Dinelson Lamet Needs Another Pitch

Coming into the season, Dinelson Lamet was one of the Padres’ more polarizing prospects. Some, such as Baseball America, were very high on him, ranking him ninth overall in the system. Others, such as Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, were much less bullish, ranking him 24th, saying:

Lamet sits 91-96 with some deception and downhill plane that stems from his arm slot. It’s a nearly vertical slot created by tilt of the spine. From that slot also comes a plus-flashing slider that is, at times, almost totally vertically oriented, even in the upper 80s. He has below-average command and there’s very little hope for a viable changeup at this point. I think Lamet could be a setup-man type of arm if the command comes along a little bit and a tick is added to his stuff in shorter stints.

If you were looking at how well Lamet has done this season, it seems that some of what Longenhagen has said is clearly surfacing. As of Wednesday, Lamet’s line looks like this:

57.2 IP, 5.62 ERA (4.33 FIP), 30.0 K%, 8.8 BB%, 1.72 HR/9, .281 BABIP

He’s striking out a lot of hitters and not walking very many, but man oh man, look at that home run rate. Among 158 starters with at least 50 innings pitched, Lamet ranks 126th with his rate, whichpartly explains the high ERA. After all, his FIP suggests that his ERA should be much lower, but that’s what happens when you are allowing long balls by the bucket full.

Still, it hasn’t been that bad of a rookie season, especially when one considers how unlucky he’s been, but there stands to reason that improvement over these numbers is something the Padres are hoping for. Judging from the outside, there seems to be a simple fix too: a third pitch. If Dinelson Lamet wants to remain in the rotation, he needs to develop another pitch to add to his arsenal that he actually has confidence throwing.

Let’s look at a few graphs. First, here is Lamet’s pitch usage by month:

You can see that Lamet has gradually gone from using his changeup as a true third pitch to hardly using it at all. It’s even more stark when you consider the same usage chart, only broken down by game:

He’s barely using his changeup at all anymore. This kind of jives with the scouting report that Longenhagen gave, where he classified the changeup as having “very little hope” at being a good third pitch. Of course, that hope could increase if he tried to throw it more. Is it a lack of confidence? Perhaps, although, he had better gain some confidence in it and fast.

There could be a lack of confidence because it is the lefties that are teeing off on him. He has used his changeup against lefties 14% of the time he has faced them against 1% of the time he faces a righty. Look at the splits between left-handed and right-handed hitters:

LHB: .300/.373/.636, 31:13 K:BB
RHB: .152/.226/.286, 44:9 K:BB

Southpaws are killing him and walking more since they have no fear of an effective changeup from Lamet. Meanwhile, righties have been dominated by that slider that Lamet is throwing, and therefore, face his changeup far less often. It follows with the same type of pattern a relief specialist would use. If, say, Andrew Miller were to face a lefty, he would (and does) throw a slider more often because it is a harder pitch for the lefty to square up. He is able to do this because he has no fear of having to face that hitter a second or third time again since he is a reliever. Starters, though, have to have the stuff to make it through a lineup at least twice and sometimes three times, if things are going well. Lamet, utilizing only two pitches, is not going to be able to survive in the majors for very long if he is only able to throw two pitches versus a lineup.

Nevertheless, with the quality of his fastball and slider, there remains a lot of potential in Lamet to be a successful starter. Among those 158 starters I mentioned earlier, his 11.71 K/9 ranks 6th overall. When you have a pitcher doing that kind of damage against the competition, you help make adjustments. Adding or refining a new pitch might be something they work on in spring training, but if they want to help him get through the season this year, he needs that changeup. Let’s hope the coaching staff recognizes it and is working on it with him.

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