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Zach Plesac could be more than just a fifth starter

He showed a lot of potential Saturday after a very interesting rookie campaign

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Workouts Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Of the rookie pitchers from 2019, Zach Plesac’s fastball velocity set him apart from his classmates. Others had better sequencing, better stuff, but at 94-or-so MPH, it rated as above average velocity, and probably helped him paper over whatever shortcomings he might have had elsewhere. The strikeout rate (18.4%) certainly wasn’t great, and walking 8.4% of hitters isn’t a long-term good enough sort of thing ever. By Baseball Savant’s xERA, he massively over achieved with a 3.81 ERA vs. a 5.34 xERA. That needs fixing if he wants to stick around, but as he showed on Saturday, there’s something good to be seen from Plesac. He may be more than just a pretty good fastball

I think his changeup, if properly used with his fastball, could be a killer pitch. The first thing I saw when I turned it on was him getting a hideous swing out of a Pirates batter, but he backed himself up and threw a fastball the next pitch, in the same location, to allow a single. That’s where becoming a pitcher is needed, where you need to understand the value of tunneling pitches in similar areas, but not too similar, and understanding the movement on your pitches to properly locate. That will come, and with that changeup I saw, he should do quite well. This isn’t that changeup, but take a look:

That’s a nice, dirty pitch, and if you can get a strong high fastball working, it’s something that can work a lot of weak contact and a good number of soft contact outs. He only has a 2100-ish RPM spin rate on his fastball, which isn’t typically what you want out of a good high fastball. You want the pitch to ride, to have less perceived drop, and the high spin rate helps tremendously. That said, the actual movement compares very positively to none other than Justin Verlander. Verlander’s Baseball Savant page even shows Plesac as a favorable comparison in terms of velocity and movement. This could be a whole other conversation around spin vs. useful spin, since Verlander’s four-seam has a 2500+ RPM spin rate to it, but regardless it’s a great tool for Plesac to work off. With that change, he has a nice compliment.

It’s not just that off-speed though, Plesac has a pitch or two that are borderline whiffleballs. Not in the way that is traditionally considered — weird, wild, and wide break — more the type of thing I was always used to. Being a long, lanky guy with oddly spindly fingers, I often got a lot of late life out of my pitches, or else gave up tremendous bombs. Feast or famine, it’s the best way to live. Plesac’s 21 homers in 115.2 innings isn’t really great or anything, but it’s at least something that reminds me of simpler times. Those two pitches though. One a slider:

And the other, something else,

are interesting pieces that could pay dividends when paired with what is evidently a surprisingly lively fastball. I don’t even know what that third pitch is. It’s a slider with no horizontal movement, but it doesn’t have the gloveside run that his change usually does. And his curve is like mid-70s. It probably is a slider, but who can be sure right now? I decided on “slange-up”, it’s a lot of fun to say.

He doesn’t have a truly lethal breaking pitch, and that’s going to hold him back some. Shane Bieber doesn’t have anything rivaling Corey Kluber’s slurve or Trevor Bauer’s curve, but he’s effective because his location is sterling. That is not Plesac’s thing, or wasn’t a year ago. Still, he stayed on the edges on Saturday night, much more so than he really did last year, and that’s the growth we need to see. He threw just 42% fastballs on Saturday, again an improvement from last year’s 50.6%. That’s vital for the kind of mix-it-up and tight movement repertoire that could get him a nice home at the back of the rotation.

The Indians only really need 10 or 12 starts out of Plesac, and if he’s as fine for 100 pitches as he was for 69 on Saturday in each of those starts, that’s a powerful starting five.