Mike Foltynewicz shows more volatility than the stock market. During a three game stretch this season, he was three and zero with only five earned runs and 10 strikeouts. He shows signs of brilliance, as he has thrown a nine strikeout game this season already. Unfortunately, he also has his fair share of struggles. At only 25-years old, he has plenty of time to figure everything out, but the Braves hope he finds consistency sooner rather than later. The biggest problem for Foltynewicz is that he needs to master his repertoire.
Mike Foltynewicz Must Master his Repertoire
Coming up through the minor leagues, Foltynewicz could just blow people away with his 97-mph heat. It is difficult for 19- and 20-year old athletes to catch up to a pitch being thrown that hard. The need to learn and develop other pitches got left behind. Most players in MLB, however, can hit a fastball, no matter how fast it is. Foltynewicz’s biggest problem is that he cannot throw his secondary pitches for strikes, so players sit on the fastball. If he can learn to throw other pitches regularly and for strikes, he can blossom into a number two starter or even the ace the Braves hoped they were getting when they acquired him from the Houston Astros.
Foltynewicz throws five pitches, but some of his pitches are seldom used. He throws both four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a slider, a curve ball, and a change-up. He throws fastballs roughly 58% of the time so far in 2017, which has been the lowest of his career to this point. Although he is improving, that number needs to be around 52% so that he can showcase his other offerings and make hitters uncomfortable at the plate. Max Scherzer, who many consider to be one of the best right handed pitchers in baseball, throws his fastballs about 52% of the time. Only a few percentage points separate the two, but they can make a world of difference.
The two breaking pitches are the curve ball and the slider. Foltynewicz throws the curve ball about 10% of the time and the slider about 23% of the time. Because he throws more high fastballs than low ones, these numbers should be reversed. The mix of the high fastball with the curve ball confuses hitters as to whether the ball will stay up or break off into the dirt. The slider will still be effective, because many hitters will not know it is coming. This change will help him get more strikeouts and pitch further into the game.
The change-up is one of the best pitches in baseball if thrown correctly. Thrown with the same arm action as a fastball, the grip on a change-up forces the speed to be roughly 8 to 10 mph slower. Hitters think a 95-mph fastball is coming when in reality it’s 85-mph and breaking down ever so slightly. The problem is that Foltynewicz only throws it about 8.5% of the time he pitches. Stephen Strasburg is throwing his change-up 17% of the time in 2017. Strasburg is a power pitcher who lives off the fastball-change-up combination. As a result, he is off to one of his best starts in his career. If Foltynewicz can gain confidence in his change-up and throw it more often, he has the ability to get more swinging strikes and help the team win more games.
If Foltynewicz can change his pitch repertoire and gain confidence, he has the ability to become a great pitcher. He still has time to learn and improve, but the Braves hope that process can start now instead of in the future. Throwing more change-ups and a few less fastballs will help tremendously. In addition, throwing more curve balls with the high fastball, or more sliders with the low fastballs will help keep hitters off balance. Mike Foltynewicz has great potential, and these changes will help him realize it.