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 — 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 it’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, he’s expected to return to the big club midway through the 2013 campaign. It’ll be a big moment for the 26-year-old right-hander and another confirming moment for the club that’s nurtured his rise through the ranks.
His Game: Beachy gets ahead of hitters with a “rising” 4-seamer that averages 91-92 MPH (topping out at 94), then puts ’em away with a sharp-breaking, low-80s slider. He also works in a change and a curve, but those are mostly for show — 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 — lefty or righty — screw himself into the ground on the deadly 2-strike slider. Swing & miss — it’s a winning formula. Just ask John Smoltz.
In his eye-opening 2011 campaign — 7-3 and with a 3.68 ERA (3.19 FIP) — he racked up 10.74 K/9 in 141 IP/25 starts (for a 2.9 WAR season). Then in his abbreviated ’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 that’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 can’t completely fall in love with that 81-inning ground-ball rate. So, if Beachy’s still more of a fly-ball pitcher, we probably can’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, “anybody that was playing the Cubs.” He signed with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 2008, although he hadn’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, he’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 — not bad, eh?) Still, Beachy says he retained doubts about ever making it to The Show — until he experienced a mid-summer moment down on the farm where everything clicked.
“I was undrafted, so I never really expected to be here, to be honest,” he told an interviewer during 2012 spring training. “It 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], ‘I think I can make this happen.’”
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 haven’t seen many of Brandon Beachy’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 it’s only for a relative glimpse of greatness — as Beachy has given us — it’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, “I want to do great things.”
You’re not alone, Brandon. We can’t wait to see them.