A Rule Five Review: Matt Bowman

Part two in this review series.

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In my last post, I began my review of the Rule Five Draft by getting an overview of the players and analyzing the first of three successful relievers. In this post, I’ll examine another of those relievers.

Matt Bowman

Background: Another former Met, Bowman was picked up in the 13th round of the 2012 draft by the Amazin’s after playing at Princeton for a few years. From 2012-2014, Bowman made 57 appearances (45 of them starts) for various Mets’ affiliates. He excelled during that time, never posting an ERA higher than 3.47 or a FIP higher than 3.54 at any one stop. His walk rate never went higher than 2.90 K/9. However, last year, the wheels came off. Bowman posted a 5.53 ERA and 5.03 FIP in 140 Triple-A innings last year. The K’s disappeared and the walks rose to a career high rate. Nevertheless, the Cardinals picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft after the season.

Evaluation: On the surface, things don’t look great for Bowman. He has a 3.92 ERA as a reliever. He only has a K-rate of 6.59 K/9. His swinging strike rate is a mere 8.5%. But, those numbers don’t do him justice, and there are some things I really like about Bowman, namely his 60.1% groundball rate. Of the 278 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings this year, that mark ranks as the 7th highest. What’s fueling that insane groundball rate? It’s the fact that Bowman throws his sinker 55.59% of the time, and that sinker is a beauty. It has a whopping 71.11% groundball rate. There are 183 pitchers who throw a sinker and have thrown at least 50 innings this year. Of those 183, Bowman’s sinker is tied for the 13th most drop on average. Of those 183 who are righties, Bowman’s sinker has the sixth-most armside run. It has a good swinging strike rate for a sinker, too. It’s at 8.13%, and 4.8% is considered good by Jeff Zimmerman’s and Eno Sarris’s awesome pitch type peripherals benchmarks. Not to mention, it averages more than 92 MPH, not bad for a pitch with movement like this. Given what I’ve said about his sinker so far, it isn’t surprising that it has the 12th lowest average spin rate amongst the 139 pitchers who have thrown at least 300 sinkers this year. A low spin rate like that allows it to have more drop.

In fact, all of his pitches have spin rates that are very low. Most notably, his split-change has a very low spin rate. Consider: of the 218 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 splitters and/or changeups this season, Bowman’s split-change has the 4th-lowest average spin rate. Thus, it isn’t surprising that, of the 264 pitchers who throw a split and/or changeup and have thrown at least 50 innings this year, Bowman’s has the 20th most drop. The pitch has an awesome 17.29% whiff rate and a solid 57.14% groundball rate. Both of those marks are well above average according to the pitch type benchmarks. The ISO against it is also a mere 0.054.

His other pitch is a slider that isn’t anything special. It has decent horizontal movement, but beyond that, it isn’t much.

A couple of other things to note about Bowman: first, he has been excellent at getting called strikes, as evidenced by a Z-Swing% that ranks as the 18th lowest of the 278 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings this year. His O-Swing% is around average, too, and for that reason, he ranks 19th lowest in Z-Swing minus O-Swing. This makes me think that, with two plus pitches and this showing of good command, he should be able to get more strikeouts eventually, or at least give up very weak contact (the good movement on his pitches bodes well for weak contact also).

And unsurprisingly, Bowman has been giving up weak contact already. Consider: in that same set of 278 pitchers, his Soft% is the 22nd highest and his Hard% is the 5th lowest. Statcast backs him up, too: of the 234 pitchers with at least 14o batted ball events this year, Bowman has allowed the fourth lowest average exit velocity. Damn, he’s good at quite a lot of things.

Bottom Line: I see some serious upside here. Bowman can be an elite reliever if he scraps his slider and moves to being a sinker/split-change guy. There’s a greater-than-ten MPH gap between his split-change and sinker (which is considered ideal), and that would continue to serve him well if he chose to scrap the slider. He can also be a starter if he improves on the slider–he’s only 25, and I can definitely see that pitch getting better as he moves into his prime. Also, the fact that his two best pitches also work against lefties (because they have armside movement) bodes well for potential success as a starter. I’ll leave you with a few gifs from a Bowman Double-A start against an Indians affiliate in 2014, courtesy of Astromets Mind. Here’s an awesome Bowman sinker for a swinging strikeout:

Bowman_K3.gif

And just for the hell of it, a swinging strikeout of Francisco Lindor with the split-change:

Bowman_K2.gif

God, I can’t help myself. This is the last one, I promise. I had to include it because it was Tyler Naquin striking out on the split-change.

Bowman_K6.gif

Data is from FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant. Gifs are courtesy of Astromets Mind (they have great coverage of the Mets’ farm system, check them out: astrometsmind.com). Picture is courtesy of Kim Klement, from USA TODAY Sports. Stats are as of morning 9/6/16.

Thanks for reading!

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