What Has Happened To Nick Tepesch
The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox are both performing below expectations and having disappointing seasons in 2014, but they still fancy themselves contenders in 2015, similar to what is believed to be perceived by a certain front office in Arlington. Instead of acquiring prospects last week at the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline with potential to make a big league impact down the road, the Rays and Sox desired established big leaguers at reasonable rates to help contribute immediately because they felt they would be pennant contenders in 2015. Drew Smyly, Joe Kelly, and Nick Franklin are still being paid the league minimum, and have yet to reach arbitration. The point here is that younger affordable players who have established themselves in the big leagues are quite valuable. Teams desire them, and the fact these less risky types do not have exorbitant contracts attached to them makes them even more palatable.The potentially shrewd and creative trades by Boston and Tampa Bay led me to ponder, among other things, about Rangers starting pitcher Nick Tepesch, and exactly what has gone wrong with him in 2014. After generating decent numbers in an abbreviated sample last year, Tepesch has been extremely underwhelming in ’14. However, Tepesch seems to be cut from that same Joe Kelly mold of low ceiling, back of the rotation type starter, and as we have learned, those types can have value. So, let’s use our unique baseball nerd abilities to find out if Tepesch is broken, or if he has the potential to provide value to a Rangers team which believes they can contend in ’15.
Tepesch earned the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring training in 2013 and yielded respectable numbers with an 18.7% strikeout percentage, 47.3% ground ball percentage, and 3.82 xFIP in 93 innings on the bump. Tepesch was expected to be relied upon for depth in the Rangers rotation in ‘14, especially after Wrigley injured his owner Derek Holland and with Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis working to recover from their own injuries. However, Tepesch was a complete disaster in spring training, and had to begin this season in the minors. To his credit, Tepesch pitched excellent at Round Rock with a 1.58 ERA in seven starts and was recalled to the big leagues in May. Since his promotion, Tepesch has been frustratingly inconsistent and produced numbers unworthy of starting in a big league rotation. I have constructed a rudimentary table of Tepesch’s numbers so the reader can compare his ’13 and ’14.
As one should be able to determine, Tepesch has generated worse numbers in all of these important categories. He is simply allowing way too much hard contact and not enough worm killers. Part of what made Tepesch appealing last year was the fact he induced a fair share of ground balls, something all Ranger pitchers would be wise to do. He simply has not done that in his 67 innings so far in ’14. The next table will begin to further explain why Tepesch is having problems.
PITCHf/x Tepesch Pitch Velocity
The table above is Tepesch’s pitch velocity the last two years. Tepesch has lost velocity on all of his pitches except his change-up, which is the pitch one would want to normally lose velocity. Pitchers with such a small MPH difference between their change-up and fast ball can expect less whiffs on their change ups, which means the decrease in change-up whiff percentage from 26% in ’13 to 20% this season should not be surprising. BrooksBaseball proclaims Tepesch uses a knuckle curve grip for his curve ball, which should help increase his velocity for the pitch. However, he has actually thrown the pitch slower in ’14. If a pitcher is going to succeed at the big league level with such velocities, he either better be locating his pitches effectively or be a master of deception. Tepesch has really done neither.
The vivid yet beautiful table above is where Nick Tepesch located his pitches in 2013, while the bottom table is where he has located pitches in 2014. The only red in the top box is situated in the area where pitchers want to pinpoint a vast majority of breaking pitches to right handed hitters. Tepesch has not been able to place as many to that part of the zone in ’14, which has led to far too many pitches on the arm side. This might explain why right handed hitters have slugged .533 this year against him and clubbed six home runs already. To put this into perspective, right handed hitters slugged .340 against Tepesch last year and hit only two taters.
The colorful graph above represents Tepesch’s release points in 2013, which were pretty consistent other than moving more to the third base side of the rubber. The closer the dots are in proximity, the more consistent the release points, which will contribute to a more devious repertoire. Not only are the dots more dispersed in the bottom graph, but Tepesch is also throwing from a higher release point in ’14. Tepesch could be throwing from a higher release point due to the desire to increase deception as knuckle curves are typically thrown from a higher release point, but higher release points can also be an indicator of some type of arm or shoulder injury. Tepesch missed his most recent start with what was claimed to be a knee issue, but his vertical release point was more elevated than normal in his recent relief appearance in New York two weeks ago. I absolutely abhor speculating, but with Tepesch’s velocity dropping and him throwing from a higher release, one certainly wonders if his issue is not really knee related. Even if Tepesch’s arm is healthy, the higher release point is just not working.
Tepesch has generated fewer swings outside of the zone, but has still allowed much more contact both inside and outside of the zone in ‘14. He is also throwing fewer pitches in the zone, and his swing straight percentage has decreased significantly. Hitters are not taking the bait when he tries to deceive them, and then making contact when he is actually throwing strikes. While this has been noticeable quite often in ’14, Tepesch has exhibited very poor command.My intention is not to be too critical of Nick Tepesch, but he has pitched pretty terribly in ’14. While Tepesch does not have the ceiling of a top of the rotation type starter, he does have the potential to be a bottom of the rotation hurler who induces some ground balls, and prevents runs. If the Rangers aspire to contend in 2015, the club is going to need some pitchers from within the system to step up and produce because the only two pitchers who are currently locked into the rotation are Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Even if Tepesch is not in the rotation to begin ’15, he can still serve as depth or maybe another team is willing to part with a useful option to acquire Tepesch’s services. Reminder, last week Tommy Milone was able to return Sam Fuld, who is a rather solid defensive first outfielder.
Tepesch has now thrown exactly 160 innings in the major leagues, and he has yielded a 4.84 ERA, 4.21 xFIP, and 1.61 K/BB. Maybe Tepesch’s moderate success last year was partly due to a small sample, and his failure this season is just regression to the mean. However, the evidence presented would seem to support Tepesch not succeeding as much in ’14 due to mechanical and peripheral issues, or maybe something worse. If Tepesch is healthy and able to return to prior form, he could either contribute to a team which hopes to contend in ’15, or maybe be one of those cheap, established pitchers would could return something useful in trade. Reminder, like Joe Kelly, Tepesch will be paid close to league minimum in ’15, and is not arbitration eligible until the following season. And if one is the cynical type and believes Joe Kelly is significantly better than Nick Tepesch, here are their respective numbers since the beginning of ’13.