Brandon Finnegan Is Also Great and Will Suffice

Earlier today, managing editor Dave Cameron requested (perhaps idly) of Kansas City manager Ned Yost that he resist the temptation to persevere with starter James Shields any longer than is necessary during tonight’s wild-card game against Oakland. The logic of Cameron’s point rests not in the fact that Shields is a bad pitcher — to the contrary, he’s quite talented — but that (a) starters almost universally becomes less effective during their second and third and fourth trips through an opposition lineup and also (b) the Royals feature a number of relievers who, on a per-batter basis, are Shields’ equal or, in many cases, even better.

Indeed, the Royals feature such a panoply of talented bullpen arms that Cameron neglected to mention one of that bullpen’s newest members: left-hander and 2014 draftee Brandon Finnegan. Since his major-league debut on September 6th, Finnegan has been excellent in limited exposure, recording strikeout and walk rates of 35.7% and 3.6%, respectively, and a 38 xFIP- over 28 batters and 7.0 innings.

Regard this artisanally crafted table shows featuring the top-five starters for Kansas City by xFIP in September, on which Finnegan places third:

# Name IP TBF K% BB% GB% xFIP-
1 Greg Holland 8.0 26 53.9% 7.7% 60.0% 23
2 Wade Davis 11.2 46 41.3% 4.4% 64.0% 25
3 Brandon Finnegan 7.0 28 35.7% 3.6% 58.8% 38
4 Tim Collins 3.2 13 38.5% 7.7% 42.9% 59
5 Jason Frasor 7.0 26 23.1% 7.7% 55.6% 79

As noted by Cameron with regard to Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez on yesterday’s edition of the podcast, a solid No. 2 starter would almost immediately become any club’s best reliever — for a number of reasons, probably, but largely because a No. 2 starter doesn’t usually exhibit the same sort of vulnerability to opposite-handed hitters as does a reliever.

Chances are Brandon Finnegan is not right now a solid No. 2 starter in the major leagues. Over two-thirds of the batters he’s faced, however, have been right-handers, and his strikeout and walk numbers against them (19 TBF, 7 K, 1 BB) have been superlative.

To get a sense of what might make him effective against both kinds of batters, consider this table of Finnegan’s swinging-strike rate by pitch type. Whiff denotes Finnegan’s swinging-strike rate by pitch type, MLB Avg is the league-average swinging-strike rate, and Whiff+ is Finnegan’s swinging-strike rate expressed as an index stat.

Type Count Whiff MLB Avg Whiff+
Sinker 83 14.5% 5.4% 268
Change 19 26.3% 14.9% 177
Slider 15 13.3% 15.2% 88

So far, Finnegan’s sinker — a pitch he throws more often to right- than left-handed batters — has produced a swinging-strike rate roughly 2.5 higher than the league-average sinker. Retaining that level seems unlikely, but, just as important as one pitch producing remarkably high swinging-strike rate is that all of Finnegan’s pitches have been roughly average or better — indicating that, if Finnegan is utilized at some point during tonight’s wild-card game, Ned Yost should feel reasonably comfortable allowing him to face batters on either side of the plate.

In conclusion, here’s Finnegan throwing an unnecessarily deft first-pitch slider to Michael Bourn once:

Finnegan SL Bourn Called 1st Pitch

And that same thing, more slowly:

Finnegan SL Bourn Called 1st Pitch Slow

Brooks Baseball was of no little help in the composition of this post.





Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Sweet Robert Frost allusion, dude.