atlanta’s second-highest rated prospect of 2015, but Wisler was just 22. The issues we see here – inconsistent command, a shaky changeup, an uncertain pitch mix – are not surprising in a young rookie. It would be surprising if some or all didn’t improve, perhaps dramatically, as Wisler gains experience. The lack of any particularly spectacular pitch means he probably doesn’t have ace upside, but he shows every sign of growing into a solid #2 or #3 in the majors.

Ian York uses the PITCHf/x to monitor the strike zone, highlights great performances, monitors league-wide trends and tracks the performances of some interesting young hitters.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

All data compiled from PITCHfx and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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