Last summer James Proctor went undrafted. With a 5-round draft a lot of players who normally would have been selected, well, they weren’t. The Cincinnati Reds liked what they saw, though, and signed the right-handed pitcher to a free agent contract. That deal has paid off early on as Proctor was named as the Low-A Southeast Pitcher of the Month for May. The first-year professional out of Princeton University made four starts and one relief appearance for the Daytona Tortugas in May. Over his 20 innings on the mound he allowed just one earned run – that’s a 0.45 ERA. The righty allowed just nine hits as he held opposing hitters to an absurd .136/.230/.136 line on the month in 74 plate appearances. On May 22nd he was the starting pitcher for Daytona in a 5-man combined no-hitter over Jupiter in which he struck out 11 batters. On the year he now has 30 strikeouts and walked just six batters.
Last week Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote about the Daytona Tortugas pitching staff, which at the time was leading Minor League Baseball in ERA. Within the article was this quote from Daytona pitching coach Forrest Hermann:
He has a very unique fastball, the way that it moves. He has a very good curveball and slider, and he has zero fear deploying those in any situation.
It stood out to me at the time I read it. But I was looking for a reason to write about it in more depth. Now seems to be the perfect time for that.
You may or may not be aware of the fact that in the Low-A Southeast that Major League Baseball has implemented the automated strikezone, with the lone exception being in games played in Daytona. The reasoning there is that Daytona does not have the Hawkeye system installed at their ballpark – the rest of the ballparks are spring training facilities and have the system already in place, where as Daytona still uses the Trackman system that used to be in Major League Baseball and is still in use in nearly all minor league ballparks. What’s been interesting is that while all of the Trackman data has been shut off for public consumption since day one it was installed in minor league parks, the Hawkeye data hasn’t been – at least to a point. I’ve been able to get access to a little more data than the general public has and it’s been rather interesting to dive into.
All of that brings up to James Proctor and his unique fastball, and really, stuff. He’s throwing a pitch that’s labeled as a 4-seam fastball, but it’s more of a cutter than a fastball. And that bad boy spins. A lot. While it has only topped out at 93.2 MPH this year and is averaging just 90.7 MPH, it’s average spin rate is 2613 and it’s peaked at 2845 RPM in his road starts this year.
To give you an idea of how that stands out, among pitchers this year in the Major Leagues who are throwing a cutter and have thrown at least 50 of them this year, a spin rate of 2613 would be the 14th highest spin rate out of the 97 qualified pitchers. The average velocity would rank 21st, too – something that was a bit more surprising to me when I began looking at the data.
It turns out that his spin transfers well to both his slider and his curveball, too. The curveball is averaging 2673 RPM, while the slider is checking in at 2665 on average. There have been 333 Major Leaguers throw at least 150 pitches this season with at least 20 sliders. A 2665 spin rate would rank 65th among that group. 197 Major Leaguers have thrown at least 20 curveballs this season (among pitchers with at least 150 pitches thrown). A spin rate of 2673 would rank 58th among that group.
That puts his cutter in the top 15% of spin, the top 20% in spin on the slider, and the top 30% in spin on his curveball if he were rated alongside current Major League pitchers. Spincinnati, indeed.
The surface stats that James Proctor has put up this season have been nothing short of outstanding. You don’t win Pitcher of the Month without them. But we can take a little bit of a deeper dive in them, too. There haven’t been a ton of balls put in play against him this season since he’s been racking up tons of strikeouts (40.5% strikeout rate this year so far), but when guys are making contact it’s usually sending the ball into the ground. His groundball rate this season has been 60% – far better than the MLB average of 43.2%. It’s not just that they are hitting the ball on the ground, though, but they also aren’t hitting the ball hard when they do make contact. The average exit velocity against Proctor so far has been just 84.6 MPH.
While we are only able to talk about his performance in road games when it comes to the Hawkeye pitch and hit tracking data, which does limit us, it’s worth fun to note that no hitter has made contact with his curveball yet this season. Of course they’ve only swung at it three times, but they’ve come up empty all three times (he’s thrown 18 of them in his road appearances). He’s gotten 43% swings-and-misses on his slider when guys have chosen to swing (21 swings out of 37 sliders).
Later today we’ll get to see James Proctor take the mound in Daytona. He’s not going to keep his ERA below half-a-run forever, probably, but that’s where it sits right now and it’s been fun to follow along in the first month of the season.