Matt Bush is turning into quite the story. He was the 1st overall pick in the 2004 draft, originally selected as a position player, but had legal problems related to alcohol. His problems got him moved to three different organizations before being released in 2012, where he spent 3 years out of baseball. Bush also served time in jail related to a drunk driving incident, and was in jail as recently as this past fall.
But he's attempting to turn his life around after being released from jail, and he's off to a great start in doing that. Bush has reinvented himself as a pitcher, and the Rangers recently called him up to become a part of their bullpen after logging a 2.65 ERA, 3.46 FIP and 29% strikeout rate in AA.
Let's take a look at some of his skills.
Bush's fastball tops out around 99 mph, and averages about 97. Bush's fastball has an incredible spin rate of just under 2700 RPM, which leads the major leagues. A high spin rate on a fastball can help a pitcher pitch up in the zone more effectively and generate more swings and misses on fastballs because the ball takes off and explodes with the help of backspin. It can also lead to harmless pop ups and medium depth fly balls.
Bush also throws a hard slider, a curve and a change up. His slider is his second pitch and ranges from 90-93 mph, with his change up in the low 90s and curve around 80.
What jumps out to me about Bush is the combination of his high fastball velocity and high spin rate. A high spin rate adds to deception because it drops less than a normal fastball does. This often causes a hitter to swing under it and hit harmless fly balls, or miss the ball entirely.
Here's some of what Baseball Prospectus had to say about high spin on a fastball:
Velocity isn’t the only way to get whiffs with the fastball—you can now throw high spin into that equation. “Sneaky” is one of the terms often used to describe a fastball with average to below-average velocity that hitters still swing at and miss at an elevated rate. High spin gives hop or sneak to your fastball. It’s one of the reasons why certain pitchers can throw 90 MPH and still induce a relatively high rate of foul balls and swings-and-misses.
Bush had made 3 appearances, where he's logged a 33% strikeout rate, 14% swinging strike rate, 86% fly ball percentage, and 17% pop up percentage. The samples are too small to draw any conclusions from, but the high strikeout and fly ball percentages match up with his fastball velocity and high spin.
The opening day closer for the Rangers, Shawn Tolleson, has already been replaced after logging an ERA over 9. Sam Dyson has taken over. Dyson has an impressive 2.42 ERA over his last 3 seasons with a 3.09 FIP, so there's a chance he keeps the job over the long term. But Bush appears to have some very intriguing skills as a reliever, and he's a guy that down the road may be in the mix for a closer's role.