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The curious case of Tim Adleman

The journeyman needs to alter his pitch mix if he wants to stay in the majors.

MLB: Spring Training-Cincinnati Reds at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, my colleague Ryan Romano wrote a piece on how Chad Green needs to improve his fastball command. He looked at the 10 starting pitchers with the highest fastball whiff rate in 2016 (Green ranked No. 1). Most of the names were the usual suspects, including past Cy Young winners Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer. However, there was one name on that list — second behind Green — that seemed out of place: Tim Adleman of the Cincinnati Reds, who got a swing-and-miss on 16.1 percent of his fastballs.

Tim Adleman has been a journeyman pitcher who’s bounced around between a few minor league systems and independent leagues. Last year, he finally got his cup of coffee with Cincinnati, where he ended up starting 13 games for the last-place club in the NL Central. Here are his stats from last year:

Adleman 2016 stats

Split IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% HR/FB% ERA FIP cFIP DRA
Split IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% HR/FB% ERA FIP cFIP DRA
Tim Adleman 69.2 6.1 2.6 1.7 .252 36.4% 13.7% 4.00 5.30 98 3.75
MLB --- 8.1 3.1 1.2 .298 44.7% 12.8% 4.19 4.19 100 4.29
Data via FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus

Some of these numbers are unflattering, mainly the below-average ground ball rate (contrary to what his manager may think, as we’ll see later) and too many home runs. However, two interesting stats are his DRA and cFIP. Unlike ERA or even FIP, DRA adjusts for specific parks, platoons, framing, and quality of opponents. It also has proved itself as a better predictive indicator of a pitcher’s quality than FIP, which is thought to be more predictive than descriptive. By DRA, Adleman was a good deal better than average in 2016. Meanwhile, his cFIP — FIP adjusted for individual batter, park, catcher and even umpire — is a slightly above-average 98.

Now, going back to where we started, Adleman had a whiff rate of 16.1 percent on his four-seamers. So let’s see if we can learn something about this pitch.

Adleman’s four-seamer

Frequency Velocity (mph) H-Movement V-Movement Strike% Whiff% Foul SLG. BABIP
Frequency Velocity (mph) H-Movement V-Movement Strike% Whiff% Foul SLG. BABIP
32.2% 91.6 -4.8 9.7 71.4% 16.1% 24.9% .321 .220
Data via Brooks Baseball

Although Adleman’s velocity is fairly average, it seems he gets the most out of it by generating a high percentage of whiffs and weak contact. His zone profile sheds some light on how he’s accomplished that:

Adleman was more successful in generating whiffs up in the zone, which might suggest that there’s some deception on his fastball. His perceived velocity was almost identical to his average velocity (91.2 mph), while his spin rate was also quite close to the MLB average spin rate on fastballs. Nonetheless, he’s been quite successful by living up in the zone.

The four-seamer isn’t the only pitch in Adleman’s arsenal, though. Another interesting aspect of Adleman’s pitch selection is his use of his sinkers. Of the 63.4 percent fastballs Adleman threw in 2016, almost half of them were sinkers. Let’s take a closer look at his use of sinkers:

Adleman’s sinker

Frequency Velocity H-Movement V-Movement Strike% Whiff% Slg. BABIP
Frequency Velocity H-Movement V-Movement Strike% Whiff% Slg. BABIP
31.2% 91.4 -7.6 6.7 66.2% 4.4% .560 .254
Data via Brooks Baseball

Not only were hitters slugging .560 against his sinkers, he also threw them for fewer strikes, and generated minimal swings-and-misses. His downward movement on his sinker is also less than his four-seamers by a significant margin.

This makes Adleman’s usage of his four-seamer and sinker all the more confusing.

Pitch Usage

vs. LHH Fourseam Sinker
vs. LHH Fourseam Sinker
All Counts 35% 28%
First Pitch 39% 31%
Batter Ahead 22% 56%
Even 37% 25%
Pitcher Ahead 44% 10%
Two Strikes 44% 8%
vs. RHH Fourseam Sinkers
All Counts 30% 34%
First Pitch 31% 33%
Batter Ahead 27% 49%
Even 30% 33%
Pitcher Ahead 32% 22%
Two Strikes 38% 24%
Data via Brooks Baseball

It’s quite puzzling that when he falls behind, Adlemen goes to his sinker, which is probably his worst pitch. He trusts his four-seamer more when he’s even in the count or when he’s ahead.

It is possible that Adleman tries to generate ground balls by throwing more sinkers and keeping the ball low in the strike zone. In fact, Reds manager Bryan Price had this to say about his new journeyman:

“He’s got that type of fastball, and it’s a good fastball, up to 94, but he’s got that type of fastball with that deception and late life that makes it a little more valuable than just the velocity would suggest. He’s also a ground ball pitcher and keeps the ball down in the zone.”

There’s more deception in Price’s belief about Adleman’s ability to generate ground balls than there is in his sinker. But there’s definitely something to be said about his four-seamer; even if its ground ball rate was below-average, it was by far his best pitch.

Of the four pitches he throws — four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, and curveball — Adelman’s four-seamer and changeup are his best two pitcher. Given we’ve analyzed a very tiny sample size of 69 23 innings, I’m not sure what we can make of this. However, given his pitch usage, as well as his ability to generate whiffs on the heater, Adleman in the long run seems more suitable for a long relief role, one where he can use his four-seamer/changeup combo to get through the lineup at least one.

Whether it’s relief or starting, it’s probably safe to say that Adleman needs to trust his four-seamer more and maybe reduce his use of his sinker. He could become something of a poor man’s Marco Estrada, junkballing his way to glory.