Scott Diamond's preparation, mindset have impressed Jim Kaat, others
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Lost in the Minnesota Twins' 14-run outburst on Monday night in Cleveland was another solid outing by left-hander Scott Diamond.
By allowing only three runs (two earned) in seven innings, Diamond lowered his ERA to 2.91 on the season in 17 starts. Only twice has he failed to complete six innings, and of the Twins' seven longest outings by a starter this season, Diamond owns four.
Diamond, 26, doesn't have elite stuff. His fastballs (two-seam and four-seam) operate mostly between 89-90 mph, and the difference in velocity from his fastball to changeup (83-84 mph) isn't enough to rack up ton of strikeouts.
That said, only six starting pitchers have induced a higher percentage of groundballs than Diamond (56%), and only eight starters have thrown a higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone, according to MLB's Pitch F/X data.
And perhaps most impressively, of the 1,614 pitches Diamond has thrown this season, only 90 have missed above the strike zone (6%).
When he misses, he usually misses down, and that limits any potential damage.
Diamond's success appeared to come out of nowhere. He struggled in the big leagues and for Triple-A Rochester in 2011, and he was among the first pitchers sent down the street to minor league camp during spring training.
But according to people around him, it's likely very few pitchers put in more quality pre-start preparation work than Diamond, who is meticulous when it comes to studying video and scouting reports of his upcoming opponents. Diamond has also grown close to Carl Pavano and credits the veteran right-hander with helping him learn how to pitch deeper into ballgames.
Diamond studies hitters' tendencies -- on video and while sitting in the dugout -- and he preps mentally for the possible adjustments hitters might make before they make them.
Diamond is advanced mentally compared to other pitchers with fewer than 30 career starts under their belts, and his mindset caught the eye of three-time All-Star Jim Kaat as far back as spring of 2011. Kaat, who played 15 years in the Twins organization, spent time working with Twins pitchers in spring training two years ago -- Diamond's first year with Minnesota.
"What impressed me about Scott then was he was very curious," Kaat said last week in an interview with 1500 ESPN. "He probably asked more questions than most, and being a left-hander -- and not that I did anything to help him -- but I was just impressed that he asked the types of questions that he wanted to get better."
All pitchers watch video, read scouting reports and prepare mentally in 2012. But Diamond seems to have found a very successful formula.
"He's very good at it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He comes and gets the lineup card -- he's an intelligent young man -- and he studies it, and goes over it, and has a pitch plan and tries to stay with it out there. But more than anything else, we always say, you can pitch to hitters' weaknesses, but really you have to pitch to your strength too. He does very well at understanding what a hitter can and can't do, but also pitching to his strength too, and that's down in the zone and working ahead in the count."
It's likely Diamond's 2.91 ERA isn't fully sustainable. The left-hander finished Monday night's game with a 3.66 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark, which is more indicative of what his long-term ERA would be (based on peripheral numbers such as strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed).
But even if Diamond (with a salary of approximately $500,000) maintains a sub.-4.00 ERA while pitching deep into games, the Twins should be ecstatic.