Player Profile: Kyle Weiland

BOSTON, MA - JULY 10: Kyle Weiland is consoled by teammate Jason Varitek after Weiland was thrown out of his major league debut game after hitting Vladimir Guerrero of the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Kyle Weiland came to the Astros in the Melancon trade, which creates some curiosity among Astros' fans. Conroestro wrote about the competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation; since Weiland is a bit more of a mystery to Astros' followers, I will provide a more in-depth profile of the former Red Sox prospect. Among the five potential starters in conroestro's article, the 25 year old Weiland joins Harrell and Lyles as 4 pitch pitchers, which may give them an advantage in competition for the rotation.

I should give a hat tip to conroestro for finding this article by alex speier, which I use liberally. Weiland's interview at Soxprospects.com was also useful. Weiland impresses me in the latter article as a young pitcher who has given some thought to his craft.

BACKGROUND

Weiland went to Eldorado High School in New Mexico Weiland showed promise at a young age as a swimmer, but switched to baseball at age 10. While in little league, Weiland received instruction from two star pitchers at Eldorado High School who would, themselves, become draft selections. One of those players, Kyle Evans, went on to have both a college (Baylor) and minor league career followed by work in major league front offices as a scout. When Weiland was eligible to be drafted out of Notre Dame, Evans happened to be an advance video scout in the Red Sox front office and he encouraged to the Sox to look at Weiland.

Weiland was a good college closer at Notre Dame, relying upon a sinking fastball and good curveball. But the Red Sox believed that Weiland had the ability to pitch as a starter. Going into the 2008 draft, the Sox believed that Weiland could be a bargain draft pick, because most teams were unaware of his pitch repertoire and would view him as a reliever. Because Weiland might only pitch one inning in a three game series in South Bend, he was hard to scout. The Red Sox scouts compared Weiland to the groundballer, Justin Masterson, who they believed was a bargain draft selection in the preceding year. When they drafted Weiland in the third round, the Red Sox front office felt that they had gotten a first or second round talent with a lower draft pick.

Weiland signed quickly so that he could begin the transition process to becoming a starting pitcher in short season ball, and he was very impressive. He was pushed up to High A Salem, where he initially struggled until he adjusted to the competition and ended the season brilliantly. Although Weiland's FIP and ERA increased in AA, the fact that he increased his K rate (8.4 per 9 IP) and BB rate against better competition was a more important indicator. The results looked worse due to an increase in his HR/fly rate. In AA, Weiland learned how to use his curveball as a backdoor pitch against lefties. As a result, Weiland became equally effective against batters on both sides of the plate.

Weiland put everything together when he moved up to AAA in 2011. During spring training last year, he added a cutter to his repertoire, giving him another weapon against lefthanded bats. This Baseball America report at mid-season raves that Weiland has shown both dominance and consistency. When BA posted that note, he had allowed 2 runs or less in 13 of his 16 starts; and he had just pitched a gem in which he allowed only 1 walk and 1 hit with 12 strike outs for Pawtucket. Overall, he posted a 3.58 ERA, 47% GB rate, and an impressive 23.5% K rate in AAA.

Weiland was called up to the big league team and posted unimpressive results in a small 24 inning sample. A couple of things need to be kept in mind about his big league cup of coffee. First, due to the Red Sox's desperation in a cratering season, Weiland was thrown into critical playoff-critical games while the Red Sox were in the midst of a chaotic team losing skid. The associated pressure is far from an ideal situation for a piayer to pitch in the big leagues for the first time. Second, in some of his previous promotions in the minors, Weiland sometimes got off to a bad start until he adjusted to the new level. Since scouts say that one of Weiland's positive traits is the ability to make adjustments, he may not show the desired results in the majors until he has a more extensive adjustment period.

Some video from Weiland's minor league days:

Weiland strikes out Astros' catcher Jason Castro

Strike out with a curveball in AAA

Swinging K on a curveball.

SCOUTING REPORT

Weiland is a lanky 6-4, 195 pounds. His pitches at 92 mph, and will occasionally touch 94 - 96 mph. He is best when he gets good downward action on his pitches. He will pitch inside, as evidenced by the fact that he led two of his minor leagues in hit by pitches. In his debut game in the majors, he was ejected for hitting two batters.

Soxprospects.com provides this scouting report before the season began last year:

A bulldog on the mound, Weiland’s best pitch since entering the Red Sox system has been his heavy 90-94 MPH fastball. With the ability to throw it in two variations, he switches it up well on batters and his ball comes in with excellent movement. When Weiland delivers his two-seam fastball, it sits around 91 MPH with good late life and run in on right-handed batters hands. He also mixes in his harder 92-94 MPH four-seam fastball, which he uses to paint the outside corner on righties or bust in on left-hand batters. This offering especially shows a lot of downward tilt when he finishes it lower in the zone and can either freeze batters or produce weak groundballs to infielders. Weiland’s attack of the strike zone starts with his plus fastball and he can pick up outs with it for extended stretches. After using his fastball almost exclusively in the beginning of his career with the organization, he’s sharpened his breaking ball over the last couple of seasons to more of a weapon he can use, pushing his arsenal closer to that of a major league pitcher. While acting mostly like a curveball and showing good arm-side break, Weiland will also throw a harder variation that breaks like a slider across the strike zone. The added crispness, improved command, and confidence in this pitch has allowed him to produce more swings and misses later in counts, while projecting him to continue to maintain his strikeout totals in the high minors.

Soxprospects updates the scouting report at the end of this season, including additional discussion of his cutter and curveball:

78-81 MPH curveball has made strides since signing. When he throws it arm side, it shows sweeping backdoor action and is effective against left-handed hitters. Can also bury his curve across the strike zone with harder break. Shows plus depth at times, but can wrap his wrist too much to cause loopy break. Has re-incorporated his cut-fastball this season. Sits 85-88 MPH and gives him another weapon to work with. Creates tight rotation and grades as a solid-average offering.

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A minor league teammate of Wieland describes the curveball:

"A lot of guys see that curveball out over the plate and it ends up on their back foot He probably got six or eight swings and misses last year [in Portland] on their back foot on a swing. Guys swing and miss and it hits them in the foot."

Former top prospect Andrew Miller pitched with Wieland in Pawtuckett, and gave his observations:

"He’s been throwing the ball incredibly well this year. His fastball moves all over the place," Miller added, describing it as an offering that sits at 92-93 mph and tops out around 94-95. "He’s got good breaking stuff, good feel and throws strikes. He’s got a lot of swing and miss pitches. He struck out a ton of guys. … Hopefully, he comes up here and trusts his stuff, because it’s definitely good enough."

Weiland regards his two seamer as his best pitch, and says that his normal fastball mix is 80% two seam and 20% fours seam. He said that his cutter is effective against lefthanders and as a double play pitch.

Scouting reports frequently refer to Wieland as a late inning reliever on a contending team or a No. 5 rotation pitcher on a lower division team. However, it's worth noting that the Red Sox, a contending team, continued to view Wieland as a starting pitcher last year. Some of the Red Sox scouts liked Wieland as a future No. 4 pitcher for the Red Sox rotation, believing that his make up and ability to make adjustments would allow him to become a successful starter.

My personal opinion is that the scouting reports may be underselling Wieland's ability to start in the majors. I think the Astros are making the right decision to keep Wieland's role as a starting pitcher right now. At this point, the question as to whether Wieland is more suited as a starter or reliever is dependent on his endurance rather than his stuff. In the minors, Wieland has shown a tendency to tire when he pitches deep in games, resulting in reduced velocity. Perhaps Wieland can mitigate this issue by working to increase his strength and develop greater endurance.

PITCH F/X

Because of the small sample size associated with Weiland's ML stint, we can only make tentative observations about the Pitch F/X results. The results (from Texasleaguers.com) for RHB, LHB, and Both are shown below.

Type

Count

Selection

Velocity

Vertical

Horizontal

Spin Angle

Spin Rate

FF

110

50.0%

92.6

8.35

-7.26

221

2,242

SL

60

27.3%

85.7

1.31

2.98

115

699

CU

27

12.3%

79.2

-6.23

9.32

57

1,890

FC

10

4.5%

89.4

6.72

-0.29

177

1,393

CH

9

4.1%

84.0

4.47

-6.28

237

1,435

FT

4

1.8%

90.7

6.10

-9.10

236

2,114

RHB (above) / LHB (below)

Type

Count

Selection

Velocity

Vertical

Horizontal

Spin Angle

Spin Rate

FF

133

59.1%

92.5

8.06

-7.19

222

2,192

CU

30

13.3%

78.4

-7.13

9.38

53

1,963

SL

24

10.7%

85.6

1.99

2.81

129

773

CH

24

10.7%

84.6

3.37

-5.78

240

1,331

FT

10

4.4%

91.4

5.94

-10.68

241

2,369

FC

4

1.8%

89.7

8.23

-2.27

194

1,693

BOTH

Type

Count

Selection

Velocity

Vertical

Horizontal

Spin Angle

Spin Rate

FF

243

54.6%

92.5

8.19

-7.22

221

2,214

SL

84

18.9%

85.7

1.51

2.93

119

720

CU

57

12.8%

78.8

-6.71

9.35

55

1,929

CH

33

7.4%

84.5

3.67

-5.91

239

1,359

FT

14

3.1%

91.2

5.99

-10.23

239

2,296

FC

14

3.1%

89.5

7.15

-0.86

181

1,479

One initial surprise arises from the mix of pitches. Only 5% of FBs (and 3% of all pitches) are two seamers. Yet Weiland considers his 2 seam FB his best pitch and normally throws 80% 2 seamers vs. 20% 4 seamers. This could be a problem with Pitch F/X properly classifying the 2 seam FB. That may be partly true, but Weiland's lower GB rate in his ML work supports the notion that he didn't throw as many 2 seam FBs as usual. He also threw barely any cutters---this is particularly surprising when you consider that he threw only 4 cutters to LHB.

What do we make of this? I think it's likely that there are some pitch classification errors. However, to the extent that Weiland modified his normal pitch selection when he pitched against major leaguers, perhaps this explains some of the poor results in his short ML stint. He may have been told to establish his 4 seam pitches first and he got knocked around before he could incorporate more pitches. A more likely possibility, I think, is that he leaned on the 4 seam FB because he was throwing it for strikes (59%) more readily than the 2 seam FB (50%). One of the scouting reports says that Weiland sometimes gets in trouble throwing 4 seam FBs over the plate when he can't throw the 2 seam FB for strikes in a count. I'm not sure why he didn't use the cutter more, but maybe it's because he was effective against LHBs without it. Using his curveball liberally against 53 LHBs, Weiland allowed a .176 batting average and .222 slugging percentage. Weiland's biggest problem against RHBs seemed to be 5 HRs in 65 PAs. Weiland has been very stingy in giving up HRs in the minors. His small sample 25% HR/fly rate against RHB is unsustainably high and likely to be unrepresentative of future results.

Weiland's curve ball shows good movement, both downward and to the side. Here is a Pitch F/X analysis which shows the top 10 breaking curveballs by RHPs in the majors during 2010--headed by guys like Adam Wainwright, Brett Myers, and Chris Carpenter. The vertical and horizontal break on Weiland's curveball fits in favorably on that list. Maybe it was breaking too much, given that he had a hard time throwing it for strikes (44%). Batters fouled the pitch off a lot too. I know that this is tentative, but there are some signs that Weiland curveball could be a plus pitch if he can make it more reliable.

The break on Weiland's slider appears to be average. However, he was able to throw it for strikes more often than any other pitch (69%), and he used the pitch frequently.

Given the possibility that some 2 seamers may have been classified as 4 seam FBs, I don't think there is much value in comparisons of the vertical and horizontal break on his fastball.

The final characteristic I will examine is the spin rate on Weiland's curve ball. This probably is closer to speculation than analysis, but there is reason to believe that more rapid spin on a curve ball will decrease the ability of the batter to identify the pitch. In a previous article, I have linked this fascinating piece from B-Prospectus that describes the way that good hitters identify pitches based on recognizing the spin. As indicated in this Sports Illustrated article, proprietary Trackman data shows that high spin curveballs are 50% harder to hit than low spin versions.

One diffiiculty with using the Pitch F/X spin rate is that it measures only a portion of total spin, unlike the Trackman data. But, if one makes the assumption that Pitch F/X spin rate is indicative of total spin, we can compare the Pitch F/X spin for pitchers with high total spin to Pitch F/X spin on Weiland's curveball. Weiland's curveball spin rate compares favorably to Verlander's and Gio Gonzalez's, the two high spin rate curveball throwers on the Sports Illustrated list. It could be another positive sign for Weiland's curveball. But given the questionable assumptions behind this comparison, I use it more to say "that's interesting" than to make any conclusions..

I've probably over-analyzed Weiland's short performances in the majors, given the small sample size. But I think we can see some reason for optimism for his curveball as well as some reasons to discount the poor results produced in those starts.

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