When does a pitcher who owns a career record of 9-26 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP catch your attention? He catches my attention when he posted a 2.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and a 9.56 K/9 mark over his final 13 starts of the previous season. Welcome to the review of that man – Tyson Ross of the Padres.
Ross was a second round selection out of Cal in 2008 (Go Bears – you know I love my Bay Area guys). He stands 6'6” and weighs about 230 lbs. With his height he able to get nice downward movement on his pitches and that can cause issues for batters swing paths. More on that in a moment. Ross was mildly effective in the minors going 22-14 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.36 WHIP as he was used almost exclusively as a starter. However, nearly every time he was called up by the Athletics he struggled to get big league batters out. The result was a move from Oakland to San Diego after the 2012 season, and that's when things started to get interesting,
With the Padres, Ross finally got his mechanics straightened out, that's often an issue for guys of his height, and after he found a repeatable delivery he made the biggest change of his career – he discovered the slider (see the chart below). He's long thrown the pitch about 25 percent of the time, but he really sharpened the slider, learned how to control it, and batters were left quaking in their boots. Ross threw the pitch 33 percent of the time in 2013, well above his normal rate with the pitch, and coming in at 86 mph it was extremely difficult for batters to handle. How tough? Batters hit a mere .145 against his slider in 2013 after murdering the pitch in 2012 (.294). Obviously we're talking a relatively small sample size with both numbers, but the fact is that scouting reports, and the hit data, support the position that the improvement with his slider went a long way toward his improved on the field effort in 2013.
His 2013 release points for his fastball and slider (graph courtesy of Fangraphs).
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So what was the 2013 effort like for Ross? Well I teased it at the top by tossing out some numbers, so let's delve a bit more into his effort in 2013. Here are some second half numbers from Ross showing just how well he stacked up, not just against Padres arms, but against all the arms in the game.
Ross had a 0.99 WHIP in the second half. That mark was the 6th best in baseball.
Ross had a 9.56 K/9 mark in the second half. That mark was the 7th best in baseball.
Ross had a 3.70 K/BB ratio in the second half. That the 19th best mark in baseball.
What I'm getting at should be obvious. Anyone who rostered Ross in the second half, after scooping him up off waivers, got one hell of an effort on the cheap.
Let's go big picture and look at Ross' effort for the entire 2013 season. I see a lot of things that I like.
He stuck batters out. I already noted how much of a difference the change he made with the slider helped him to improve on the hill, and on the the year he sported an 8.57 K/9 mark. He walked a big league average 3.17 batters per nine, but because of the punchouts he had a solid 2.70 K/BB ratio. That will play.
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But what really impresses me with Ross is the combination of skills that he brings to the table. What do I always say? You may not have ever heard me actually say it, but I do make the following statement a lot – give me a pitcher who strikes batters out and keeps the ball on the ground and I'm interested. I already noted that Ross had an 8.57 K/9 mark last season. What about his ground ball rate? It was elite at 54.9 percent (among pitchers who threw 120 or more innings in 2013 it was the 9th best mark in the game). A strong K/9 rate and an elite ground ball rate leads to an exciting prospect. Some context. Do you know how many hurlers had a ground ball rate of 50 percent with a K/9 mark of at least 8.5 last season (minimum 120 innings)? The answer is just six men: Justin Masterson, A.J. Burnett, Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez, Francisco Liriano and Ross. That's some pretty elite company for Ross wouldn't you say? Thanks to all the grounders he not only had an elite 1.85 GB/FB ratio, just slightly above his career 1.80 mark, but he allowed only eight homers leading to a 0.58 HR/9 mark (career 0.66). Petco Park certainly helps Ross, but his style of pitching is the main reason for his success.
If Ross can keep that slider down in the zone he should continue along the lines we saw in the second half of 2013. I can't sit here and say that based off 13 starts Ross is an elite arm in 2014, that would be foolish. I also think it would be foolish to merely write off his second half as a small sample size anomaly. Ross gets grounders. Ross strikes batters out. Ross keeps the ball in the field of play. Ross pitches at Petco Park. He also pitches in the NL West where parks in San Francisco and Los Angeles also tilt toward the hurler. All of that has his arrow pointing upward. You won't have to draft Ross early in 2014. In fact, there will likely be leagues where Ross might not even end up on someone's team. Don't let that happen to you in 2014. Ross is the perfect type of arm that you should be looking at late in drafts, and given the impressive performance he flashed in the second half of 2013 he should be someone that ends up as a depth starting pitcher on a whole boatload of your clubs (think 6th or 7th starter). That is if your goal is to win.
By Ray Flowers