Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired a pitcher who made a pair of big league appearances last year. Instead of beginning the season at Triple-A Durham and being in the mix for major league time, though, he will start the year at Double-A Montgomery. The Rays’ pitching depth is currently in shambles thanks to several injuries, but something like this certainly wouldn’t give you any hint of that.
In any event, this piece is not about the Rays’ depth, but that pitcher who will join the Biscuits: right-hander Bradin Hagens. Marc Topkin first reported that the Rays acquired Hagens from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations. Hagens, a sixth round pick by Arizona back in 2009, is coming off a season that started at Double-A but saw him throw his first games at Triple-A and then the major leagues.
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One glance at Bradin Hagens’ statistics will elucidate a major red flag: he has not struck double as many batters as he has walked since 2010. He hasn’t come particularly close either, topping out at 1.71-to-1 and averaging just 1.43-to-1. That doesn’t mean that he has pitched badly, though, as his ERA has been 3.81 since 2011. While he hasn’t struck out many batters and has always issued walked too frequently as well, he has been able to make up for that with a host of groundballs.
According to Minor League Central, Hagens’ groundball rates has not slipped below 50% in any of the last four seasons, and it was even 55.6% in his 2.2 innings with the D-Backs. The way that Hagins has gotten there, though, is a little bizarre. Hagins does throw the occasional two-seam fastball–what we would call a sinker–but most of his groundballs come on his primary fastball, his cutter.
Throwing mostly cut-fastballs can mess up everything for a pitcher, as we saw from Brandon Gomes last year. Gomes’ cutter quickly became his best pitch, but it prevented him from throwing his put-away pitch, his slider, because it was too similar to it. In addition, his other solid secondary offering, his splitter, didn’t work as well off his cutter as it did off his four-seam fastball because he threw it several MPH slower.
In case of Bradin Hagens, he features a curveball against right-handed batters and a changeup versus lefties, but neither gives his cutter much help. Mixing his cutters with the occasional straight four-seamer has been enough to keep hitters off-balance, but that is about all he does. As the stats hinted at, he doesn’t miss many bats with that approach, and he commands his pitches much better than he controls them as he often misses down in the zone.
In order to become a big league pitcher, Hagens will have to overhaul his approach. Gomes shifted to more four-seamers and splitters towards the end of last year and has generated solid results since (although not good enough to make the Rays’ roster). For Hagens, though, his four-seamer doesn’t have much movement and stays around 90 MPH, and he also doesn’t have another secondary pitch that looks particularly promising.
The good news from the Rays’ standpoint, though, is that while they see if they can help Hagens break through, he should be able to log a lot of minor league innings. He has tossed at least 135 innings each of the last two years, and the Rays will see whether he will need to approach such numbers this season between Double-A and Triple-A. Filling innings is the Rays’ primary motivation behind acquiring Bradin Hagens, and anything else would be a bonus.