The Definitive Pitcher X Hype Piece

A few days ago in the ottoneu Slack community I played a little game of Name That Statcast Profile, posting the following:

That’s a lot of red. We can see that Pitcher X is inducing a lot of weak contact and bringing the whiffs at an elite rate. There’s not a lot about command here, but we’ll get to that later. This context free window into Pitcher X certainly looks nice.

Guesses were made and the answers were intriguing: Triston McKenzie, Chris Paddack, Sonny Gray, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber, Yu Darvish, and Jacob DeGrom.  All wrong.  I threw up his pitch mix:

Lots of sliders and fastballs. People correctly realized we were looking at a reliever (sort of, we’ll get to that). James Karinchak? Josh Hader? Also no.

Let this serve as the definitive Tejay Antone hype piece.

WHO?

Antone was drafted in the 5th round back in 2014 out of Weatherford College in Texas. From 2014 until 2016 he worked his way through the low minors in an unspectacular fashion, never getting above high-A ball (with the exception of one 5 inning start in AAA). His BB% hovered in the 4-5% range, with his K% fluctuating between 12-16%.  He consistently induced grounders at a well over 50% rate. He blew his elbow out and had TJ. He didn’t throw a pitch in anger until 2018.

In 2018 he went back to high-A, dropping numbers that were still largely unspectacular. His BB% ticked up a bit – not surprising coming off TJ – but so did his K%. In 2019 he worked his way up through AA and hit AAA, throwing 145 innings across the two levels. Still lots of grounders. Still middling control. Still not striking out a ton of batters. This looked like an organizational arm without much upside. 

Fangraphs had Tejay as the Reds 12th ranked prospect coming into 2020. They hung a 40 FV on him and noted that he was a potential fit “in a multi-inning relief role, maybe the back of the rotation.” He was sitting 89-93 with his fastball, touching 96.

Coming off the 2019 season the Reds hired Kyle Boddy as a pitching coordinator and Tejay bought into the Driveline philosophy.  From a 2019 AMA with Kyle Boddy on Reddit:

2020 was going to be different.

THE STUFF

Here’s what we’re looking like so far in 2020:

IPERAWHIPFIPxFIPSIERABABIPLOB%GB%FB%HR/FBBB%K%K-BB%F-Strike%SwStr%
20.12.660.843.883.693.380.13287%49%44%17%11.5%34.6%23.1%62.8%12.2%
From Fangraphs

A tad lucky, but with some tantalizing skills. Still, the sample is small, so let’s take a look at what his individual pitches are doing.

TypePitchesMPHRPMH-MovV-MovZone%Swing%Contact%K%BB%AVGOBPSLGwOBABABIPGB%HR/FB
Slider14083.52,6687-1.352.1%42.9%24.3%48.1%3.7%.154.185.423.254.18238.5%50.0%
Sinker13895.62,635-11.111.239.1%29.0%23.9%13.3%26.7%.2.448.25.342.2556.3%0.0%
Curve39802,96516.8-10.456.4%43.6%33.3%50.0%0.0%.05.05.2.1.40.0%25.0%
Change1087.51,924-18.32.930.0%50.0%30.0%0.0%0.0%.....0.0%0.0%
(Hat tip to Alex Chamberlain and his excellent Pitch Leaderboard v2, available here).

The first and most notable change for 2020 was that Tejay managed to add 3-4mph to his fastball. What once sat 89-93 is now averaging 96mph, touching 98. So, he’s faster.  Cool.

Also, he spins. That 2,635RPM on the sinker ranks 6th out of the 284 pitchers that have thrown at least 100 fastballs. The curve has a similar ranking. Eno Sarris in his most recent Command & Stuff Report over at The Athletic had Tejay’s QOS+ sitting at 122.5 (where 100 is average). With a larger sample that would have sat Tejay in 4th place on the overall QOS+ leaderboard.

In short, his stuff is why we see so much red on that Statcast profile. The sinker is a bread and butter pitch with crazy spin and solid velocity. He doesn’t generate many swings and misses with it, but it hasn’t given up a home run and puts a lot of balls on the ground.  The curveball and slider are genuine out pitches. Righties in particular seem to really struggle with that slider, which he regularly places down and away.  Lefties fare better against Antone, but aren’t exactly torching him (they’re hitting .161 off him, as opposed to only .081 for right handed bats). 

He’s striking out batters at a 34.6% rate. 23.1% is the average K% across MLB. That’s good for 12 K/9.

THE COMMAND

He’s got the stuff, but does he know where it’s going? His BB% sits at 11.5% against a 9.2% MLB average. So…not great. But he’s above average when it comes to getting first pitch strikes (62.8% against a 59.7% league average). With stuff like his it isn’t too surprising that he winds up dancing around outside the strike zone. Watching him pitch, Reds catchers don’t need to move their glove a ton, but it’s clear that the 3 home runs he’s allowed have come on pitches that flat missed their target. Still, his talent for getting ahead early in the count sets him up for success.

The command isn’t great – but with strike out rates like his he can get away with it.

WHY DO WE CARE?

In the Fangraphs Points and 4×4 formats Tejay does what we want our pitchers to do. Batters don’t make a lot of contact and when they do they aren’t squaring him up. His strikeout stuff and exit velocities are both near elite. MoaR stRiKoutS LEsS DoNGs FTW.

The issue is his usage. The Reds, when healthy, have a fully stocked rotation. Tejay is undoubtedly behind Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Anthony Desclafani, and Tyler Mahle when it comes to starters. Wade Miley isn’t very good, but he’s making a lot of money, so he’s up there too. Only 2 of Tejay’s seven appearances have come as a starter. The rest have been in (long) relief – four of them 2 innings or more in length. That creates a bit of a dilemma for his 2020 usage. High end long relievers are useful when they pitch, but you’ve got to identify when that’s going to happen. Guys like Freddy Peralta and Tejay Antone aren’t pitching every other day or every third day, so their ownership takes a bit more work. But we’re seeing the Reds confidence in Tejay grow and he’s scheduled to start in Sunday’s (August 6th) series finale against the Pirates. If the Reds confidence in Miley is waning (and it should be), we could see Tejay making some more starts as the Reds desperately try to make the playoffs.

2021 is a different story. Bauer and DeSclafani are free agents in 2021, paring that rotation down to Castillo, Gray, Miley, and Mahle. That leaves an open spot in the rotation – two if Miley’s mediocrity continues. Reports have Antone as well liked by the organization and it’s not outside the realm of possibility he winds up taking regular turns next year. Snagging him for $1 right now could easily net you a $3 back end starter with upside going into next year.

Right now Tejay is owned in only 40% of Ottoneu leagues at an average salary of $2. This is the month to churn and burn the dead weight on your roster. Snagging Antone could give you a useful starter in this last month and a possible keeper into 2021.

NOTE: As I was drafting this piece I noticed the guys over at Prospects Live beat me to the punch with their own hype piece “Tejay Antone Is Better Than We Thought.” Go read it, but I’ll still claim this as the definitive Ottoneu related Tejay Antone hype piece.

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