Arm Slot Tweak Has Ty Madden Rolling
At Texas, righthander Ty Madden was consistently one of the most productive pitchers in college baseball.
His 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame is what scouts look for in a pitcher and he had a track record of durability as well. He went 7-5, 2.45 for Texas last year, making 18 starts. His ERA was second best in the Big 12 and he led the conference in innings pitched (113.2) and strikeouts (137).
He showed he could carry his stuff deep into games. He took the ball every weekend. He regularly touched 97-98 mph whenever he needed it.
But as we wrote last year, he did not fit what pro teams are currently looking for in a frontline starter, which led to a quandary for scouting and analytics departments. Would teams draft him at a spot seemingly commensurate to his many appealing qualities, or ding him for not fitting what teams were looking for in a starting pitcher in the 2020s?
Madden’s delivery was straight over the top, which meant he was at his best when he pitched with downward plane while working low in the strike zone. If he tried to pitch up in the zone with his fastball, hitters often got good swings off of him.
In the end, teams decided his less than appealing analytical pitch attributes were concerning enough to push him to the supplemental first round.
With many teams prioritizing fastball life, Madden’s unimpressive vertical approach angle on his fastball led many teams to pass on him. Detroit made him part of a pitching heavy day one of the draft, as the Tigers selected him with the 32nd pick overall after drafting Jackson Jobe in the first round.
But what if Madden could continue to demonstrate his excellent attributes and tweak the areas of concern? That appears to be what's happened.
Madden made his pro debut on Sunday. He’s already a very different pitcher than the one who pitched in Austin. In his High-A West Michigan debut, Madden was no longer using the over-the-top delivery that he relied on at Texas. He was throwing from more of a three-quarters release point.
It’s not that the Tigers turned Madden into a sidearmer or anything. The difference is Madden is not using the significant trunk tilt he was using at Texas. That has naturally lowered his release point.
His new release point is on the left, compared to his release point at Texas.
The lower release point helps Madden get a better vertical approach angle on his fastball, which should make it play better at the top and above the strike zone. Madden has long had impressive induced vertical break on his fastball, but with the over-the-top delivery and the downward plane that generated on his fastball, that carry didn’t baffle hitters. When Madden pitched in the top third of the strike zone with his fastball last year, hitters hit .286/.305/.714.
In his pro debut, Madden was dominating at the top of the strike zone, showing the ability to generate swings and misses on his fastball in a manner that didn’t regularly happen in college.
In logging 38 pitches of Madden’s 40-pitch outing (two pitches were unable to be logged because of broadcast issues), Madden sat at 94-96 mph and touched 98-99 with his fastball. That’s consistent with what he did at Texas.
The results were different, however. Four of his six strikeouts on Sunday came on swings and misses up in the zone. Overall, he generated nine swings and misses on his fastball out of 22 fastballs thrown. That’s an exceptional 41% swing-and-miss rate. At Texas, Madden only generated a below-average 17% swing-and miss-rate with his fastball in 2021.
His fastball strike percentage (70%) in his first pro start was also improved over his 63% strike percentage in 2021. The adjustment to his release point so far has shown no signs of causing him any control and command issues. And now the carry on his fastball that was blunted by the plane on his fastball is allowed to play up with his new flatter fastball trajectory.
Madden allowed one run (on a home run off of a breaking ball) in four innings of work on Sunday. That was one of only two baserunners he allowed (he walked one) while striking out six.
It’s one start, so there’s no reason to make any sweeping judgments, but the initial indications are that the Tigers managed to draft a pitcher with velocity, durability and command. And now he's managed to improve what had been some of the less-appealing attributes of his pitch mix.