Detroit Pitching Prospect Ty Madden Is Embracing Data

© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ty Madden has established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the Detroit Tigers system. Drafted 32nd overall last year out of the University of Texas, the 22-year-old right-hander has a 2.92 ERA to go with 119 strikeouts and just 88 hits allowed in 114 innings between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. Moreover, he’s been especially impressive since earning an early-August promotion. Over his last four starts, Madden has fanned 29 Eastern League batters while surrendering just three runs in 22-and-a-third innings.

Earlier this summer, I asked Madden how much the organization’s analytics-driven pitching program has impacted his development.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot since coming to pro ball,” said Madden, who was still in High-A when we spoke. “Before, I knew a good amount of the information, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. The staff here has kind of taught me what these numbers mean — when they’re good versus when they’re bad — and there are also the analytics for hitters. Along with knowing your own stuff, there is the game plan and how to go against that particular lineup.”

Madden features a five-pitch arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, so while he’s not a power pitcher in the purest sense, he does have the ability to go right after hitters. But again, his early-career education includes using data to take advantage of hitters’ weaknesses. And while the information isn’t as robust in the minors as it is in the big leagues, Madden has been impressed with what he’s been provided. Just as importantly, he’s looking at it with an increasingly nuanced lens.

“The reports we have are pretty in-depth,” opined the right-hander. “A lot of it is where the hitters hit for power and where their swing-and-miss is, and both of those are obviously really important. The sample size is getting bigger each day, too. My data is getting bigger as well. The scouting reports that teams have on me are getting more in-depth, so I need to be aware of that as I go along.”

Madden has become aware that his fastball can be effective up in the zone. That wasn’t so much the case as a college player, but he’s improved his spin efficiency thanks to a mechanical adjustment that has him working on less of a downward plane. High heaters are now part of his attack plan, albeit not as his primary weapon. As Madden explained, “I can’t abuse that. My bread and butter is still stealing strikes down and away, so I save elevating for when it’s going to most play to my advantage.”

Throwing more fastballs up in the zone hasn’t been Madden’s only adjustment in his first full professional season. Detroit’s no. 8 prospect has upped his curveball and changeup usage, and he also began throwing a cutter midway through the summer. The tweaks have largely been data-driven, but while Madden has clearly bought in to the organization’s increasingly analytical approach, he’s still got a little bit of old school to him. The righty believes in a balanced approach to pitching.

“When we first started working on things, it was a little more about the pitch lab — and we still have the tech set up when we throw our bullpens — but I still value the eye test,” explained Madden. “I think your eyes tell you a lot about whether your pitches are good or not. For instance, I don’t need numbers to tell me that I got around a pitch. At the same time, having the data definitely helps. I’m a better pitcher because of it.”

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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