Anatomy of a player: Gavin Floyd

Gavin Floyd has kept his ERA down this year but does that tell the whole story? (Icon/SMI)

Gavin Floyd was the fourth pick overall in the 2001 draft by the Phillies. He started his pro career the next year and blew away his older opponents in Single-A. This got him added to Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, checking in at 56. For a pitcher one year out of high school, this is a huge accomplishment and he followed that by blowing away hitters in high Single-A in 2003 and moved up to No. 9 on BA‘s top 100.

In 2004, after pitching very well in Double-A, Floyd made a brief stop in Triple-A before making the majors and pitching in six games for the Phillies. In 28.1 innings, he struck out 24 and had an ERA a shade under 3.50—not bad for a 21-year-old. Expectations were through the roof now for Floyd, but in 2005 he struggled and looked significantly worse when he got called up.

Floyd bounced back in 2006, putting up respectable Triple-A numbers, but again couldn’t find the magic in the big leagues, posting an ERA over seven. This was enough for Phillies to send him to the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade. Last year, Floyd again bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues. Again he posted very respectable numbers in Triple-A but relatively poor numbers with the White Sox.

Everything turned around this year for Floyd, who was given the fifth starter’s spot out of spring training and immediately got on a roll. He has a 12-6 record and a sub-four ERA, finally taking his place as a quality starter in the majors.

Or has he? If we dig a little deeper, some cracks appear in Floyd’s armor. While his strikeout rate is slightly up this year, his walk rate has also gone up compared to last year and his FIP is more than a run higher than his ERA. In fact, his FIP-ERA differential of 1.12 is second highest in all of baseball.

While he is keeping the ball in the park better this year, even that appears like regression to the mean—he was particularly unlucky in that regard in 2007. His xFIP has dropped only from 4.91 to 4.74 the last year, making you wonder how much improvement he really has shown. If it weren’t for sparkling defense behind him, his ERA certainly wouldn’t look as nice. His Defensive Efficiency Ratio is .760, and while the Sox defense isn’t bad, the team DER is .690.

What should we make out of this? Let’s examine his stuff a little further before we pass judgment.

Floyd’s pitches

Gavin Floyd is one of only a handful of pitchers who throw five pitches. He throws a fastball, sinker, change-up, slider and curve. Here is the movement of those pitches.
Both Floyd’s four-seam fastball (fastball) and two seam fastball (sinker) are thrown near 92 mph. This is slightly above average for a fastball and significantly above average for a sinker.

That said, the movement on these pitches is nothing to write home about. His fastball moves about 4.5 inches in to a right-handed batter and about 9.5 inches vertically. This is slightly below average on both counts. His sinker has more than seven inches of vertical movement, making it one of the least-sinking sinkers in baseball. He does generate nearly nine inches of horizontal movement with the pitch, so he can effectively jam right-handed batters, but he isn’t going to get the ground balls that you would generally associate with a sinker. Floyd seems to understand this, throwing his fastball 43 percent of the time to left-handed batters and only 29 percent to right-handed batters, while throwing his sinker more to right-handed batters (23 percent to RHB and 16 percent to LHB).

Floyd’s best off-speed pitch has always been his curveball, and this pitch is pretty unusual. First, he generates large horizontal movement (7.8 inches) with the pitch and a little less than league average movement (4.3 inches). That itself doesn’t make the pitch unique—many pitchers have a sweeping curve ball—but the speed at which he throws his curve, averaging more than 80 mph, is very high. Think Ben Sheets’ curve. So few pitchers throw a curve that fast, and those who do tend to have a 12-to-6 curve like Sheets’. Floyd’s curve is not 12-to-6—it is even further on the clock than 1 to 7 (from his perspective), so it runs away to a right-handed batter.

When I profiled Phil Hughes, I noted how much movement he was getting with his curve, but he throws that pitch in the low 70s, so Floyd needs to apply much more spin on the ball to get similar movement. Like Hughes’, though, his curve doesn’t sit in the same plane as his fastball and you worry that that might be tipping major league batters off. Floyd is using his curve almost exclusively as a strikeout pitch this year, throwing it only when ahead and mostly with two strikes. He isn’t using it as a “get me over” pitch or throwing it in the strike zone much. The fact that he isn’t getting better than average strikeout numbers tells me he isn’t having the success with his curve that you would expect and the lack of deception might be an issue.

I shudder a bit when I look at Floyd’s slider. It definitely is a slider and not a cutter—he throws it around 86 mph, which is much slower than you would expect for a cutter—but it has cutter movement in that it rises 4.8 inches and actually breaks in to a right-handed batter 0.7 inches. You almost never see a slider that moves in to a similarly handed batter and a pitch like that can’t be started over the plate only to dive down and away from a right-handed batter like you see with many good sliders.

Accordingly, Floyd uses his slider early in the count, mostly on the first or second pitch, though he will use it when the count is full. Locating a pitch with virtually no horizontal movement is paramount and if you leave a slider like this over the plate very bad things are going to happen.

Floyd’s change-up is still a work in progress. It is a straight change between his fastball and his sinker. He gets about nine mph difference between the change and his fastball, which is merely okay. Floyd rarely throws his change-up to right-handed batters, which is what you would expect, but he doesn’t throw it much to left-handed batters, either (only 8.5 percent to LHB). He also isn’t using the pitch with two strikes, preferring to throw it on 1-0, 0-1 and 1-1. If I were the White Sox, I would try to get him to throw that change-up much more with two strikes. That would give hitters something else to think about when they were in the hole.

Going forward

The more I look into Gavin Floyd, the more I think he is on borrowed time and is likely to falter down the stretch for the White Sox. He has been getting good defense behind him. If he were getting a ton of ground balls, you might understand that, but that isn’t the case with Floyd. He has some nice pitches, but they don’t seem to mesh well and I am not thrilled with his slider in particular.

He needs to keep those walk numbers down. He isn’t going to get a ton of double plays and when some balls start to fall in, he is going to get burned badly if he is handing out the free passes.

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