Scouting Adam Plutko, UCLA ‘14by Kyle Boddy
February 18, 2013
Adam Plutko is a right-handed pitcher for the UCLA Bruins, not having signed after being picked in the sixth round by the Houston Astros in 2010 out of Glendora High School. Standing 6-foot-3 and approximately 200 pounds, Plutko is a flyball pitcher who tends to work up in the zone with the following pitch arsenal:
Fastball: 89-92 mph, fairly straight
Slider: 79-82 mph, wide break instead of tight rotation due to lack of velo
Curve: 70-72 mph, freeze pitch / strike stealer
Change: 80-82 mph, strikeout pitch
Here's some high-speed video of him throwing at UCLA, courtesy of Steve Fiorindo:
Unfortunately the video isn't cut from the exact planar angles I'd need to take static kinematic measurements, so that's out of the picture, but 200 frames per second allows for fairly detailed analysis all the same.
My first reaction after seeing him pitch was:
So, if that's all you wanted to know, show's over! If you wanted some more details, then let's continue on.
Who is this guy?
I took one look at Plutko and immediately sent it to my friend who's a pro scout. The first question he asked me was, "Is this guy a (Texas Baseball) ranch guy?"
The Texas Baseball Ranch is the home of Ron Wolforth, most famous for turning out Trevor Bauer. I didn't know if Plutko trained at the ranch, but he does go to UCLA, where Bauer pitched. Curious about the similarities, I synchronized their high-speed videos as best I could (Steve's and Trevor's cameras shoot at different frame rates, which is evident when you watch the video), and came up with this:
I see a lot of similarities here. Though Bauer has a more pronounced hip lean into the linear phase of the delivery, Plutko does a great job of creating the hip angle I like to see:
Both Plutko and Bauer like to work up in the zone and believe that fly balls are advantageous, which, by the way, they might be right about when you adjust for their level. Plutko even said, "It’s a lot easier to get outs with the ball in the air than with the ball on the ground."
For those who don't want to read the above linked article, if you simply consider that BBCOR bats are close to the performance of wood bats and that college hitters are worse than professional hitters, you can start to grasp how home run-per-fly ball ratio is probably much lower on average among amateur hitters, and, therefore, fly balls are less scary to give up. (Also consider the cooler weather during the NCAA season.)
Though Bauer's velocity is significantly better and he struck out more hitters than Plutko, they seem to go about their business in a similar manner, and there are a lot of similarities in their mechanical patterns. Pretty interesting!
Plutko creates great linear momentum to the plate with his hip angle on approach and does an awesome job of stacking the torso behind the midline. He keeps the throwing shoulder back, and the torso remains closed through the delivery, which allows greater time to apply force to the baseball.
However, Plutko does not allow this minor counter-rotation to delay his throwing arm at footstrike. In other words, he doesn't create hyperangulation or hyperabduction of the throwing arm (often known as the Inverted W), and his forearm is slightly inside vertical and on time at Stride Foot Contact (SFC):
Plutko also has a great torso deceleration action, as he forwardly rotates his throwing shoulder into the target, giving his pitching arm a long path of deceleration and utilizing the large muscles in the back to help slow the arm down. Wolforth tenets would call this the late launch
There's a lot to like in Plutko's delivery.
Plutko's delivery is pretty good all around. If I had to nitpick, I'd just say that he seems to extend at the pitching elbow a bit more than I'd like after ball release and doesn't have the best forearm pronation in his recovery phase. This could lead to irritation to the elbow and eventual bone chips due to repeated collisions of the bones in the back of the elbow and the forearm. However, it's not a large mechanical flaw as it pertains to ulnar collateral ligament damage, which is the major issue that most teams want to avoid.
No, Plutko's problems are due to his iffy control and the modest strikeout rate he posted in 2012. Though he suppressed home runs fairly well (despite being a flyball pitcher), his walks were pretty high at 3.53 per nine innings, and his strikeouts were not eye-poppingly great at just 7.45 per nine. He'll have to bring those numbers up to be considered a high draft pick in the 2013 draft, even if this draft class is thinner than most.
I would grade Plutko's mechanics as very good. I recently did a small project to test my mechanical grades against injury rates and found that my blend of subjective/objective measurements produced a fairly decent predictor of injury rate. (An article may be forthcoming on this as I do more research and depending on how much I can release given some obligations I have.) Only a few pitchers in that small test group graded out as better than Plutko. Bauer was one of them, naturally.
However, the 2013 version of Trevor Bauer's pitching mechanics will be different than what you are used to! Here's a conversation we had over Twitter:
The YouTube video of the differences can be seen here:
However, analyzing all of that is for another article in the future!
References and Resources
Thanks to Steve Fiorindo of Bullpen Banter for the high-speed video.
Kyle Boddy is the owner of Driveline Baseball and Driveline Biomechanics Research, both in Seattle, Washington. At his facility, he's melded statistical analysis, strength & conditioning, prehab/rehab, and advanced biomechanical analysis concepts to develop improved efficiency, durability, and fastball velocity of baseball pitchers. He is the author of The Dynamic Pitcher, a comprehensive book and video set dedicated to developing elite youth baseball pitchers.
He can be reached via email at email@example.com and found on Twitter: @drivelinebases.