Thursday, March 17, 2011

Maya: Where's the heat?

It appears the Washington Nationals may have been duped on their Cuban import.

Yunesky Maya, the Cuban defector who the Nats signed last year to a 4 year, 8 million dollar deal, was reported to feature a fastball that ran from 90-93 MPH along with an assortment of breaking pitches that had helped Maya dazzle Cuban hitters to the tune of a career record of 48-29 and an ERA of 2.51.

In 2010, Maya made five brief starts with the Nats, featuring a fastball that averaged out at 88.7 MPH; far below the 90-93 that was expected out of the 29 year old. To put his "fastball" into context, if Maya had managed to pitch the amount of innings needed to qualify for rate statistics, his fastball would have been the 16th slowest in all of baseball among Starting Pitchers.*

That is why, with great concern, that Maya's start against the Braves tonight needs to be looked at in greater detail. During the fifth inning of his outing, Maya topped out on his fastball at 85 MPH, most of his pitches sitting in the 81-83 MPH range. Quite simply, a right handed pitcher cannot survive with a fastball that slow, regardless if Livan Hernandez did it last year. Livo has an excellent two-seam fastball and a slow breaking curve that kept hitters on their toes enough to keep them from teeing off on Livan's pedestrian fastball.

So that brings us back to Maya. Where has his fastball gone? How can someone lose 3-5 MPH off their fastball and only be 30 years old? Is Maya hiding an injury (not likely), or, is it a case of the Nationals seeing a scouting report and choosing to believe it as gospel?

That's not to say that Maya has not held his own this Spring Training. In fact, quite the opposite. Yunesky has posted a 3.28 ERA while striking out 10 K in just 13.2 IP. While the Spring Training success is something Maya should be happy with, it remains to be seen if the lack of heat on his fastball will end up hurting him in the long run.

Yunesky Maya, a pitcher on the cusp of breaking out, or a case of false advertising? Only time will tell.

* - A total of 91 Starting Pitchers qualified for rate statistics in 2010


  1. I'm confused: in Kilgore's running blog of the game he reported Maya being consistently between 88-91 on his fastball, with a few coming in at 92. If he's hitting 92 early in the game in spring training, i'd have no doubt he can possibly push it to 93.

    Is it possible he was just working on different pitches or changeups when you saw him in the 81-85 range?

    Btw, I think its clear his entire 2010 can be tossed out in terms of analysis. He was rushed to the MLB, didn't speak english, was in culture shock and was seeing american umpires (and major league hitters) for the first time. You can't overestimate the value of spring training (or minor league seasoning for that matter).

    I like Maya and think he's a competitor with a ton of different pitches and great confidence. He's not one 1-trick pony.

  2. It might have been change ups... but the 81-85 range was over six straight pitches. So I don't think that was the case.

    Maybe the Braves TV gun was way off. Either way, Maya's fastball is just lacking something in my eyes. Can't put my finger on it... but it seems hitters tee off on it a lot more than they do his off-speed pitches.

  3. Maya did yesterday what he did a lot of last fall; cruise through 3-4 innings, get hammered in the 5th. Riggleman said it best; the 2nd time through a lineup hitters are getting really good swings at his stuff.

    Dibble said this a lot last season (people may not like the guy but he was an experienced major league pitcher): you can't "show" every pitch in your arsenal in the 1st inning. You need to use different looks to get guys out later on in the game. You show lots of fastballs early in the game, use one type of off speed pitch to get guys out early. Then reach into your arsenal on the 2nd and 3rd time through to show something different.

    I think this is why the really good starters out there have 4 pitches they can command. Maya seems to have twice that many pitches ... but is he using them all? Is he commanding them?

    I wouldn't be surprised if he goes down to AAA and goes like 6-1 in his first 8 starts. His stuff seems to confound lesser hitters right now (see DWL performance, about a AAA talent level).

  4. I've also heard that the Cuban National Series is the talent level of AAA, as well.

    So, it seems Maya has AAA down pat. I also expect him to dominate AAA, I just don't know if that success will ever transfer over to the MLB.