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 Philly.com 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.
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.