Foltynewicz took the mound in Atlanta for the second time in Thursday’s matinee against the Padres. Coming into the year, The Braves’ Ace was sidelined for spring training with elbow discomfort and forced to begin the year rehabbing in Gwinnett.
Those rehab starts, while no setbacks occurred, didn’t show that Folty had his best stuff. Outside of his first appearance, in which he threw a perfect five innings, Foltynewicz allowed 12 earned runs over his next 12.2 innings. The most peculiar part was that he did not walk many batters. In only one of those outings did he give up more than two free passes. Folty was getting hit and was unable to record critical outs to end innings.
In his couple of starts with the Braves, similar problems have followed, and two areas can be looked at as catalysts for these issues. Most noticeably, Folty’s fastball velocity is down quite a bit. In 2018, his average speed was 96.4 mph on his heater, according to FanGraphs. Though a small sample size, it was down to 94.7 in his last start, and per Mark Bowman, was 93.8 on Thursday afternoon.
That’s a significant drop off worth monitoring. Folty is not delivering the 97 mph BBs we are used to seeing with the occasional fireball reaching 100. Right now, he’s topping out at about 97. Whether that is something his elbow injury has caused or more because of rust has yet to be disclosed. It could also be a change in his gameplan in order to improve control. Foltynewicz has been distinctly less wild than in years past.
While velocity is something to keep an eye on, it has not caused the Braves’ Ace to give up ten runs in two starts. That’s been his inconsistent slider – the pitch that allowed him to take the next step in his development a year ago. As Mark Bowman states, Folty has already given up four extra-base hits with his slider. He only surrendered ten in 31 games last season.
Foltynewicz has increased his slider usage every year he’s been in the big leagues. Last year, he threw it on 27.2% of his pitches, and most of them looked a lot like this.
Awesome slider from Mike Foltynewicz pic.twitter.com/JKIN9Mq25U
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) May 27, 2018
That’s filthy at 87 mph with a sharp bite down and in to lefties and away to righties. It’s a go-to strikeout pitch and led Folty to his first All-Star appearance and a sub-three ERA in 2018. But that’s not the slider he has shown us early on this year, especially against the Padres.
Foltynewcz’s slider in 2019 has been more of a hanging spinner than a strikeout pitch. He threw a couple to Ian Kinsler that resulted in a home run and a double – both of which hung out and spun over the middle of the plate – a meatball for a professional hitter. Hanging sliders don’t often result in singles; they usually end up in the bleachers…Ask Julio Teheran.
For Folty the key to the early part of his career has been simple: When the slider is reliable, he’s as proficient as any pitcher in the majors. When it’s not, he’s just another arm that can throw in the high-90s. That’s not enough to get it done at this level. Foltynewicz will have to re-harness his slider if he wants to be a part of this rotation for the long haul.