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Updated: May 26th, 2012 3:37pm
Mackey: Is P.J. Walters a fluke? His 'stuff' suggests he might stick

Mackey: Is P.J. Walters a fluke? His 'stuff' suggests he might stick

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins are desperate for starting pitching. Now and for the future.

By allowing six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, Carl Pavano's performance marked the 23rd time in 46 games a Twins starter has surrendered at least five runs.

That's embarrassing.

P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond have been the lone bright spots in the Twins' rotation over the past few weeks, with Walters posting a 2.95 ERA (3.53 xFIP) in three starts and Diamond a 1.78 ERA (2.77 xFIP) in four starts.

Walters, who quite honestly came out of nowhere to claim his spot in the rotation, is scheduled to start Sunday's series finale against the Tigers. His ERA will inevitably take a hit at some point due mostly to opposing hitters holding an unsustainable .182 batting average on balls in play (even the best pitchers in this category sit no lower than .255 over time).

But taking a closer look at his pitch repertoire, Walters' recent success appears to have some validity.

MLB's Pitch F/X data is helpful on several fronts. Not only does it show velocities of every pitch thrown in every game, but it also shows how much vertical and horizontal movement each pitch has -- with or without help from gravity.

In other words, Pitch F/X shows how much a pitcher is able to manipulate the movement of a baseball on his own compared to other pitchers.

Heading into the weekend, 303 pitchers (with at least 10 IP) had thrown sliders this season including Walters. Pitch F/X classifies Walters' sweeping breaking ball as a slider, even though he throws it at 76 mph.

Most breaking pitches thrown in the mid-70's are classified as curveballs, but Walters' is more of a "slurve" than a curve. Regardless of the label, Walters' breaking ball has some serious movement this season.

Of those 303 pitchers who have thrown sliders, Walters' slider (or slurve) has the 13th "best" horizontal movement (across the plane of the plate) and the 14th "best" downward movement.

He used the pitch 27 times against the White Sox earlier this week and induced seven whiffs.

Because Walters doesn't throw any of his pitches particularly hard his strikeout numbers will likely always be somewhat limited. But if there were questions about how a right-hander could succeed at keeping hitters off-balance with an 88-mph fastball while also mixing in some strikeouts (6.33 per nine innings), Walters is showing how to do it.

Walters' changeup has also been impressive. Along with having significant downward movement, the 10-mph difference between his changeup and fastball ranks in the 89th percentile this season among the 292 pitchers who have thrown changeups and four-seam fastballs.

And perhaps most importantly, Walters throws the ball in or near the strike zone.

Much like with hitters who get off to hot starts and cool off, it's entirely possible Walters, 27, is off to a hot start with his breaking ball and changeup. He could cool. After all, it's likely there's a reason why he has bounced around the last couple years.

Or maybe he'll keep throwing them with the same effectiveness.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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