Player highlight: Dustin McGowan

Sorry I’ve been away so long, everybody. Finals were killer this year, and on my first few days of vacation I was only able to get a few minutes of internet per day. I’ve received a few requests for Blue Jays starting pitcher Dustin McGowan, so let’s use today to take a look at him.

Numbers


YEAR AGE LAST FIRST TEAM LG G GS IP ERA LIPS ERA WHIP DIPS WHIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB xGB% LOB% BABIP HR/FB LD%
2005 23 McGowan Dustin Jays AL 13 7 45.3 6.35 4.95 1.46 1.43 6.75 3.38 2.00 44.14 61.71 0.309 13.46 19.05
2006 24 McGowan Dustin Jays AAA 23 13 84.3 4.39 N/A 1.38 N/A 9.18 4.16 2.21 54.62* 67.77 0.303 11.29 11.76
2006 24 McGowan Dustin Jays AL 16 3 27.3 7.24 6.16 2.20 2.01 7.24 8.23 0.88 46.24 60.46 0.363 6.90 25.53
2007 25 McGowan Dustin Jays AL 27 27 169.7 4.08 4.07 1.22 1.31 7.64 3.24 2.36 50.81 68.61 0.276 9.15 15.86
07-1H 25 McGowan Dustin Jays AL 12 12 71.7 4.65 4.39 1.33 1.40 7.16 3.52 2.04 49.54 64.88 0.299 5.88 17.81
07-2H 25 McGowan Dustin Jays AL 15 15 98.0 3.67 3.94 1.14 1.27 7.99 3.03 2.64 51.44 74.00 0.258 11.76 14.34


Note: Minor league stats came from Jeff Sackmann’s excellent website MinorLeagueSplits.com.
*For minor league numbers, straight ground ball rate is given instead of expected ground ball rate.

Right off the bat, I’m going to call McGowan’s breakout for real. Look at the improvement in his control. He went from walking over 5 batters per game between Triple A and the Majors in 2006 to walking a little over 3 per game in 2007, improving from the first-half to the second and again over the final two months.

The above-average strikeout rate has always been there, and complementing it with improved control makes McGowan a solid pitcher. His ground ball rates aren’t quite in the Francisco Liriano/Felix Hernandez range, but they are well-above average and give McGowan an extra advantage over most power pitchers.

The best news of all? Over the final two months, his peripherals got even better as he posted an 8.79 K/9 and a 2.72 BB/9.

Arsenal

This is the same setup used for Felix Hernandez’s profile, except I’ve thrown in BIP/SWG. This measures the number of balls in play the pitcher allowed per batter swing, the lower the better. I’ve also changed the name of SWG/BALL to SS/BALL. It still measures the same thing, swinging strike to ball ratio, but distinguishes it from BIP/SWG.

Again, I haven’t done a lot of research with these numbers (although I plan on it in the coming weeks), but this data is just too interesting to ignore.

Dustin McGowan
Percentage of Total Pitches Recorded by Pitch f/x — 68%


PITCH SPEED BREAKX BREAKZ TOTAL PERCENT SS/BALL BIP/SWG SWINGING% BALL% CALLED% FOUL% IN PLAY%
Fastball 96.1 -6.08 10.82 935 51% 0.15 0.41 6% 38% 19% 20% 18%
Curveball 82.1 5.09 -3.81 209 11% 0.49 0.29 20% 41% 11% 14% 14%
Slider 88.1 2.98 2.91 375 20% 0.66 0.33 21% 32% 14% 15% 18%
Changeup 87.2 -8.36 6.31 174 9% 0.40 0.39 18% 45% 14% 7% 16%
Cutter 92.8 -2.87 8.63 149 8% 0.12 0.48 5% 39% 17% 18% 21%

League Average
Percentage of Total Pitches Recorded by Pitch f/x — 44%


PITCH SPEED BREAKX BREAKZ TOTAL PERCENT SS/BALL BIP/SWG SWINGING% BALL% CALLED% FOUL% IN PLAY%
Fastball 91.6 -1.78 9.86 145637 N/A 0.17 0.42 6% 36% 19% 20% 19%
Curveball 76.6 2.53 -4.10 27369 N/A 0.25 0.41 10% 40% 20% 13% 17%
Slider 82.7 1.47 2.47 51762 N/A 0.37 0.38 14% 36% 15% 16% 18%
Changeup 82.7 -1.93 5.88 39797 N/A 0.36 0.43 14% 38% 10% 16% 22%
Cutter 87.2 0.61 7.15 9661 N/A 0.24 0.42 9% 36% 16% 19% 20%

As you can see, McGowan has a very powerful arsenal working for him.

His fastball is right around average in nearly every category, despite the fact that it clocked in at over 96 MPH on average. That’s second only to Ubaldo Jimenez among starters who threw at least 100 heaters while Pitch f/x was watching. While the fastball itself is only average, it’s likely that it is a big factor in McGowan’s above-average changeup. He gets a lot of swings and misses on the change while showing decent command.

McGowan’s best offerings, though, are his curve and slider. Both are significantly above average in each of the most important categories (which, right now, I’m considering SS/BALL, SWG/BIP, SS%, BALL% as such), with the exception of the curve’s Ball Percentage, which is right around average. His curve is his best pitch, ranking second in baseball in Swinging Strike Percentage, third in Swinging Strikes per Ball, and third in BIP per Swing (among starters with at least 100 thrown).

The only thing we could say negative about McGowan’s Pitch f/x data is that he doesn’t have great control over certain pitches and that his cutter isn’t very good. As I said last time, I’m not an expert on batter/pitcher dynamics and how pitches interact, but in a vacuum, the cutter appears to be a poor pitch.

One last thing I wanted to check with McGowan is the monthly breakdown of his tracked pitches. I thought maybe he looked so good because the majority of his pitches were taken from August and September, when his peripherals were so good.


PITCHER PITCHES % OF TOTAL MONTH
Dustin McGowan 210 11% May
Dustin McGowan 450 24% June
Dustin McGowan 306 17% July
Dustin McGowan 389 21% August
Dustin McGowan 487 26% September

The majority of the pitches were from the second-half (59%), and 47% were from the final two-months. Still, our projection of McGowan should look much more like his second-half than first, so I think this exercise was worthwhile. This very nice repertoire makes me even more confident than McGowan could be primed for a second, even larger breakout in 2008.

Blue Jays defense


TEAM +/- RK RZR RK OOZ RK IF RZR RK IF OOZ RK OF RZR RK OF OOZ RK BABIP
Blue Jays 91 1 0.843 1 379 5 0.771 8 215 3 0.894 3 147 9 0.286


POS LAST FIRST INNINGS RZR LG AVG OOZ OOZ/(BIZ+OOZ) LG AVG
1B Overbay Lyle 972 0.809 0.741 26 0.131 0.135
2B Hill Aaron W 1410 0.865 0.830 57 0.104 0.104
SS McDonald John 799 0.845 0.816 51 0.180 0.128
SS Clayton Royce 500 0.806 0.816 27 0.144 0.128
3B Glaus Troy 928 0.706 0.680 48 0.190 0.139
LF Lind Adam A 651 0.898 0.855 22 0.147 0.147
LF Johnson Reed 503 0.841 0.855 18 0.144 0.147
CF Wells Vernon 1279 0.878 0.888 32 0.089 0.137
RF Rios Alex I 1250 0.905 0.877 43 0.163 0.141

McGowan’s .276 BABIP looks low out of context, but this amazing Blue Jay defense probably contributed a decent bit to it. The BABIP is still too low, but combine McGowan’s solid skills with this excellent defense, and a better than average BABIP should be no surprise.

The addition of David Eckstein [.783 RZR, .135 OOZ/(BIZ+OOZ)] will significantly hurt the defense next year. He’ll be taking John McDonald‘s spot, and he was actually worse than McDonald’s primary backup, Royce Clayton, in 2007. Unless a trade is made, we might not see much of Adam Lind in 2008 with Reed Johnson and Matt Stairs (below average with both the glove and range in LF in 2007) the top candidates for left, although Stairs could also play some first. Regardless, unless Lind plays as much as he did last year the defense will probably suffer a bit.

The rest of the diamond figures to remain relatively unchanged, but I think it’s safe to say that the Jays’ defense will be worse in 2008. A BABIP around .295 looks about right for McGowan.

2008 outlook

I definitely think McGowan is primed to take another step forward in 2008. He was once a big-time prospect, and at the age of 26 seems to be living up to that billing.

I could certainly see his K/9 jumping above 8.00, but we’ll put his average expectation down for 7.90. If he ever gets the BB/9 to around 2.50 with a K/9 over 8.00 he could be a beast, but for 2008 let’s put that walk rate down at 3.20. The ground ball rate should again be around 50%.

Put all of this together, and we could expect an ERA in the 3.85-3.90 range and a WHIP around 1.30. Given a reasonable jump to 190 innings pitched (and with a 7.90 K/9), McGowan would finish with a helpful 167 strikeouts. I could see the offense being a little better with the addition of Eckstein, and 13 wins should be reachable.

Market value

ProTrade: 36th SP
FOX Sports: 47th SP
CBS Sportsline: 51st SP
CBS Draft: 52nd SP
Sports Fanatics: 54th SP
The Fantasy Man: 61st SP
MLB Fantasy 411: Not in Top 20 SP
Yahoo!: Not in Top 26 SP

Conclusion

McGowan is a guy who I think a lot of guys might peg as a sleeper, but because he gets so much “under the table” hype, he actually becomes overvalued. That ProTrade rank, which is determined by actual players and not writers, really scares me. I like McGowan a lot and think he could be an excellent player in 2008, but the chance is definitely there to lose value if you have to reach for him.

Watch him closely, and if the rest of your league is following the mindset of CBS, the Fantasy Man, and the like, you could have a steal on your hands.

Final thoughts

I won’t be posting tomorrow or the next day, but I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you’re traveling, be safe.

I’ll be back after the holiday with some cool stuff planned, so be on the lookout.

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