A pitcher has to be doing very poor to get yanked from a Spring Training game. The point of Spring Training for pitchers is for them to get their work in. The performance is secondary. For someone like Ross Detwiler who just has to stay healthy to earn a roster spot the results matter even less, and that explains why Detwiler ended up pitching so poorly that he was yanked from his Spring Training start yesterday. If you’ve watched Detwiler before or listened to the announcers you’d know he throws an absurd amount of fastballs. Somewhere in the well over 90% range, but Detwiler also has a change-up, curve, and is working on a cutter. So yesterday Detwiler threw curve balls. He isn’t trying to change the type of pitcher that he is but he is trying to address a weakness.
As a sinker ball pitcher Detwiler is fine as a fifth starter with just that one pitch, but as a former first round pick he can be so much more, and in order to reach his ceiling he is going to have to develop his secondary pitches. Due to injuries Detwiler hasn’t been able to develop as expected and with no options left to go back to the minor leagues he needs a place in order to address those weaknesses, and that place is Spring Training. So while the results weren’t what any pitcher would want they don’t matter and they matter even less because Ross Detwiler was working on his curve ball that can best be described as erratic.
Think for a second about Detwiler’s repertoire without the cutter. He has the fastball, sinker, curve, and change. That is similar to Gio Gonzalez’s repertoire. The difference between Detwiler and Gonzalez is that for Gonzalez the curve and change are both plus pitches whereas for Detwiler they are below average. Look at the average fastball between the two. Detwiler’s average velocity on his fastball is 92.0 and Gio Gonzalez’s is 92.4. That isn’t much of a difference in average velocity on the fastball. If Detwiler can improve his secondary pitches and become a more complete pitcher an already excellent Nats rotation could be even better.
In 2012 Ross Detwiler managed to stay healthy and had the best season of his career. He did this while throwing his four-seamer or sinker 80.4% of the time. If Detwiler could become a more balanced pitcher then he can only improve. Think about some of Gio Gonzalez’s or Stephen Strasburg’s starts where the fastball isn’t working. They start working in the curve or change much more, but if Ross Detwiler’s fastball isn’t on for the day he has no pitch to fall back on and gut his way through the outing. That is what separates a top of the rotation talent from a bottom of the rotation talent.
Ross Detwiler still has room to grow and while his Spring debut wasn’t the best it shows that he knows his weaknesses and is willing to address them. If Detwiler can improve his secondary pitches and the cutter works to right handed hitters as the sinker does to left handed hitters then he could be a surprise for the Washington Nationals. The Nats are looking for a fifth starter, but if Detwiler can improve in the ways he is trying this Spring then they could have much more. If everything goes as expected in 2014 for Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister and things go right for Detwiler then the Nats won’t just have one of the best top fours in history, but one of the best five man rotations of all time.