Let’s Overanalyze Two Julio Urias Starts

I know it’s obvious, but it’s worth a reminder. The most important thing to consider before serving up a Julio Urias take is that he is 19 years old. Think about what you were doing as a 19-year-old. Think about what Julio Urias is doing as a 19-year-old. When Stephen Strasburg was 19, his competition was the Mountain West Conference. When Jacob deGrom was 19, he was a shortstop at Stetson University. Julio Urias has already struck out seven major league batters. He’s 19! That’s more strikeouts than literally every other active major league pitcher had when they were 19, aside from Felix Hernandez who may one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

So Julio Urias is 19, and we must always keep that in mind, but he’s now been tasked twice with getting major league hitters out, and he hasn’t done a great job. He can be both unfathomably young and also ineffective at the same time — they aren’t mutually exclusive. The age isn’t an excuse; it just serves as context.

But we can have more context than age and results! How about the process? How’s the stuff? Ultimately, it’s the process that matters; the age will change and results can be wonky. Execute the process enough times and the results will follow. There’s still only so much we can learn from two games, but at the very least it gives us an excuse to analyze Julio Urias, which we’ve all been waiting for, and maybe we’ll see something to help quiet some of the alarm bells currently going off in Dodger Nation. We’ll observe some good, and we’ll observe some bad. We shouldn’t come way with a much different opinion of Urias’ future — two starts shouldn’t have moved the needle anyhow — but we’ll certainly come away with more information.

I’m going to cross-reference with excerpts scouting reports from Baseball America throughout this piece, because really, the scouting reports are still the most robust data we have on Urias. We’ve seen him make two starts; scouts have seen him make dozens.

The first strikeout of Urias’ career!

You hear scouts say all the time that a pitcher has “easy arm action” or “smooth mechanics” or a “fluid delivery,” but watching a game where seven or eight different pitchers are used, it’s not always easy to tell which guys have easy arm action and which guys are using too much effort. The first thing that stuck out to me about Urias is just how smooth his motion is. That’s an easy 94. In three years of Baseball America scouting reports, the word “smooth” appears twice, as does “easy,” and “clean” makes an appearance as well. There’s also this, about the fastball:

“His fastball sits at 90-95 mph, touches 97 and plays up because he hides the ball well.”

UriasHide

The fastball has great life. It’s sat 94.6 and touched 96.1, according to BrooksBaseball. It’s got 10 inches of “rise” and a spin rate of 2,444 revolutions per minute. Setting a ridiculously low minimum of 50 fastballs thrown, only three lefty starters have thrown harder, eight have gotten more rise, and three have generated more spin. Already, we have evidence of sound mechanics, deception, and a truly plus fastball.

“His changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch, and while he needs to harness it in the strike zone more often, the movement, deception and separation from his fastball make it a plus weapon.”

The changeup has come in, on average, at 80.7, giving it nearly 14 miles per hour of separation from the fastball. The only qualified starter in baseball with a wider velocity gap between their fastball and changeup is Urias’ teammate, Scott Kazmir. I did notice that Urias has displayed a tendency to slow his arm action when throwing the change, which hitters will eventually pick up on, but he still repeats his arm slot and has kept it down and arm-side.

“He manipulates [the curveball’s] shape and speed, giving it top-to-bottom depth at times, then getting wide at others, and mixes in a short slider.” … “Urias isn’t afraid to throw [any of his secondary offerings] in any count.”

He’s thrown the curve, and he’s thrown the slider. The slider’s shown what would be the highest spin rate of any lefty starter; the curve’s spin would trail only Rich Hill and Gio Gonzalez. He’s thrown both pitches to start at-bats against lefties and righties, suggesting confidence, and while he’s nearly kept them all glove-side, he’s left more than a handful up.

So that’s the stuff. Stuff looks good, stuff’s matched the scouting reports. No reason we should’ve expected much different. Urias, at 19, has a legitimate major league arsenal, and probably a legitimately plus major league arsenal. That’s already been put on display. Yet, the results are what they are, so let’s get to that part of things.

He’s given up 13 hits. The locations, from BaseballSavant:

UriasHits

Five of Urias’ 13 hits have come against well-located fastballs across the upper-edge of the zone. With Urias’ hard, high-spin, rising fastball, that’s exactly where he wants them. Three more have come against breaking and offspeed pitches located outside the zone. There’s some mistakes pitches in there, sure, but it’s not like he served up meatballs to the tune of nine runs in two starts. He made a couple costly errors, and batters hit good pitches.

This 2-2, two-out curveball to Neil Walker scored two. It’s just about a perfect pitch:

UriasWalker1

Jason Heyward hit this 2-1 fastball at the letters out of the park:

UriasHeyward

This two-out changeup to Juan Lagares came off the bat at 72 miles per hour, and is responsible for another two runs:

UriasLagares1

I included exit velocity in the second half of that pitch plot above, because Urias’ average exit velocity allowed, 25 batted balls in, has been an excellent 85mph. Exit velocity stabilizes very quickly, and while Urias is still slightly below that threshold, the point here isn’t to make sweeping claims of his true-talent contact management ability, it’s to gain a better sense of what’s happened. What’s happened is, Urias hasn’t been hit particularly hard, and he’s given up plenty of runs.

This is the major leagues. That’s going to happen. And it’s not like he hasn’t served up fat curveballs to some of the best hitters in the world that get hit off video boards a mile away (even if it was his third time pitching through the order, something that he has little-to-no experience doing professionally):

UriasBryant

What have we seen from Julio Urias? We’ve seen a 19-year-old face the best team in baseball and the defending National League champions. We’ve seen the delivery, deception and raw stuff that scouts have raved over for years. We’ve seen soft contact go for costly hits. We’ve seen big league hitters hit good pitches, and we’ve seen big league hitters hit bad pitches. We’ve seen Urias have a short outing, and we’ve seen Urias demoted. We’ve seen Urias walk too many batters and give up a whole bunch of runs. We’ve seen what we were all going to see eventually. We’ve seen a kid with a really bright future.

We hoped you liked reading Let’s Overanalyze Two Julio Urias Starts by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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some guy
Member
some guy

Watching his first 2 starts, he’s clearly going through the rookie adjustment. Pitches that were around the zone, he expected to get called strikes from the ump or he expected the hitters to bite. Once he figures out how to adjust, he’ll dominate.

kbn
Member
kbn

This really is the problem with leaving pitchers with dominant talent in the minors for any longer than you need to: they get used to expecting hitters to chase way too much. Any pitcher that has even a modicum of velocity or movement is going to dominate the minors, and it really isn’t until the majors that command is properly sussed out. Pedro Martinez was remarkably self-aware of this fact in his trip through the minors (at least judging by his accounts of it today), but I suspect most prospects are not.

Urias will be fine. We know it. The Dodgers know it. I strongly suspect he knows it too. And he’ll be back up in the majors this year.

channelclemente
Member

Well, that makes all the difference.