Dustin McGowan is, and this is perhaps one of my more pointed understatements, an unusual athlete. He was, in 2008, an accomplished pitcher in the Blue Jays organization, with a successful season under his belt at the Major League level. Then he hurt his shoulder, and things went downhill and sideways, and sometimes both, from there. I can’t bear to recap his painful and long term rehab process, but if you wanted to relive it, you could always read about it yourself. The result of Dustin’s long and winding rehab saga is, from a career standpoint, this:
2007 MLB Regular Starting pitcher
2008 MLB Regular Starting pitcher (interrupted by injury)
2009 Missed entire season
2010 Missed entire season
2011 MLB Expanded Roster Starter
2012 Missed entire season
2013 MLB Relief pitcher
2014 MLB Regular Starting pitcher
I have no idea why he didn’t give up a long time ago. I’ve read, often, about how the Blue Jays should have given up on him a long time ago. As it turns out, there was no giving up on anybody, and Dustin McGowan finds himself at the back end of the Blue Jays rotation to start the season. As a fan, I’ve been wondering, what can we expect?
Firstly, I’m sure that we can’t expect him to stay healthy. That wouldn’t be fair to anybody. Let’s just work on the hypothetical that he IS healthy, and try to guess what 2014 Dustin McGowan might be able to do on the mound.
The first thing I’d like to mention, is his age. After all this time bouncing back and forth on rehab assignments, and losing his hair in the interim, McGowan seems like an old pitcher. Here are some pitchers born the same year as he was: Alfredo Aceves, Jason Hammel, Jered Weaver and Zach Miner. Also Ervin Santana. Some other guy name J.A. Happ, too. Young pitcher? No, not anymore. Old? Not quite yet.
Now, on to the nuts and bolts of what he was throwing before his first shoulder injury:
Two different grips on the fastball, averaging around 96mph. Slider as his secondary pitch, mix in the curve and change as his offspeed stuff.
Now, let’s look at the pitches from last season.
Two different grips on the fastball, averaging around 96mph. Slider as his secondary pitch, mix in the change as his offspeed pitch.
He admitted he dropped the curveball when he moved to the bullpen, as is fairly normal with relievers, he was relying on less variety of pitches and throwing more fastballs.
He’s almost exactly the same pitcher as he was back in 2008. The inside of his shoulder has been scraped and stitched 3 times, and what does he get? No loss of velocity. No change in pitch type. Six years and he’s still doing the things that got him a shot in the big leagues. He even mentioned that he might bring the curveball back into the mix, once he was given the 5th starter’s job.
There’s one other thing that I’ll mention here, and it does come from a very small sample of pitches, but it’s fun to see anyway. There were 28 plate appearances in 2013 that ended when McGowan threw a slider. 12 were strikeouts, one was a walk, and one was a single. Opponents hit .038 off of McGowan’s slider last year. Which is pretty nasty, regardless. Those results might have something to do with the location of the pitch, and the extra couple of inches of drop he seems to be getting on it. On the left half of the pic below, we have 2013 sliders, and on the right we have 2008. There are almost no misses in the top half of the zone in 2013, no ‘hangers’ at all. Against lefties, it was never thrown in a hittable location. That’s a huge contrast to where he used to try to get away with it, often ending up right down the middle to right handed batters.
His pitch mix has varied from year to year, but the only real anomaly was when he converted to a reliever and stopped throwing the curve:
His groundball/flyball tenedencies are nearly the same as well. Everything is just as good as before. And why is that exciting, you might ask?
In 2007, McGowan had a FIP of 3.73, and in 2008, it was 3.81. In 2013, 3.67. FIP, for the curious, is a stat that takes the defense out of the equation for a pitcher, evaluating him for his ability to get strikeouts, and avoid walks and home runs. It is scaled like ERA, where 2.00 is fantastic, and 5.50 is awful. McGowan had a solid FIP back in 2008, he had a very similar one last year. Dustin McGowan’s stuff plays in the AL East. It did a fine job before, and, if healthy, if he can be consistent with his slider location, he’s poised to do it again. It took him a long time to get back to the Blue Jays rotation, and I don’t know if the baseball gods want him to stay here, but Dustin McGowan is as ready as he’s ever been.
Charts Courtesy of Brooks Baseball