Sunday, August 14, 2022

Keegan Thompson With A Great Start In Loss to Reds

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Keegan Thompson continued to demonstrate that he deserves a spot in the Cubs’ rotation for years to come. Although the Cubs dropped a game to the Reds 5-3 last night, the story was Thompson’s pitching. Thompson went 6.1 innings pitched, giving up four earned runs, 2 of which came into score on Jonathan India’s home run off of Rowan Wick. Thompson added eight strikeouts and put his team in a position to win, something he has done multiple times this year.



The transition from 2021 to 2022

Keegan made his debut last year in May and made 32 appearances with the team in 2021. He only made six starts, with the team going 3-3 in those games. His K/BB ratio left a little to be desired and a WHIP of 1.481, but both have improved this year.

Thompson began working in some long relief spots this year, which translated to the starting role well. In 9 starts this year, the team is 6-3. His WHIP is down to 1.158; his K/BB ratio has improved from 1.77 to 3.0. Keegan has maintained an ERA+ of 127 in both seasons, while the league average is 100.

How does his “stuff” look?

Over 85% of Thompson’s pitches are fastballs, cutters, and a curveball. We can go to BaseballSavant.com to see how those pitches have developed. The slugging percentage off of fastballs has dropped from .457 to .340; for cutters, it has fallen from .492 to .391. The problem has been with the curveball, which has seen slugging increase from .245 to .556. 4 of the seven home runs off Thompson have been on curveballs this year.

If he can get the curve under control, it offers a tremendous put-away pitch for Thompson. His cutter is the pitch that has seen the most development. This season he has improved the cutter’s movement, precisely the horizontal aspect. The 5.1 inches is 158% more than the average movement. The 158% above average is the 4th highest in baseball.

There is also the addition of a change-up, sinker, and slider. In 2021, he threw the change and slider a total of 32 times. In 2022, he added a sinker which he’s thrown 55 times, and increased the change-up and slider usage to 57 and 24, respectively. As the 27-year-old gets comfortable with those new pitches, one of them should emerge as the put-away pitch if curveball struggles continue.

Compared to the league

Keegan is an above-average pitcher by nearly any metric. His average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage are both in the 70th percentile. His fastball spin is in the 91st percentile. Last year his walk rate was in the bottom 8%, and this year he has improved it to 7.7%, which is average.

Baseballsavant’s pitch profile is similar to Zac Gallen’s from Arizona and Jameson Taillon’s from the Yankees. Keegan’s seven wins are tied for the 6th most in the National League. Thompson needs to pitch more innings to make his way into the “qualified” category for other starting pitchers, but his WHIP, ERA, and K/BB ratio all look comparable.

Role moving forward

The Cubs’ starting pitching in 2022 has been inconsistent. Stroman has shown glimpses of greatness when he has been available, and Hendricks has alternated between throwing gems and getting rocked by the 3rd inning. Thompson has offered that consistency coming out of the bullpen at the beginning of the year or in the past few months.

The Cubs have some time to see if he continues to develop into a top-of-rotation starter; his free agency begins in 2028. This year is excellent for Keegan to build his arsenal without a ton of pressure to make the playoffs. Thompson seems prepared for the big moments and ready to join others like tonight’s starter, Justin Steele, as they try to carve their name on the roster for years to come.

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