As I continue my journey of learning about pitching, I started to look for players who seem like they would be an ideal fit into the Strom Magic Model - particularly ones who could have a huge amount of unrecognized value given their current performance.
Why? Well the Astros lack depth, and with an extremely short season - the trade deadline comes much quicker. While most players can be improved by implementing some of these concepts, I wanted to focus on the “diamond in the rough”. Someone who isn’t producing well in the big leagues, could be acquired at a low cost, and provide a monumental turn around. While there are tons of candidates that fell into this bucket, I decided to start with David McKay. It doesn’t get much worse than a 54 ERA and a player that was claimed for free.
McKay, is not a household name, and his 6.08 ERA across his 26.2 innings in the MLB is not going to get many people excited upon first glance. Couple that with sporadic but not great minor league results, a draft pedigree of 433rd overall, and never being a top prospect, and you may be wondering why I’m dedicating time to write about him.
Well, McKay has a few things that could become lead to him becoming a valuable member of a bullpen with quick adjustments to his arsenal, and if the mechanics can be corrected, could be someone to anchor the back end of a bullpen.
While I found McKay by looking for specific things, I decided to take a step back and look at his scouting reports. What I found, well was confusing at best. From 2080, to LookoutLanding, to Motorcity Bengals, to Perfect Game - the scouting reports were extremely inconsistent at best, citing excellent sliders, strong change-up and other elements that were not consistent across the reports nor the arsenal he’s primarily featured in the majors.
As you start to dig into McKay’s statcast numbers, there’s a few things that pop out. The obvious one, is McKay’s curveball, which ranks in the 98th percentile for spin rate, where he ranks 12th overall in the majors.
While he is not overwhelming anyone with a mind blowing fastball, he does get solid spin rates (2,383 rpm) and have essentially league average fastball velocity (93.8 mph). The pitch did top out at 96.2, and there were scouting reports showing him getting closer to the mid-high 90’s in the minors with his transition to the bullpen.
So why isn’t it performing?
“It’s not ‘high-spin breaking ball equals good,’ but ‘high-spin breaking ball is the raw material, along with the delivery, to turn that into an effective weapon,’” Mike Fast says.
You may also notice that McKay throws his sinker nearly 2⁄3 of the time (62.9%), but the pitch has performed poorly (.371 wOBA / .366 xwOBA). And while it’s easy to just write off the fact that he doesn’t have an elite fastball, there’s actually a lot more to this story.
One of the other notable points, is that although he throws so many sinkers, McKay is undoubtedly a fly ball pitcher with 69.8% of his balls in play going the way of fly balls!
Now you may wonder why, a pitcher focusing so heavily on his sinker would have such a problem with fly balls. And the reasoning is two fold:
From a movement perspective, McKay features a sinker that has below average movement from both a cutting in (to RHB), and down perspective. Simplest way to put it, his sinker - isn’t sinking.
From a location perspective, while McKay has struggled from a command perspective, he has also specifically targeted the worst zone possible from an EV perspective.
McKay’s release point is inconsistent, which has probably been a key factor to his command issues. With that said, it improved as he changed his delivery slightly, and impressively comes in at an average of 5’2” off the ground. (Here are some pitcher heights and their release points for reference point: Jose Urquidy height: 6’0, Release: 6’1”, Charlie Morton: 6’5, Release Point: 5’7”)
Despite having the advantage of a lower release point, McKay does a poor job tunneling his pitches, and given the locations, he’s using each one in a far less effective manner.
As you read this, you may note that a lot of what I was saying above is negative. But he possesses all of the raw material to make an above average pitcher, but just needs a different guide on how to deliver it.
McKay is a near perfect storm of the worst approach he could take given the immense advantages he possesses. With a simple alteration of having him utilize 4-seam fastballs high in the zone, suddenly his arsenal takes on new life. He can maximize the advantage of his spin rates, play up his velocity, increase his ability to deceive batters, and tunnel effectively especially with such a low release point.
It’s amazing, nearly every illustration you click on statcast seems to reinforce that he is following the wrong approach.
It took me a while to settle on the first pitcher to profile as a potential trade candidate that fill well into the Strom Magic Model. McKay is an extreme buy low type of project. From an acquisition standpoint, you’d have to assume that it would be a low cost acquisition given that the Tigers claimed him for free last year, and he hasn’t had the results that really excite fans or scouts alike.
With that said, McKay feels like a perfect storm of incorrect pitch design, allowing him to have a high potential that has not been tapped into. If he is open and receptive to Strom’s guidance on location based on Effective Velocity, overnight you could see McKay blossom from a bullpen mop up duty to an asset in any bullpen within the major leagues. If he refines past that, you’re talking about a player who could dominate and anchor the back end of a bullpen.
I know that this isn’t the type of acquisition that would excite fans, but could be a strong turn-around candidate under Strom based on the raw materials he has to work with. It would be interesting to learn more about him with better (and more consistent) scouting reports.