When Butler takes on UConn tonight, you can imagine that a large percentage of the people who have no vested interest in the outcome will be pulling for the Bulldogs. Butler isn’t the same Cinderella story as they were last year, but they’re still a mid-major who entered the tournament as an eight seed, and unlike UConn, they don’t have a long history of winning NCAA tournament games. They’re the little guy who shouldn’t be here, and we like to root for these guys to do well.
Basketball doesn’t have a monopoly on those kinds of stories today, though, as Brandon Beachy made his season debut for the Atlanta Braves this afternoon. Beachy was signed by the Braves in 2008 as an undrafted free agent, used mostly in relief during his first two season in their system, and then skyrocketed to the Majors after moving into the rotation last summer. After a fantastic spring training, Beachy was named the Braves fifth starter, beating out Mike Minor (who was taken seventh overall by the Braves in 2009) for the job in a rather major upset.
Today, he went up against the Brewers – you know, the team with the best offense in the National League last year. The knocks against Beachy have been that his stuff is pedestrian. He lacks an obvious knockout pitch, and while he’s listed at 6’2/210, that seems generous, so there’s not a lot of projection there. However, Beachy shoved his “pedestrian” stuff right down the Brewers’ throats today, and ended up giving up just one run on four hits over six innings, striking out seven Milwaukee hitters in the process. He made one mistake to Rickie Weeks, but besides that, he dominated a really good Brewers offense.
And honestly, he showed off the kind of repertoire that makes the “pedestrian” stuff label seem obsolete. His fastball was 90-93 and he showed the same average velocity as the likes of Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, and oft-hyped teammate Tommy Hanson in their first starts of the season. He threw 14 change-ups of varying speed, ranging from 78 to 84, and mixed them in with great effectiveness. He threw two breaking balls – a curve and what PitchFx classified as a cutter but is really more of a slider. The curve showed good break, and while it’s not a power hook (averaging around 74 MPH), it gets good enough movement and he commands it well.
How many major leaguer pitchers can sit in the low-90s, throw four pitches for strikes consistently, and feature two different breaking balls that are each effective in different ways? And how many of those are routinely knocked for lacking the stuff necessary to get hitters out on a regular basis? I’m going to go with zero.
Beachy is quickly transforming from a nice underdog story into a how-did-we-all-miss-the-boat-on-him type. He’s been getting professional hitters out since the day he signed, and at this point, there’s far more evidence to support the idea that Beachy is going to be a quality Major League starter than there is that he’s an overachiever who is going to get exposed against good competition. He faced some really good competition today, and he destroyed them.
Welcome to the show, Brandon Beachy. I think you’re going to stay a while.
Yes, I’m violating rule #2 right now. I don’t care.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.