Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Tyler Cloyd is a junkballer. Like all members of his fraternity, he works on a variety of planes.
His Memorial Day assignment against the Boston Red Sox will be a challenge, but every start in the major leagues is the same for someone who throws his fastball less than 50% of the time.
According to the terrific statistical datbase FanGraphs: Cloyd has a combined 48.3% fastball ratio through his first eight starts (six last season and two this year) in the major leagues. This season he’s only throwing his fastball at a 41.1% clip.
Jonathan Pettibone, who has started seven games for the Phillies in 2013, has a 59.7% fastball ratio. Veterans’ Cole Hamels (53.1%), Cliff Lee (65.0%) and Kyle Kendrick (61%) use their fastball more than half the time as well.
Last season there were a number of ‘baseball minds’ who chose to believe that Cloyd’s combined 17-3 record at Double-A and Triple-A was meaningless. Whether they admit it, or not, their convictions weren’t based solely on numbers. Their gut feel, which may be right, tells them that this right-hander wouldn’t and won’t be able to get enough hitters out to keep his major league job.
A junkballer develops a variety of offspeed pitches out of necessity. Being unable to overpower hitters, he tries to slice each plane of the strike zone and to garnish the areas surrounding the white dish. His intent is to arrest a hitter’s timing mechanism predominantly through psychological, rather than physical, warfare methods.
The lack of a punch-out fastball prevents most pitchers from being drafted, or signed. If a young offspeed man is afforded a professional opportunity, sojourns through the minor leagues are generally met with generational prejudice.
Cloyd was selected in the eighteenth round of the 2008 amateur draft. He, along with Darin Ruf (another doubted prospect) shared the 2012 Paul Owens Award, which recognizes the best pitcher and positional player in the Phillies’ farm system. Both players also made it to the major leagues last season as well.
It’s too soon to tell if this 26-year-old will be able to make the adjustments that are needed to remain in the majors. But, I won’t instantly dismiss someone who has already learned how to defy the baseball gods.