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Alex Faedo is working hard to overcome his home run issues

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Faedo’s fastball has been a little problematic as a pro, but he’s taking the right steps to improve.

Roughly two years after being drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Alex Faedo appears to be settling in nicely with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. Through 13 starts this season, he has a 3.44 FIP and an excellent 29.9 percent strikeout rate. Just this Wednesday, he struck out 12 hitters in a two-hit performance over 6 13 innings. This is the type of progress you love to see from a good college pitcher on his path toward the major leagues.

However, a blot has remained on Faedo’s record that has seen his stock lag well behind the lofty status accorded to fellow pitching prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning. Faedo has had multiple eruptions at the Double-A level in which hitters teed off on his fastball in particular. His 1.39 home runs per nine innings is not a terrible mark by current major league standards, but in the Eastern League that portends real trouble when he eventually reaches the major leagues.

Faedo allowed four home runs in a start against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies back on April 18th of this year. On May 13th, the Richmond Flying Squirrels tagged him for three home runs of their own. Those outings, coming off the second half of Faedo’s 2017 campaign, where he allowed four multi-home run games upon arrival in Erie, brought questions about how well his fastball will play against better hitters to the forefront. Those questions had been raised by some almost from the moment Faedo was drafted out of the University of Florida.

First, before we look at the negatives, It is worth remembering that Alex Faedo does have many attributes that recommend him as a solid pitching prospect. First of all, he is big. The 24-year-old right-hander is listed at 6’5, 230 pounds. That is the kind of frame teams invest in hoping for durability and sustainable velocity. Faedo did have surgery on both knees prior to his junior year at Florida, but finished strong that season and has had no notable health issues with the Tigers.

Faedo best weapon is a pretty nasty 12-6 slider that is often in plus form. It is the key reason Faedo has racked up impressive strikeout totals since his promotion to Erie.

Everything he throws moves, and there is a little funk to his delivery, despite its deficiencies. Considered on its own, Faedo also has a changeup that comfortably projects as average, but plays down because of the fastball at times. His control was advanced to begin with. He throws a high ratio of strikes, and that, combined with the high strikeout rate and low walk rate, bode well for his future.

Faedo’s occasional struggles in 2018 could also be overblown, as well. He handled Advanced-A ball in the Florida State League with no issues. The issue came when he made the jump and suddenly started giving up home runs in bunches, particularly off his fastball.

There were probably a few different reasons combining to create this vulnerability. His velocity was down from the 92-94 mph he had shown in college into the high 80’s at times during the 2018 season. However the fundamental issues have as much to do with Faedo’s mechanics than his lost velocity.

Faedo has a fairly short, stiff-legged stride for a guy who is listed at 6’5 and 230 pounds. He is generally well balanced, which is good for his control. However, it also limits his drive and extension toward the plate, and he struggles to get out over his plant leg and throw downhill. He does not generate much stride length or power from his lower half. Perhaps the knee surgeries play a role in that as well. As a result, his velocity consistently plays down to hitters because he can’t advantage of his size to shorten the distance to home plate. When Faedo leaves flat fastballs up in the zone, hitters’ reactions and ability to barrel them speak to a weakness in his game.

Other key issues needing work were Faedo’s posture and arm action, and this is where he is focused his attention so far this season. He had a tendency to collapse his posture at leg lift, rolling both shoulders inward and bending forward. He would then correct for this by straightening up violently at front footstrike. Coupled with his short stride, this move often left him late and flattened his arm path. This correspondingly produced a flat, running fastball that neither rides much nor sinks. It also made it difficult for Faedo to keep the fastball down in the strike zone. As a result, he didn’t miss enough bats and was barreled up by left-handed hitters especially to a surprising degree.

Here are a few examples of the bad fastball from earlier this season.

What are the fixes?

So first of all, to stave off the home runs, he needed some velocity back on his heater this year, and so far this season he appears to have found it. Reports generally have him sitting 91-93 mph with a little extra in the tank. That is not particularly good, of course, especially considering that his short stride makes it play down to hitters, but it is certainly workable. He has enough size to believe that with a cleaned up delivery, improved conditioning, and comfort with the pro schedule, he may yet find a little more velocity along the way.

Secondly, he needed an adjustment to get him on top of the ball and throwing downhill with better rhythm and extension. We began to see him working on this during his May 1st start against the Altoona Curve. Over the last six weeks since that point, he has pretty obviously been working on his delivery, and while still inconsistent, numerous starts have seen him dialing in what are pretty substantial adjustments to his motion.

Look at his posture, arm path, and the angle he is getting on release. He is standing taller and keeping a more uniform and upright spine angle throughout his delivery. Faedo’s arm is up and he is throwing downhill, with pretty good-looking two-plane movement on his fastball. He is not collapsing his shoulders forward during his leg lift nor flying open with his lead shoulder through release. You would still like to see him getting more drive toward the target, as its lack can still lead him to over-rotate and pull off the target line, producing the offending arm lag and flat fastball, but he is clearly working on this element of his mechanics, and trying to throw downhill more.

Take a look at a few more examples.

Faedo’s delivery just looks a little cleaner, and when he has got the feel for the adjustments, he is staying behind the ball better and throwing on a downward plane with better extension. We are still not seeing much improvement in his stride, but these are pretty substantial changes he is working on. During that time period, he had one outing against the Richmond Flying Squirrels where he allowed three home runs, but has since limited the long balls to one at most per outing. In his last four full starts—leaving aside a rain-shortened outing against Altoona on June 5—he has allowed just two home runs total across 22 23 innings of work.

Faedo spoke tangentially about these adjustments, and trying to learn from roommate and throwing partner, Matt Manning, in Jeff Seidel’s piece for The Detroit Free Press on Friday.

“Matt is my throwing partner,” Faedo said. “He is one of my roommates. We do pretty much everything together.

”Matt, for instance, does so many things right with his mechanics. When I watch him, I get a nice reminder, not necessarily that I’m going to be able to throw exactly like Matt, but to watch, Hey, he does this very well. He gets his body in this position when he’s throwing. He does this. And I can have little reminders. He’s staying on top of the ball well. I gotta keep doing that.

Staying on top of the ball, getting his arm in position earlier, and throwing downhill are the key takeaways. When Faedo does so, he gets livelier, two-plane life on his fastball, and puts his height to work for him. When his timing is out of whack, he will still fall back on bad habits. This is all still a work in progress, as recent starts have shown Faedo finding and then losing the groove at times, but the results are speaking for themselves in the lack of home run trouble he has dealt with recently.

Conclusions

Alex Faedo is certainly still well behind his two more illustrious rotation mates. Casey Mize was making it clear that he is ready to pitch in the majors before shoulder inflammation temporarily forced him to the sidelines. Matt Manning is the youngest of the group but could potentially hang in the majors already as well. He also packs the great equalizer; a fastball that draws double-plus grades at its best. Both Mize and Manning in particular, need more seasoning to hit the ground running at full speed in the majors, but they rightly sit among the best pitching prospects in baseball.

Alex Faedo is still a step down on the pecking order, but progress is what we are looking for here. Reshaping a pitcher’s motion like this is tricky. Major arm slot adjustments typically fail and often are not even attempted unless in direst need. Despite the fastball concerns, Faedo has been very successful as a professional thus far, and could easily resist change and tell himself that everything is fine as it is. He deserves real credit for being proactive, and willing to learn and change with an eye toward facing major league hitters eventually.

If he can get the adjustments dialed in, the Tigers may find themselves with a Big Three again by year’s end, which would be very good for the future of their rotation.