Image credit: Texas RHP Ty Madden (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Texas righthander Ty Madden just wasn’t built for these times.
The redshirt sophomore has near prototypical size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds). He’s not too big, not too small. He’s durable. He played all four years of his high school career at Cypress Ranch (Texas) High and has never had a significant injury in his three years at Texas.
Velocity? Madden has plenty of it.
In fact, he and Gavin Williams carried high-90s velocity deeper into games than any other college pitcher viewed as a potential first-round pick in this year’s draft.
From the seventh inning on in 2021, Madden sat at 94 mph and touched 98. That’s a tick more than Jack Leiter’s or Kumar Rocker’s velocity in late innings. Sam Bachman can touch 100 mph, but he threw more than six innings only once all year and never threw more than seven innings in an outing.
Madden’s control was solid as well—his 3.5 walks per nine innings was better than Division I’s 4.2 walks per nine.
His slider got better in 2021 and became a pretty devastating pitch. Opponents hit .119/.133/.156 against it this year. He showed he could locate it (63% strike percentage) and that hitters would chase it (44% swing-and miss-percentage). He showed improved feel for his changeup as the season wore on as well.
Performance? Madden went 7-5, 2.45 in 113.2 innings this year. Opponents hit only .188/.275/.236 against him. Other than a four-inning 2021 season debut as he ramped up, Madden worked at least five innings in his other 17 starts. He never allowed more hits than innings pitched in any outing. He was also consistent—he allowed more than three runs only three times in 18 starts, zero runs in four starts and one run or less seven times.
So what’s the hangup? If this was 2011, Madden’s combination of top-tier velocity, ability to sink his fastball and attack hitters with a plus slider and above-average control might have made him a candidate to be picked among the top five picks in the draft.
But Madden’s assets are not as good a fit with what teams are looking for in 2021. His velocity is excellent, but it doesn’t play nearly as well up in the strike zone as it does when he drives it down in the zone.
The amount of induced vertical break Madden gets on his fastball isn’t dramatically different from that of Leiter or Rocker, but it plays differently because of his arm slot. Madden has an over-the-top delivery, with some spine tilt that further emphasizes his nearly 12 o’clock release point.
In comparison, Leiter is two inches shorter and has more of a three-quarters delivery, which lowers his release point further.
Gravity works on both pitchers’ pitches the same way—it’s a constant. But because Madden’s pitch is starting from a higher point, the same amount of vertical movement does not provide the same bat-missing ability when he tries to get above hitters’ bats up in the zone. In this way Leiter’s “flatter” plane is better at getting swings and misses. Madden’s vertical break on fastballs up in the strike zone plays as more typical and therefore easier for hitters to see and hit.
So the two pitchers’ fastballs are perfect examples of how pitches with similar velocity can play differently.
When Leiter “sinks” his fastball in the bottom third of the strike zone, hitters hit .231/.245/.538 with five home runs. They swung and missed at 11% of those lower-third fastballs.
When he elevated it in the top third of the strike zone, hitters hit .109/.109/.174 with one home run. They swung and missed on 27% of those upper-third fastballs.
When Madden sank his fastball in the bottom third, hitters hit .178/.178/.267 with one home run. It’s a poor contact pitch more than a bat-misser. Hitters swung and missed at only 7% of those lower-third fastballs, but 63% of the balls in play against it were ground balls. When he elevated it in the top third of the strike zone, hitters teed off, hitting .288/.296/.750. He gave up six of the seven home runs he allowed all year on fastballs in that upper third of the zone. Hitters swung and missed on 13% of those upper-third fastballs.
Both are successful pitchers. Both have the attributes that will get them selected quickly on draft day. But what Leiter does in effectively elevating his fastball plays more with what teams are looking for in 2021 than Madden’s ability to drive the ball down in the zone.