Chase Whitley has been in the Yankees organization since he was drafted in the 15th round of the 2010 draft. At the time he was a pitcher/third baseman, but the Yankees selected him as a pitcher due to his strong changeup and ability to toss multiple innings in college. He’s pretty much been a reliever in the minors, but recently the Yankees made him a starter and so far he has done well.
So I thought I’d take a look at Whitley, take a look at why they likely made him a starter and look at his repetoir and how it has made him successful in two, albeit brief, starts so far in the majors.
Since Whitley was drafted, he’s gone through the levels as a relief pitcher, stopping in Staten Island in his first pro year, making it to Double-A in his second and flying to Triple-A in 2012. Last season he repeated Triple-A and pitched 67.2 innings over 29 appearances with a 3.06 ERA, a 8.2 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9. At that point, he’s pretty much done all you can do in the minors and is ready for the show. Except the Yankees kept him in Triple-A to start this year, but did something curious — they made him a starter.
Even if they never completely stretched him out to 100 pitches this year, he did well with a 2.39 ERA, a 10.9 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9 in 26.1 innings. During his final real start in the minors he struck out 11 batters in 6.2 innings and, with an emergency in the Yankees rotation, he was called up.
The fact that he was never completely stretched out has held him back in the big leagues, but overall he has been very good with a 1.00 ERA, a 7.0 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 in nine innings over two appearances.
So what made the Yankees decide to turn him into a starter? It’s hard to say exactly, but Whitley does have four strong pitches including a fastball, a changeup, a sinker and a slider. He was also a starter in college unlike a lot of the strong relievers the Yankees have drafted and promoted in recent years.
ABOUT HIS PITCHES
Unlike most pitchers, whose primary pitch is their fourseam fastball, Whitley actually throws his changeup slightly more often, using it 29.67 percent of the time. His fastball is his No. 2 pitch as he throws it 28.02 percent of the time. Then there is the slider and finally, his least used pitch is the sinker.
He tops out at 92.2 mph with the fastball, according to pitchFX and his changeup usually comes in around 84.9 mph. The changeup has the most horizontal break of all his pitches, dropping more than eight inches. His fastball has more vertical movement and darts nine inches across the plate.
The sinker drops slightly less than the change, 7.94 inches on average and his slider is tight, with the least movement, and comes in at 86.6 mph.
WHERE AND WHEN?
Whitley throws the changeup to lefties 39.8 percent of the time and hardly uses his slider against them. When facing righties, though, he uses the slider more than any other pitch and falls back on the fourseamer.
If he’s ahead in the count, he’ll use the changeup to finish batters off and when he falls behind he uses that fourseamer to catch up and basically abandons the slider altogether. He’s only thrown seven pitches in a full-count situation so far, but his go-to pitch in that scenario is the fastball then the change.
He likes to work down and in and that doesn’t matter if it’s a righty or a lefty. He’ll go up and away a little more to lefties than righties, especially if he is ahead in the count, but his game plan is to keep the ball down and in. When he’s gotten into trouble it has always been because he has left the ball up in the zone.
Whitley has allowed just one run in two short starts so far so he’s been mostly effective and we’re going off a small sample size here, but so far his best pitch has been his fastball followed by the slider. He lives off that changeup, but it seems like it is more to set up other pitches rather than to put batters away.
This is where we get to the point where it appears that he might be getting a bit lucky. He has a decent walk rate so far, but he only throws the ball in the zone 39.7 percent of the time and only three out of 20 pitches the Yankees have used induce fewer swings as a result. The good sign is that he gets batters to swing at pitches outside of the zone better than most and avoids having them swing at pitches inside the zone less often. This, to me, is probably the most interesting thing to look at as his sample size gets larger.
SPEAKING OF SAMPLE SIZE
All of this should come with the caveat that he has only thrown nine innings in the big leagues. This is not “What type of pitcher is Chase Whitley” for a reason. It’s merely a look at what he’s done so far. A lot of these trends will likely continue, but some, or even most, will undoubtedly change. I just thought it would be interesting to talk about what he’s doing since he is a rookie and especially because he hasn’t been a starter for a long period of time.
Please comment with your thoughts. I’d like to know if readers are interested in this type of thing because I was thinking of writing more articles of this type. I’d probably take a look at Dellin Betances next or maybe even a more established guy like David Robertson. I could even do one on CC Sabathia and see if there is a difference between good and bad CC or if it’s mostly just luck.