D-backs Lefty Tommy Henry Is a Purveyor of the Art of Pitching

Tommy Henry
Arizona Republic

Tommy Henry isn’t a Statcast darling. The 25-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks southpaw doesn’t possess elite movement or spin on any of his four offerings, nor does he light up radar guns. What he does do… well, he pitches. Selected by the Snakes in the second round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Michigan, Henry might best be described as a purveyor of the art of pitching.

Fourteen starts into his big-league career — nine last year and five so far this season — Henry has admittedly had relatively modest success. He has a 5.23 ERA over 74 innings and has allowed 75 hits and 33 walks, with a pedestrian 49 punch
outs and a 15.3% K-rate. Writing him up prior to last season, our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen opined that “No. 4 starter is a reasonable ceiling” for the crafty left-hander.

Henry discussed his pitchability profile — one that stretches back to his formative days in Portage, Michigan — toward the tail end of spring training.


David Laurila: You grew up in a cold weather state. With that in mind, how have you developed as a pitcher?

Tommy Henry: “I would say the biggest development thing for me, as a kid, was that I wasn’t a hard thrower, so I had to learn how to ‘pitch.’ Basically, I had to learn what pitching was. My dad also forced me to throw a changeup at a young age. And honestly, a lot of me developing as a pitcher has been learning through adversity. There are a lot of things you’d like to learn before the adversity happens, but going through experiences and learning from those experiences has probably shaped me into the person I am today the most.”

Laurila: Elaborate on “not a hard thrower.” The term is obviously relative, but you grew up in Michigan, not a baseball hotbed like Florida or Texas.

Henry: “I didn’t throw hard for a Michigan kid. I didn’t even know… in retrospect, it would be really slow for a Texas or Florida kid. My senior year, I was up to mid-to-upper 80s, but when I was, say, nine to 15, I was probably 6-7-8 mph slower than everyone else. It took me a very long time to catch up to everyone in terms of velocity. And those are huge development years. They kind of shape who you are, how you see the game, how you play the game. I had to find different ways to get people out, and honestly, I’m thankful for it at this age.”

Laurila: It was smart of your father to make you learn a changeup, but what about a breaking ball? Did you throw from an early age?

Henry: “I actually didn’t start throwing a breaking ball until maybe my junior year or even my senior year of high school. I really just relied on those two pitches. The command of my fastball at a young age was basically how I would get people out. So yeah, I didn’t start throwing breaking balls until what I would consider pretty darn late.”

Laurila: Did you play travel ball?

Henry: “I did. I played for the Kalamazoo Maroons a little bit, then we kind of branched off and made our own team, the Midwest Athletics. We’d go to East Cobb, go down to Georgia, but other than that we were pretty much just playing in the Midwest.”

Laurila: In a nutshell, you were a low-velocity pitcher who relied on good command.

Henry: “Yes. I’d say that’s how I got by. I had to rely on getting ahead, kind of pitching on my toes and putting hitters on their heels based off of the count.”

Laurila: Did you have movement that allowed your fastball to play better than the velocity suggested it should?

Henry: “If I did back then, I had no idea. Like, I didn’t really know… I mean, I was very old fashioned in terms of knowledge. At that point, I just wanted to throw strikes with a couple of pitches and let hitters get themselves out.”

Laurila: You obviously know the movement profile now.

Henry: “Yes. It’s what would be coined as ride, a high-vert fastball. It’s not like a unicorn pitch, though. I get about 15 to 18 inches, but I also have a low release, which gives me a good vertical approach angle. I have no idea what the number would be on that, but that’s what they say.”

Laurila: What to you consider to be your best secondary pitch?

Henry: “It’s probably the curveball, which is a pitch that I picked up at the alt site in 2020. So it’s not new to me anymore, but it’s also not something I’ve always thrown.”

Laurila: What is the breaking ball you started throwing late in high school? Was it a slider, or just a crappy curveball?

Henry: “I guess I’d probably just call it a spinner. Maybe a slurve would be the category it would fit into. It wasn’t a true slider, and it definitely wasn’t like a 12-6.”

Laurila: You had Chris Fetter for a pitching coach at Michigan, and now you have Brent Strom in Arizona. How do the two compare?

Henry: “They’re somewhat similar in terms of how they balance old school with new school. They’re using the data, but at the same time not forgetting the art of pitching and the simplicity of that. They’re both masters at giving cues that relate to all different types of pitches. That’s a big reason I’ve really enjoyed my experience with them. They’ve both been hugely instrumental in my career.”

Laurila: You throw four pitches, including a fastball that’s far from high-velocity (90.7 MPH this year) and you rely primarily on command and keeping hitters off balance. I’d say that qualifies you as an art-of-pitching guy.”

Henry: “I mean, that sounds pretty complimentary. But yeah, I guess it’s the profile I would fit under. I’m definitely not what would be considered a power pitcher.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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