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Eric Skoglund now has a “pitch”

An interesting development with the curveball.

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Eric Skoglund isn’t what you would call a flashy prospect. A lot of this has to do with the fact that he doesn’t really have any above-average offerings. This was well noted in any scouting report of his.

From Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs.

Skoglund has an effective fastball/curveball combination (the former of which sits at 90-93 while touching 96), and his long-levered funk makes some hitters uncomfortable. His slider and changeup are fringey. Skoglund throws strikes but doesn’t have pinpoint command and that’s part of why his lesser offerings have been hittable in the big leagues. He’s big-league ready and his durability could enable him to be a fifth starter, but there’s a chance he’s a matchup bullpen lefty.

And Baseball Prospectus...

The stuff certainly won’t blow anyone away, and he will have to survive on command and cunning. Skoglund displays solid command, but given his length and delivery, it is difficult to imagine much improvement in that area. The fastball comes mostly around 90 mph, and the rest of the repertoire isn’t worth writing home about. The development of his changeup will be directly correlated with his career success.

And then John Sickels at Minor League Ball.

classic finesse lefty with 88-92 MPH fastball, curveball, change-up; throws strikes and can look intimidating at 6-7 despite lack of plus stuff; Texas League observers were impressed with his composure and pitching instincts; potential number four starter.

According to THE BOARD at Fangraphs, Skoglund’s best pitch as a prospect was his curveball, but it only graded out at 55/55. And in comparison to other Royals pitching prospect’s best pitch, it didn’t rank well at all.

Royals Pitching Prospect’s Best Pitches

Pitcher Best Pitch Grade
Pitcher Best Pitch Grade
Josh Staumont Fastball 65/65
Carlos Hernandez Fastball 60/60
Richard Lovelady Fastball 60/60
Foster Griffin Curveball 55/60
Scott Blewett Fastball 55/60
Burch Smith Changeup 55/60
Heath Fillmeyer Changeup 55/60
Eric Skoglund Curveball 55/55
Yefri Del Rosario Fastball 50/60
Daniel Tillo Slider 50/55
Evan Steele Fastball 50/50

With the point now being iterated, the biggest knock on Skoglund was his lack of having a “pitch.” And even though many viewed him as a high-floor prospect, it looked like his missing of a plus-offering could maybe prevent him from being an effective major league pitcher, especially after allowing 19 earned runs in 18 innings last year.

While the debut season was ugly, there was still hope that Skoglund would develop into a serviceable back-end starter with time. An unexpected jump into the major league rotation this season has shown overall subpar results for the lanky lefty. But we have still seen glimpses of him being a very capable big league starting pitcher.

  • 4-28 vs CHW: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO
  • 5-9 vs BAL: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO
  • 5-14 vs TBR: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO

And while on the surface he’s seemed bad in 2018, in comparison to other Royals starting pitchers, he’s been pretty good, though that probably speaks more to the Royals rotation issues. Nonetheless, outside of the 5.58 ERA, he’s been pretty adequate, ranking first on the staff in FIP, second in opponents batting average, first in xFIP, second in SIERA, first in GB%, and second in fWAR.

Improvements have been noticeable with Skoglund. But what has changed? The changes in pitch usage between his two seasons have been extreme. Fastball usage has gone down, he’s basically abandoned a slider that he threw 15.5% of the time last year, he’s throwing the curveball 28.2% of the time after 19.4% last year, and changeup usage has jumped from 1.6% to 14.0%.

Throwing the fastball less has helped Skoglund (.561 wOBA on fastballs last year, .421 this year), but the pitch I wanted to focus on was the curveball. Up in the bigs last year, Skoglund’s curveball was really fooling nobody, generating only six swing-and-misses of the 77 he threw for a 7.8% SwStr%. It looks worse when you consider the league-average SwStr% on curveballs is 12.7%.

Now here’s where the eye-popping numbers come in. Skoglund has already generated 29 swing-and-misses on his curveball this year out of the 174 he has thrown, way above-average at a 16.7% SwStr%.

But what has changed?

To start off, he’s getting some added spin on his curve (2299 RPM in 2017 vs 2375 RPM in 2018), which is always nice. He’s getting opponents to hit it on the ground a bit more (13.5 degree LA in 2017 vs 11.4 degree LA in 2018), perhaps suggesting he’s locating it better. But the most staggering of all numbers is the O-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung on outside of the zone) on the curveball. Last year he stood at 7.8%, which ranked in the bottom 12.9% of baseball last season. This season he stands at 22.4%, which ranks in the top 7.6%.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a deception thing either. He has changed his horizontal release point on his curveball pretty dramatically.

I’ll be watching this development with Skoglund very carefully now. Early this year he’s shown that he may have a plus-offering in the curveball, and if this can hold up and stay, it’ll significantly change his outlook as a starting pitcher. The added results on the pitch have already helped his overall numbers (O-Swing% is up from 25.7% to 33.8%, O-Contact% has improved from 82.2% to 68.6%, SwStr% is up from 6.5% to 8.4%). Add that plus-pitch to above-average command, and a lefty that has some perceived velocity and you have something that is definitely worth keeping an eye on.