Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, a talented baseball scribe and wordsmith named Carson Cistulli created a fellowship of people under the unassuming moniker of The Corey Kluber Society.
The goal of the Society was to come together to appreciate the pitching acumen of then-healthy-Cleveland and now-injured-Yankee pitcher Corey Kluber. Had attendance been taken at the meetings of this illustrious organization, I will have you know that I would have been present (in spirit) on each occasion.
I tell you this because just as I felt compelled to extol the virtues of Kluber then, I feel a similar urge regarding Mets’ first round draft pick and future ace right-hander Kumar Rocker.
Rocker was projected by draft watchers as high as the third overall pick, and so it was surprising indeed when he dropped to the Metropolitans seven spots later.
And because imitation is the highest form of flattery and both Carson and Corey deserve to be flattered, I shall attempt (rather badly) to follow in their illustrious footsteps by creating the Kumar Rocker Society, a group dedicated to the life and times of future ace and probable Hall of Fame right hander Kumar Rocker.
Rocker, of course, is not pitching for the Mets yet, so for our first meeting I suppose we will have to sate our desire for watching his pitching prowess with clips from games past. Here he is throwing a no-hitter for Vanderbilt.
Of course, Rocker has only gotten better since then.
Here he is flashing a 98 mph fastball and plus curveball and changeup.
Here are Rocker and his parents celebrating being selected by the Mets, demonstrating the same glee that us spectators feel when observing the break on a Rocker curveball.
And here is a repeating gif of Rocker throwing fastballs excellently, because we can all use a repeating gif of Rocker throwing fastballs excellently.
Rocker’s curveball also makes onlookers extremely pleased and satisfied.
Kumar Rocker’s curveball with ungodly vertical movement.— hashim (@___hash___) April 9, 2021
Allowed a 3-run HR in the 1st, the first he’s given up this season. His command has been iffy at best, but has started to settle in.
4 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 9 K so far. Sitting on 78 pitches. pic.twitter.com/yoGutXHeEB
Rocker’s size, build, fastball and curveball, and arm motion remind me a lot of another former favorite pitcher of mine, also drafted by the Mets: AJ Burnett. Rocker, by the way, is 6’5”, 245 pounds; Burnett was listed at 6’4”, 230 pounds. Finding video of Burnett from the same camera angle as video of Rocker was extremely difficult and detracted from the joy I felt watching Rocker throw curveballs, so here is video if Burnett from a very different camera angle in hopes you can still see the similarities.
It’s arguably a bit easier to see in later-career Pittsburgh Burnett, although he added a bit of a turn to his windup that Rocker doesn’t have. Still, the arm action and pitch shape are similar.
Rocker having a career path similar to that of Burnett would be a coup for the Mets. It’s easy to forget now, but Burnett had a remarkably good career, with 42.5 fWAR, a 3.67 xFIP, and 21.5% K%/9.4% BB% across over 2,731 innings. And for those who worry about Rocker’s so-so command, Burnett’s early years were a bit of an adventure control-wise as well, with a BB% varying between 10.7 percent and 17 percent (!!) across his first four MLB seasons.
But Rocker is already well ahead of where Burnett was when the latter was drafted.
Burnett didn’t learn a cutter or two seam fastball until his Pittsburgh days, but Rocker already has a complete arsenal that includes both a cutter and a slider to go with his fastball and curve. Here is Rocker throwing an aesthetically pleasing slider.
Kumar Rocker, Filthy 81mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/803Ykdas00— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 1, 2021
Here is another aesthetically pleasing slider.
Kumar Rocker looked much better in the third inning, locating his fastball, slider, and cutter much more consistently. Finished off the inning with this slider that Kalen Puckett never had a chance at. pic.twitter.com/aMzzqB4i3l— Zack Silverman (@ZackMatt4) February 28, 2021
Rob Friedman shows us how difficult those three pitches are to hit.
Kumar Rocker, Fastball, Slider and Cutter, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 26, 2021
So you can see the extra dimension the Cutter adds. pic.twitter.com/CTSLM0PnxA
So Kumar Rocker is essentially AJ Burnett, but with a cutter and slider. But don’t take my word for it.
The New York Mets select Kumar Rocker 10th overall:— Kyle Newman (@NewmanNYsports) July 12, 2021
Rocker has elite stuff up and down. Plus-plus fastball, plus curveball, elite slider, fringe-average changeup. Control is an issue, as is consistency. Mechanics need work, but he could develop into a Cy-Young caliber pitcher.
Pittsburgh AJ Burnett - with a fastball, curveball, and cutter - was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Rocker is arguably that good right now. It won’t be long until he’s in Queens, and the Kumar Rocker Society will be there to greet him when he is. Until then, we will of course have regular meetings to observe our favorite pitcher as he makes minor league hitters extremely as unhappy as we are on his off days.