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What we learned from Arodys Vizcaino in 2015

The former top-100 prospect finally eclipsed 20 innings at the big league level, and showed us some interesting things along the way in 2015.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Arodys Vizcaino had a pretty good 2015 season.

It was his first season in the Major Leagues where he recorded a respectable amount of innings out of the bullpen (33.2) and for a guy who has dealt with injuries as often as Vizcaino, that in and of itself is cause for celebration.

But what's even more exciting are the kinds of numbers that he put up thanks to some electric offerings: a 9.89 K/9, a 3.48 BB/9, a 3.1% HR/FB, a 1.60 ERA, 2.48 FIP and 3.50 xFIP.

Those aren't anything to scoff at, and Vizcaino clearly has the tools to be one of the better relief pitchers in the game. To try and put this into some sort of perspective, among relievers under 30 years of age and with at least 30 innings last season (150 different players), Vizcaino ranked fairly well in some important categories:

  • No. 5 in ERA
  • No. 19 in FIP
  • No. 50 in K/9
  • No. 7 in HR/FB ratio

During 2015 Vizcaino primarily worked off of his 98-mph fastball, which he threw 73 percent of the time to left-handed batters and 63 percent of the time to righties. He backed that up with a mid-80s curveball that was one of the better breaking balls in the league at the midway point of the season and has been throughout his career as well, according to Fangraphs:

His 22% SwStr rate with the curveball is 10th-best among relievers who have thrown at least 40 (an admittedly low threshold, but that’s all we’ve got on Vizcaino this year).

There is some discrepancy about whether he throws a curveball or slider, but let’s just lump it together as his "breaking ball" and if we look at his entire career, he’s got a 21% SwStr with the pitch on 166 pitches, well above the league average marks whether you want to call it a curve or slider.

His curve isn't one of those monsters that we've seen out of the hand of Touki Toussaint, but the huge speed differential combined with the 12-6 spin made it a pitch that hitters whiffed on 21.69 percent of the time. According to Brooks Baseball, it's a pitch that "generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitchers' curves."

I'm not sure what the league average mark is, but hitters managed just a 0.91 average against it and a .114 slugging percentage. Here's what the pitch looks like:

The combination of these pitches are obviously why Vizcaino has the potential to be a top-shelf reliever, and it's also nice to see that his K rates are already extremely close to what he posted in the minors. Through six minor league seasons, Vizcaino struck out 9.5 batters per nine, and throughout his "three-year" MLB career that mark is at 9.5.

So after a long and difficult battle to the bigs, Vizcaino is finally having the success that we imagined was possible when he was considered a top-100 prospect from 2010 to 2013 by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.

With all of that said, there are still some things that would be nice to see him improve upon during his next (hopefully) full season with the Braves.

First and foremost is the control. Of the same group I talked about above, Vizcaino was in the latter-half when it comes to BB/9, posting the 68th-worst mark of the group. When looking into his pitch usage for 2015, it's clear that he struggles most with the fastball.

Vizcaino threw his fastball for a strike just 24.09 percent of the time according to Brooks Baseball, compared to a 42.17 percent mark with the curveball. Following with that, he threw his fastball for a ball 36.69 percent of the time, while throwing his curveball for a ball 30.72 percent of the time.

Check out the full chart of his pitch outcomes if you want to see the rest of the details.*

*The changeups listed are likely just meatballs that were incorrectly labeled changeups.

Another number that jumped out at me as worrisome was the line drive rate against him. Of the same group of 150 players chosen, Vizcaino had the 3rd-highest line drive rate against him at 27.9 percent. That's not a number you want to be that high. If you look at Craig Kimbrel's batted ball profile, you'll notice that he's never had a line drive percentage above 23.7 percent in any full season.

Obviously I'm not comparing the two pitchers, but it seems pretty apparent that you don't want to allow line drives. I can't be sure, but I'd be willing to bet that this also stems from the questionable command of his fastball. He could be simply trying to throw strikes and putting the ball in the middle of the zone after getting behind, or simply missing his spots too often.

Vizcaino walked significantly fewer batters in the minors than he has so far in his short Major League career, but it's still too early to know whether or not he'll be able to replicate that success moving forward. Injuries certainly could have played a roll, and his command might never be as good as it was, but we can always hope that he might return to the 2.5 BB/9 level he showed through six minor league seasons.

With Vizcaino entering the season as one of the surest "locks" in the bullpen, it will be interesting to see how he performs over the course of a full year. Injury concerns will always be something to track for him, but if he's able to stay on the mound and continue to work with pitching coach Roger McDowell on a regular basis, we can hope for an even better 2016 effort, despite what his Steamer projections might have us believe.

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