Alec Asher Returns Armed With Two-Seam Focus And Deception

The day before Alec Asher‘s first Major League start of the 2016 season, Matt Breen of noted that the right-handed pitcher was returning to the Majors with a new two-seam grip on his fastball. Developed at the request of the Phillies, the pitch propelled Asher to success in the early part of the Minor League season. He still didn’t strike out many batters, but he did produce encouraging 51 percent groundball and 4 percent walk rates over 12 starts.

The pitch is largely necessary because his previous fastball – a four-seam grip – was not only below-average in terms of speed, but also in terms of movement. Without life or velocity, it was crushed by opposing Major League hitters during his seven start debut in 2015. In Breen’s article, Pete Mackanin said the new pitch provides batters a second look, but at least in Asher’s two starts so far, it’s more of the primary look.

Per PitchFX, he’s thrown the two-seamer 47.6 percent of the time in his brief start, with the four-seamer only appearing 6.6 percent of the time. It looks to be the firm focus of his repertoire. It’s only been two starts, so I don’t want to make any assertions based on the outcomes (one run over 12.1 innings with a 25 percent line drive rate is the definition of a small sample), but we can take a look at the features of the pitches to this point.

The two-seamer averages almost exactly 90 mph, which is still below average velocity, and there’s not much true “sink” to the pitch. It does break more than two inches lower than the four-seamer. The most positive feature is really the pitch’s run, which is roughly average, but may have the benefit of seeing some late break.

However, the most interest aspect of the two-seam fastball might not actually be the pitch itself, but rather, it’s interaction with Asher’s changeup. The change has always appeared on the periphery of his scouting reports as a decent pitch, but with the two-seamer, is a lot more deceptive. The movement of the two pitches is almost identical, Asher releases both from an identical armslot, and reports have long noted that he is able to maintain fastball arm speed, despite releasing the offspeed pitch 8-10 mph slower than the fastball. Asher even reliably locates both pitches to the same arm-side part of the plate.

Alec Asher Two-Seamer Changeup Locations

In general, there’s just a lot more deception between the changeup and the two-seam grip as opposed to the four-seam variety.

This is pretty decent combination of two pitches, and if he can continue to display this deception while commanding the pitch arm-side, he might do pretty well against opposite-handed hitters. If he was shortened up in relief and his stuff played up, that might be a convincing right-handed LOOGY. That his two best pitches might be a 90 mph two-seamer and changeup is also a completely different profile from his time as a Rangers prospect, when Asher was reported to have a mid 90s four-seam fastball and potential plus slider.

The breaking ball still exists, and in two variations (one more like a slider, and one like a curveball). The velocity also isn’t great here, and they don’t have exciting movement, but he has repeatedly hit the bottom glove-side corner of the plate with these pitches. That’s good, but so far in Asher’s career, that’s literally the one spot where batters haven’t swung at his breaking balls. Again, this is only nine starts into his career – that could change. But if it persists, one hypothesis could be that nothing else is thrown remotely near that location, and without a lot of movement to fool the batter, anything headed in that direction must be a breaking pitch. They know it’s going be a ball.

I don’t know if Asher has a problem locating his sinker to both sides of the plate, but doing that, or maybe the addition of a cutter with natural glove-side movement, might help get more batters to bite on the breaking balls. Those ideas would be significant ‘ifs’ though, and require a lot of developmental work. Right now, we have a deceptive fastball/changeup combination, pretty good command, and a solid starter’s build. But without velocity or exceptional movement, that might be all he has. He can probably continue to be a serviceable fifth starter in a rotation, but may be better suited for, and would see more success out of, the bullpen.

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  1. Romus

    September 15, 2016 09:52 AM

    Phillies seem to be leaning to have all their starting pitchers in their farm system incorporate and learn to throw the ‘pitch-to-contact’ philosophy with the 2Smr or sinker. Did that with Thompson at Reading last year, Eflin had it already in his repertoire from the Padres, and Nola had his own 3/4 arm-slot coming out of LSU.
    I guess when you see players like Kyle Hendricks and Rick Porcello, who both barely touch 91/92 have such great success this season, and a lot of the high velo 4Smr guys having elbow and arm ailments, maybe it is a sound philosophy going forward for a stable and healthy rotation.

    • Dante

      September 16, 2016 09:09 AM

      It makes sense for guys without big out pitches but decent command, like Eflin and Thompson. Nola’s command, mix of pitches, and pitchability are all good enough he doesn’t have to go that route.

      • Romus

        September 16, 2016 10:04 AM

        Nola’s has not had to adapt to this philosophy since he was doing it since college. Everything breaking down and away generating higher percent of GBs…which is the ‘pitch-to-contact’ philosophy in a nutshell…generation of high GB rates.
        From Brooks on Nola:
        “His sinker has an obvious tail, has slightly below average velo and has some natural sinking action. His curve has sweeping glove-side movement, generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ curves and results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves. His fourseam fastball has heavy sinking action, generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slight armside run and has slightly below average velo. His change dives down out of the zone, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, has slight armside fade and has slightly below average velo”

  2. Dave

    September 15, 2016 06:39 PM

    Nice article Spencer.

    I’m not sure what they did with Asher… but whatever it is, its working. The guy’s stats are night and day vs last year. I thought he was a lost cause after last season’s debacle with the MLB team.

    Last year his combined (3 leagues) whip was ~ 1.4. And he gave up 22 HR in 133 ip!!!

    This year whip= 0.897 (and 0.811 for the Phils!)… with a much more palatable 6 HR in 64ip.

    He’s gone from a guy I gave up on, to a guy I’ll be watching closely.

    • Dante

      September 16, 2016 09:11 AM

      It has been good to see. He seems to need to work on sequencing and giving guys some different looks, like first pitch breaking balls for strikes, because even with an improved arsenal he seems predictable, and that can only work for so long.

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