On May 17, 2012, Brandon Beachy tossed a 122-pitch, complete-game shutout of the Miami Marlins at Turner Field. At that early point in the season, Beachy held a 5-1 record with a 1.33 ERA after eight starts. And, for hardcore Braves fans, his games had become must-see TV, as he mixed Glavine-like poise with consistent strike-throwing ability â€” Gary Cooper, if you will, with an out pitch.
As we all know, a month later (and after another five starts), he was pulled out of a game vs. Baltimore in the 4th inning and put on the DL the next day with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. His outrageously promising season ended with a 5-5 record, but 1.5 WAR, 68 strikeouts against just 29 walks, and just 49 hits in 81 IP.
Oh, and he had a 2.00 ERA (200 ERA+) with a 0.96 WHIP. Hitters mustered a meager .171/.259/.507 slash line with a .201 BABIP. I know it was only 81 innings, but itâ€™s hard to consider those numbers without wanting to reach for a drool bucket.
He underwent Tommy John surgery on June 21, threw off a mound in late October and, if rehab continues to go well, heâ€™s expected to return to the big club midway through the 2013 campaign. Itâ€™ll be a big moment for the 26-year-old right-hander and another confirming moment for the club thatâ€™s nurtured his rise through the ranks.
His Game: Beachy gets ahead of hitters with a â€œrisingâ€ 4-seamer that averages 91-92 MPH (topping out at 94), then puts â€™em away with a sharp-breaking, low-80s slider. He also works in a change and a curve, but those are mostly for show â€” although he will pull the string on lefties when he gets behind. His plan is relatively basic, but effective: Throw strike one or stay ahead at the always-pivotal 1-1 count; then make the hitter â€” lefty or righty â€” screw himself into the ground on the deadly 2-strike slider. Swing & miss â€” itâ€™s a winning formula. Just ask John Smoltz.
In his eye-opening 2011 campaign â€” 7-3 and with a 3.68 ERA (3.19 FIP) â€” he racked up 10.74 K/9 in 141 IP/25 starts (for a 2.9 WAR season). Then in his abbreviated â€™12 season, intentionally or otherwise, he seemed to dial down his emphasis on the strikeout. Granted, it was only 81 IP in 13 GS, but that number dropped to 7.56 K/9.
Perhaps thatâ€™s explained by his rising ground-ball rate, which rose from 33.8% to 41.3%. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate dropped from 45.2% to 40.8%. More hitters, especially lefties, were beating the slider and off-speed stuff into the ground. FWIW, his walk rate ticked upward, from 2.92 BB/9 to 3.22, while his HR rate dipped from 1.02 HR/9 to 0.67.
Perhaps one canâ€™t completely fall in love with that 81-inning ground-ball rate. So, if Beachyâ€™s still more of a fly-ball pitcher, we probably canâ€™t expect him to maintain (or even approach) that low HR rate. But, if he does, well… wow.
A native of Kokomo, Ind., and the eldest of seven siblings, Beachy grew up rooting for the White Sox and the Reds or, he admits, â€œanybody that was playing the Cubs.â€ He signed with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 2008, although he hadnâ€™t pitched in high school or very much at Indiana Wesleyan, where he also played first-base and third-base. (And as some of you may know, heâ€™s also an occasional film reviewer.)
The 6-3, 215-pound Beachy put in parts of four years in the minors, where he was primarily used as a reliever, with only 22 starts in 77 games. (Minor league numbers: 12-4, 2.54 ERA, 213 IP, 189 H, 236 K, 51 BB and 9 HR â€” not bad, eh?) Still, Beachy says he retained doubts about ever making it to The Show â€” until he experienced a mid-summer moment down on the farm where everything clicked.
â€œI was undrafted, so I never really expected to be here, to be honest,â€ he told an interviewer during 2012 spring training. â€œIt was always a dream, but it never seemed like it was a reality until I had one game [in Mississippi in 2010] where everything felt good and I executed really well and I [thought], â€˜I think I can make this happen.â€™â€
Some might not think that a guy with a 12-10 career record in the majors would get ATL baseball fans all that excited, but then they havenâ€™t seen many of Brandon Beachyâ€™s outings. As Kris Medlen showed us in the latter half of the 2012 season, there are few things as thrilling as having a staff anchored by a young, hotshot, starting pitcher who strikes people out. You begin to have visions of Gooden and Lincecum. So, even if itâ€™s only for a relative glimpse of greatness â€” as Beachy has given us â€” itâ€™s tantalizing nonetheless. (Then, of course, you start considering his long-term future with the team. Earliest arb-eligible: 2014; earliest free-agent: 2017.)
Lucky for Braves fans, Beachy himself seems to realize that he has finally matched his talent with the requisite confidence. During that same spring training interview, he simply said, â€œI want to do great things.â€
Youâ€™re not alone, Brandon. We canâ€™t wait to see them.