Can we sit back and admire for a second just how difficult it is to go from an undrafted free agent to an above-average major league player? No wait, just how hard it is to become a major league player at all. No wait, even further, just how hard it is to become a minor league player, if you were rule 4 draft eligible and every team passed over you?
There are 50 freakin' rounds. FIFTY. Times that by 30 teams, not including compensatory picks, and we're talking about 1,500+ players every single year. Despite that, Brandon Beachy was never drafted. Think about it for a second that teams literally waste draft picks on players that they're 99% certain won't sign but who cares because you just drafted 50 players. To go undrafted is pretty incredible, but after not pitching much at Indiana Wesleyan University, I guess no teams really considered Beachy to have any talent in that arm.
Here we sit a few years after the Atlanta Braves signed him, and in the mecca of pitching prospects he has risen above the rest. In a sea of great arms, Beachy has emerged as the most successful, albeit in a small sample size. The real question is: How much longer are we going to doubt him? Marc Hulet on Fangraphs wrote this about Beachy before the season:
Brandon Beachy, RHP, Atlanta: Beachy was an amazing story in 2011 as a former non-drafted pitcher signed out of an independent baseball league. But he may have also set overly high expectations that he won’t be able to reach again. The right-hander has good stuff, but his success comes more from a deceptive delivery and superb command. His fastball averages 92 mph and he’s mostly a two-pitch pitcher with his changeup coming in as a distant third pitch in terms of quality. As the scouting reports circulate through the league and hitters become more comfortable facing Beachy, the right-hander will likely settle in as a solid No. 3 starter. Don’t expect him to keep pitching like an ace.
It's early and there's some regression due for Beachy, but now that he's posted a 1.33 ERA in eight starts, he has pitched like the ace of aces. Let's take a deeper look, courtesy of Fangraphs, at Beachy's early success this season and what we're possibly due for:
Earlier in the season, Beachy's fastball velocity was down 1.9 MPH as shown in this April 23rd article from Mike Podhorzer, but current updates have him at 91 MPH which is only 1 MPH slower than his 2011 season. Said Podhorzer though:
Brandon Beachy‘s last two starts featured average fastball velocities below any start he had last season. Though from the surface it appears that Beachy is picking up where he left off last year as his ERA moves closer to his 2011 SIERA, his strikeout rate has dropped dramatically. Now his current SIERA is much more in line with his actual 2011 ERA. I don’t think the velocity drop here is that big of a deal though since he averaged 91.1 in 2010, so this shouldn’t raise concerns of a possible injury. But, he was extremely unlikely to post another 10.0+ strikeout rate again, and this velocity decline won’t help matters any.
No, Beachy has is not posting 10+ K/9 again and it's not even close. His K/9 has dropped from 10.74 last season to 6.50 this season, and a drop of over 4.00 K/9 is almost certain to be detrimental to any pitcher, but thus far Beachy hasn't missed a beat. His FIP is 2.54 this season, compared to 3.19 in 2011, his ERA is down nearly 2.50 runs, though his xFIP is up to a more pedestrian 3.81 after it being 3.16 last season.
Because xFIP takes HR/FB into account, you can see why it's more skeptical: Beachy has so far given an up an incredible 1 HR in 54 innings, a rate 1.7% per flyball and only 0.17 HR/9. That is not sustainable. Especially interesting because Beachy's biggest black mark coming up through the minors was that he is a fly ball pitcher and he allowed 9.8% HR/FB last year and 1.02 HR/9.
Into further detail goes this April 30th article from Podhorzer that shows how Beachy was inducing +13.5% groundballs this season compared to last:
This would be huge for Brandon Beachy because the only knock on his skill set is that he had been a fly ball pitcher. Right now, he is inducing a ton of ground balls against left-handers, including a nearly 64% mark from his four-seamer. He posted just a 32% rate against them last year with the pitch. He has thrown his four-seamer a little less often in favor of some other pitches that do induce slightly more ground balls, but like Lee, this seems rather flukey. Expect some regression here as well.
At this point, nobody expects Beachy to actually post an ERA under 2.00 or continue to be so lucky with flyballs, groundballs, and a BABIP against of .214.
Of course, all of his numbers got even better after yesterdays start: 9 innings, 5 hits, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K. Beachy faced 32 batters, threw 122 pitches, 80 of them for strikes, 24 strikes looking, 7 swinging strikes, 12 groundballs, and 14 flyballs. You can see the good and the lucky in there; it's hard to give up 14 flyballs in a start and keep all of them in the park. But that's what Beachy has done time and time again this season.
After posting 13 grounders and 4 flyballs in his first start, he's posted 82 flyballs and 56 groundballs since. And only one of those flys have left the park. Incredible and also unsustainable.
Still, there's one thing you can never forget about Brandon Beachy: He was never supposed to be here in the first place. He's defied the odds over and over again. His rise from undrafted player, not being one of over 1,500 players selected, to minor league free agent to starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves was not the story that was supposed to be written. So as far as what happens from here on out and that rates at which he is not supposed to sustain, that story hasn't been written either.
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