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Rookie Ballin': Duran and Gore Try To Make Their Mark

Pictured is Jhoan Duran (Left) and MacKenzie Gore (Right).

Every MLB star was once a hopeful, wide-eyed rookie. The longevity of a rookie is always looked at with a great sense of optimism, especially by the rookie’s respective team’s fans. Prospects have become an incredible aspect of the game of baseball within the last couple of years. The excitement surrounding young stars in the making has been the main improvement around prospects in recent years. As these prospects make their journeys through the Minor Leagues, the MLB looms overhead as the biggest test of a ball player’s talents and skills. A rude awakening could be in store for these kids, or they could flat-out shine as the league tries to adjust to their playstyles.

Mackenzie Gore has been a name that baseball fans have heard for a while. The southpaw features a funky leg kick in his wind-up that pairs with his plus fastball velo quite nicely. His average fastball velocity sits at an impressive 95 mph. What stands out about his fastball is its usage. Gore features 4 pitches: fastball, curve, slider, and change-up. His fastball, however, accounts for 64% of all of his pitches thrown. This, on the surface, makes sense. His fastball is indeed fast and can generate some swing and miss. However, his Baseball Savant page looks like the 4th of July, and his heavy reliance on his fastball is not the best for his possible long-term success. According to Baseball Savant, Gore’s whiff %, barrel %, and HardHit % all sit at or below the 50th percentile, (50th, 43rd, and 38th respectively). These numbers from a rookie starter with a fabulous ERA suggest possible regression to a more “normal” ERA. These contact stats start to make a bit more sense when looking at Gore’s fastball spin rate percentile. As a pitcher, the higher RPMs you put on your fastball, the more success that pitch will have in generating a swing and miss from a batter. Gore’s fastball spin rate clocks in at the 46th percentile, slightly below average. This kind of data from a starting pitcher is not ideal. Another spin rate stat to pay attention to is his curve spin percentile. This falls in the 25th percentile and suggests that, while it may be a nasty pitch due to its relatively new presence in the league, hitters are going to see it better as time goes on. What is truly impressive about the Padres’ young lefty is his expected stats. Gore’s ERA is a great place to start when talking about expected stats. His current ERA is 1.50 but his xERA is 3.15. xERA takes into account batted balls’ exit velocity, launch angle, and xBA to try and give a refined picture of what any given pitcher’s ERA should be. With Gore, this expected stat reveals a little bit of luck playing into his sub-2 earned run average. But a 3.15 ERA as a rookie is not something to scoff at. Next, his xBA (expected batting average based on batted balls’ velo and launch angle) and his xSLG (the expected bases per base hit for a player) sit in the 76th and 75th respective percentiles. This makes Gore in the top 25% of pitchers in these categories (cate-GORE-ies, get it?). This San Diego pitcher has impressive stuff, but these numbers imply a good pitcher in the making, not a Cy Young-level player. His ERA is going to inflate soon, and his spin rate on his pitches must improve for him to have continued success in his career.

Taking a trip to Minnesota, the Twins have one of the most exciting young fireballers in the league today coming out of their bullpen. Jhoan Duran has an incredible arm. His average fastball velocity is a ridiculous 101 mph. Duran is the prime example to look at when people talk about the average fastball speed increase over the years. Duran has pitches that have never been seen before in the MLB. His change-up and splitter are both in the high 90s. His curveball, with 43.5 inches of vertical drop, can reach into the 90s as well. Duran is a truly outstanding talent. But what do the numbers say about this guy? There are a ton of bright red circles on his Baseball Savant page but also some blue ones (implying below-average percentiles) mixed in the bunch as well. All of his expected stats (xBA, xERA, xSLG, and xwOBA) are in the 93rd percentile or higher. His chase rate and whiff % sit in the 96th and 98th percentile, respectively. His walk % is in the 92nd and his strikeout % is in the 99th. A reliever who can throw 103mph and strikes out 37.9% of the batters he faces?! That is enough to make any franchise drool. Duran is must-see TV. However, this kind of arm can be cause for concern. Arm health and injuries are the main downsides to someone of this caliber. The human body is not meant to consistently throw baseballs at 101 mph. So, you might as well squeeze all the value out of this guy while you still can, right? Well, at a certain point, a pitcher can stop trying to throw out of his shoes every time and still be incredibly valuable. Is Duran’s cannon of an arm sustainable, or will his coaches dial him back to get more out of him for longer? This question can be potentially answered by looking at his fastball spin, which sits in the 37th percentile. This statistic brings up the efficiency of his arm. This percentile ranking suggests that Duran is throwing his fastball in a somewhat dangerous manner. For now, his 103mph will blow people away, and he will not have to worry about his spin as much. But if this slinger wants to have a more illustrious career, his fastball and arm efficiency must improve. Duran will always be exciting every time he takes the mound. However, baseball fans can only pray that he stays healthy for their entertainment, as the Twins can only do so much to prevent this incredible arm from injury.

Pitching prospects are a truly impressive part of the game of baseball. A scout has to be able to gauge whether a player can take the mental strain of being an MLB player while still offering their best stuff on the mound. Pitchers like Mackenzie Gore and Jhoan Duran have found success thus far in 2022. It will be interesting to see how these two end up at the end of the season and whether or not they receive any rookie of the year voting. Both of these players are incredibly talented and should be enjoyed by fans of the game everywhere, as they both look to have interesting and exciting careers ahead of them.

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