FanPost

Tarik Skubal is Not an Ace, and That's Okay!

Hello All,

This is Aaron, and although I love prospect talk, I wanted to take some time to discuss the recently surging Tarik Skubal. Skubal has been mowing hitters down as of late, and has put together a successful season in the early going. He deserves credit for each and every one of his starts, showcasing his ability to control the flow of games through confidence in his breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Throughout the minors, I was confident on Skubal being the best pitcher out of the three prospects of Mize and Manning, but not because I thought he was an ace candidate, but because he had the stuff to be a long-term starting pitcher.

Here's what I mean by that. I do not think either Mize or Manning have the stuff. Manning's fastball projects as a lackluster pitch, and if he cannot generate soft contact in the form of ground balls, then he will get crushed once teams start to figure him out. Mize is similar, but has an elite secondary pitch. Despite his mechanical issues, if he can stay healthy then Mize will continue to pitch either out of the bullpen or in spot starts on any above average team. Think Michael Fulmer. From a scouting perspective, his mechanics are gross, and they have already born fruit in his numerous IL stints.

That leaves Skubal.

As mentioned, the southpaw has been on absolute fire. In 39.2 innings, he's collected 45 strikeouts while only walking 8(!) batters in his seven starts, and averaging a little under four pitches per batter faced. This is incredibly efficient work for a starter that struggled to maintain starts and control in his first two seasons. For reference, Skubal walked 8.2% of his batters in his 2020 season, which is above average, and 7.4% in his second season in 2021. In 2020, Skubal was using 4.41 pitches per batter faced, and lowered that to 4.02 in 2021.The natural progression to efficient control is there! Skubal shows that this year, he is an efficient, control based pitcher. Which is drastically different than his fangraphs scouting report from last year which states "Skubal is more thrower than pitcher at first." (Skubal FanGraphs Page)

Now, you might be thinking "tell me something I don't know Aaron! These are all good things, he's an ace I tell you, an ace!"

Well slow down there (insert Twitter Tigers personality here). An ace is a special designation that only is awarded to the best of the best. Consistently great pitchers with top tier stuff that generate both swing and misses and soft contact. Such a designation is only awarded to the Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Shane Bieber, Lucas Giolito, Zack Wheelers of the world. They do it against the best offenses in the league and execute in high pressure games. Although Skubal may be the best pitcher the Tigers have right now, he is far from an ace.

The left-handed pitcher has faced some good and some decent talent, but mostly bad teams. His best games have come against Baltimore, Oakland, Colorado, and Kansas City, all projected bottomfeeders going into this season. That's the first order of business. In team offense, Oakland stands third to last,Colorado and Kansas City are 21 and 22 respectively, and Baltimore is 19th. His worst two games were against Chicago and Minnesota, at 25th and 12th respectively. Right now, the only saving grace is his start against Houston, where he gave up two runs in 6 innings.

I want to discuss that specific game here, and show you why that cannot qualify as a truly good game. Despite that being his best game against the best offense, Skubal was generally lucky. He gave up the second hardest hit balls on average other than his start against Chicago, at a lofty 92.9 miles per hour. Nick Pivetta averages that as a starting pitcher and has an ERA of 5.00. This is a trend.

Skubal, despite facing some of the leagues worst offenses, is below average in exit velocity. This is mark number one of not being a true ace.

Mark number two follows this quote on mlb.com's article after the game. "I think he understands [that] to be a complete pitcher, he's got to be more than a fastball pitcher," Hinch said before the game. "Slider, changeup, even a slow curveball, he's got a wider array of weapons that he's understanding how to use, and he's growing.""(Skubal MLB.com Article) If he is going to be reliant on his fastball, the Tigers analytical department better hope the balls stay deadened around the league. The southpaws fastball metrics leave much to be desired these days, following the crackdown on foreign substances. He has below average spin, below average fastball break, and slightly above average speed. His opponents hit the fasstball at an alarming 92 miles per hour, which leaves him with the indicator into his lackluster weak contact rates (floating around 1%). Unless Skubal somehow raises both his velocity and spin rates, I do not see the projections on this pitch changing. I want to write an article on his mechanical changes over the last five years, and that may play a role in his spin rates outside of the crackdown. But we shall see.

His next best pitch is his slider. which as Baseball Savant describes is a great pitch. Tarik's slider is the 11th best slider in the league and is a top 50 offering based on run value. Without this pitch, all of Skubal's offerings are below 200th in individual pitch value. Although young, at this point his pitches are completely realized in terms of potential. The junior pitchers success can be explained completely on his use of his best pitch, throwing that at a 28.5% rate, similar to his four-seam. We have seen the results on what happens with relying on that fastball, and truthfully I do not wish to see that.

Skubal can make a living being an average to above-average pitcher, and like I said before, that's okay! If that is the kind of value a team can get out of a player that has one good pitch, then I would call that a success. I am wishing the best for him and the Tigers, but to find an ace is incredibly hard, and unfortunately Skubal is not it.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.