Finding comps for Brandon Finnegan using PITCHf/x

Twenty-one year old Brandon Finnegan put his name on the map in Tuesday night’s epic wildcard game, when he tossed scoreless 10th and 11th innings before leading off the 12th with a walk to Josh Reddick, who would eventually come around to score against Jason Frasor. Drafted by the Royals with this year’s 17th overall pick, Finnegan made quick work of the minor leagues, making his big league debut on September 6th at Yankee Stadium, just 81 days — and 27 minor league innings — removed from his last appearance with TCU in this year’s College World Series.

To find comps for Finnegan, I first looked for pitchers with a similar arsenal of pitches. Using a minimum of 1,000 pitches, I seeked out left handed pitchers who threw fastballs, sliders, and changeups — Finnegan’s three pitches — at least 90% of the time since 2008, and threw each of these pitches at least 5% of the time. From there, I turned to the PITCHF/x database to find out how often these pitcher’s pitches fell within Finnegan’s middle 50% of values for velocity, break angle, break length, and spin rate, and spin direction from his eight big league games. These are the pitchers who threw the highest ratio of pitches comparable to what Finnegan threw. The similarity percentage was calculated by dividing each pitcher’s share of pitches meeting these criteria by the share of pitches met by Finnegan himself. The ERAs were calculated over the last seven years: 2008-2014.

Pitcher Similarity ERA
Tony Watson 13% 2.63
Chris Sale 7% 2.76
Patrick Corbin 6% 3.80
Tony Cingrani 6% 3.49
Derek Holland 6% 4.23
Francisco Liriano 5% 4.26
Oliver Perez 4% 4.50
Ross Detwiler 4% 3.83
Tim Byrdak 3% 3.78
J.C. Romero 3% 3.68
Martin Perez 3% 4.13
Luis Perez 3% 4.50
Jordan Norberto 3% 4.00
Brian Duensing 3% 4.12
Michael Kirkman 3% 4.98
Andrew Miller 3% 4.78
Wil Ledezma 3% 5.82
Jonathan Sanchez 3% 4.60
CC Sabathia 3% 3.43
Zach Britton 2% 4.05

Finnegan looks to have a bright future ahead of him, as his top two comps are two of the most dominant pitchers in baseball — one a starter (Sale) and one a reliever (Watson). It remains to be seen which path the Royals will choose for their hard-throwing lefty going forward. While it’s tempting to slot him in in a relief role next season, the wiser decision might be to stretch him out as  starter, where he would be able to take full advantage of his three pitch arsenal. But either way, until the Royals playoff run comes to an end, Brandon Finnegan will be allowed to air it out for just an inning or two at a time on easily the biggest stage he’s ever seen. And given his lights-out stuff, he might just end up being this year’s Francisco Rodriguez.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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