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Taking a Closer Look at Julio Urias’ First Major League Stint

Via AllinOne Sports

Julio Urias finally made his much anticipated debut this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, on May 27th against the New York Mets.  Urias went on to make eight starts for the Dodgers, making a number of highs and lows that are to be expected of a 19-year-old.  Now that it appears as though Urias will be sent to the minors and perhaps shut down for a period of time in order to limit his innings count, we can analyze the phenom’s first stint in the majors.

Although Urias did not have the ultra-successful debut that some were hoping for and even expecting, his time in the big leagues was not a failure.  Not only was he relatively effective, but the experience he gained at the highest level will be tremendous for his development over the second half of the season.  Urias recorded a paltry line of 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA, but he also had 44 strikeouts in only 36.1 innings.  In addition, Urias had a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.58 and an xFIP of 3.76, suggesting that Urias may have been a victim of some tough luck.  Just having watched a few of his starts, it was clear that umpires were not giving the young pitcher any close pitches.  In fact, there were a number of times where umpires were squeezing his strike zone, causing Urias to rack up far too many pitches that prevented him from going deep into games.  Urias completed six innings on only one occasion, largely because of a pitch count that hovered around 90 for most of his starts, but also due to his average of almost 19 pitches per inning.

Urias had a difficult time with his control and finishing hitters off, a problem that also plagued Clayton Kershaw in his first year in the majors.  Kershaw averaged over 17 pitches per inning, and he also had control issues illustrated by his 4.35 BB/9 that is actually worse than Urias’ mark of 4.21.  A lot of Urias’ struggles are very typical for young pitchers and should not be red flags when analyzing the youngster’s first major league stint.  A lot of Urias’ numbers thus far are relatively similar to Kershaw’s back in his debut season in 2008.  This is not to say that Urias is going to be the next Kershaw, but it is fair for Dodger fans to be highly optimistic about their young phenom’s future.

Urias’ changeup has been regarded as his best pitch throughout his career as Urias has a fantastic arm action and great fade that makes it really tough to hit.  However, Urias only used his biggest weapon 9.3% of the time—10% less than his curveball and even 4.4% less than his slider which he just recently added to his arsenal.  Part of the reason why Urias had problems finishing hitters off when in favorable counts could be attributed to his lack of changeup usage.  Looking at Urias’ stats and after watching some of his starts, it was abundantly clear that he is far more comfortable throwing his curveball.  Not that his curveball is not a great pitch as it has tremendous downward break reminiscent of Kershaw’s to go along with a little late horizontal movement, but his changeup is vastly underutilized.  In the few times that Urias did use his changeup, it was 1.4 runs better than his curveball.  Urias should focus on gaining confidence in this pitch over the second half of the season in the minors as it could be the catalyst that helps him strike hitters out in pitcher’s counts rather than letting them foul off pitches giving them more chances to punish a mistake while running up his pitch count.

As I previously mentioned, Urias just recently began throwing a slider and he will definitely be working on perfecting his new offering in the minor leagues.  Every pitcher is different in regards to how fast they are able to throw a new pitch effectively, but thus far the signs are looking promising for Urias.  Statistically, his slider was actually his best pitch as it graded out at only 0.1 runs below average (his curveball was the worst).  Urias showed an openness to using the pitch as he threw it almost 14% of the time, and he was generally effective when throwing it.  Urias already has three offerings that grade out well above average, and if he can add a slider to the mix he could be nearly impossible to hit, especially against right-handed hitters.  Being a lefty, Urias’ biggest concern will be getting out hitters who hit from the opposite side.  If he can keep them off balance with four plus pitches, it will be extremely difficult for hitters to sit on one pitch.  In two strike counts, Urias could throw a changeup down and away, a curveball in the dirt, a slider down and in, or even just try to overpower the guy with a fastball—that is a lot to think about at the plate.  Even if his slider never reaches the level of his other two off-speed pitches, if Urias can command the pitch relatively well and use it to keep hitters off balance, his better pitches will only become more effective.  So far, it appears that Urias is well on his way to adding this fourth pitch and having it be much more than just a fringe slider.

For a 19-year-old with just eight major league starts under his belt, some of the previous comparisons to one of the best pitchers of the live ball era may seem a bit unfair.  However, Urias has the potential to be really really good (predicting he will be Kershaw’s level is a little bit too audacious).  Urias attacks hitters with finesse whereas Kershaw uses power to attack the inside corner against right-handers, but the two have a surprisingly similar arsenal.  Plus, it’s not as though Urias has fringe velocity on his fastball; the phenom averaged 92.8 mph on his heater, a mere 0.1 mph below Kershaw’s average fastball this season.  Urias has all the tools to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his command needs improvement.  Although the young lefty’s numbers may not be as pretty as one would have hoped, Urias still put up 0.7 WAR and many of his peripheral numbers were much better than his ERA.  For a pitcher that was far from his best and still just 19 years old, this was a pretty good debut.  Urias has been known throughout his career for his fantastic work ethic and now that he has gained some valuable experience in the majors, he will most definitely be a tireless worker employing what he learned over the next few months in order to prepare himself for his next shot at the big leagues.  If all goes as planned in that regard and he gets a few more calls his way from behind the plate, this will be the last time Dodger fans will have the words ‘underperformance’ and ‘Urias’ in the same sentence.

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