RKB: 2020 is the Season: Turn, Turn, Turnbull

Thoughts on Detroit Tigers prospect Spencer Turnbull - Minor ...

I can’t believe I burned that headline on what’s going to be such a modest batch of information, but I can believe that Spencer Turnbull has found his way to the top of the Detroit Tigers rotation this year. I don’t think any serious baseball fan still thinks about pitcher wins and losses anymore, but Turnbull obviously was much better than his 3-17 “record” in 2019. 

The exciting news is that he’s been even better than expected so far in 2020. With a 2.78 ERA/2.85 FIP, he’s the best Detroit pitcher by fWAR (0.7) and bWAR (0.6).

MLive Tigers beat reporter Evan Woodbery noted this morning that Turnbull’s likely to regress as the season proceeds, and he’s right: there are some signs pointing in that direction. Woodbery points to SIERA, an ERA estimator, which sees Turnbull as about two runs worse than his current ERA. To that I would add Turnbull’s .283 batting average on balls in play, which is about fifty points lower than his 2019 BABIP and seems likely to increase. His DRA, 3.56, also pegs him as a little worse than his ERA and FIP suggest, though still clearly the best among the current rotation.

There also are signs these good results might stick, though. Here’s a FanGraphs/RotoGraphs report from yesterday, which highlights Turnbull alongside Trevor Bauer as two pitchers who have produced significantly increased movement on one of their featured pitches. For Turnbull, it’s his slider, which has been his main out pitch:

Last year Turnbull’s main strikeout pitch was his slider which had a 15.3 SwStr%. That isn’t the greatest number to have as your main swing and miss pitch. He already has a really good four-seam fastball so pairing it with a true swing and miss pitch was the key to Turnbull having a better 2020 season. So far this season Turnbull’s slider has a 26.5 SwStr%. It also has a higher O-Swing%, better wOBA against, and better ISO against. But again, small sample size so we have to look deeper to make sure this is indeed legit.

To start, Turnbull increased his sliders RPMs. It has gone from 2,438 RPMs in 2019 to 2,533 RPMs this season thus resulting in more movement. His slider movement went from having an overall movement of 3.3 inches to 3.9. He did this mainly by increasing its horizontal movement. Something he seems to be working on in the past three years. Its movement in inches starting in 2018 went from 2.29 to 3.07 and now to 3.51. 

The increases in spin rate and movement on his slider show that Turnbull still is developing, refining, and improving his arsenal, and they constitute evidence that he may be ready to outdo the performance levels his past baselines suggest.

One other thing I’ve been wanting to document this year is the way Turnbull mixes speeds. The graph below plots the velocity of every pitch he threw in his first start of the 2020 regular season. In five complete innings, he only allowed three hits (just ten total balls in play) and recorded eight strikeouts, and it was clear that he had the Cincinnati batters off balance all day. This yo-yo velocity chart is a big part of the reason why.

Of course, Turnbull’s stay atop the Detroit rotation might not last long. Focusing on the positives in that regard, ostensible number one Matthew Boyd could recall the location of home plate at any moment. Even more exciting possibilities are the arrivals this week of highly anticipated pitching prospects Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. Skubal is scheduled to make his first major-league start tonight, followed by Mize’s debut tomorrow night. Could we be witnessing the emergence of a 2013-era rotation in the Motor City? That’s an extremely high bar, but there’s no reason not to permit yourself a little bit of excitement during these rebuilding times.

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Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?

Related
Breakout prospect Tarik Skubal earns his first shot at the majors – Bless You Boys
The Call-Up: Tarik Skubal – Baseball Prospectus
The Call-Up: Isaac Paredes – Baseball Prospectus
Meet Isaac Paredes, the 21-year-old who is patient, punctual and experienced beyond his years – MLive

Stadium Jam

The Wall Street Journal (now with questionable sports bona fides!) published today, in oral-history style, a feature on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1974 summer stadium tour. An introductory excerpt:

On July 9, 1974, a month before President Richard Nixon resigned, with albums by Elton John and John Denver at the top of the charts, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young reunited to begin an ambitious nine-week tour of the U.S., Canada and England. Produced by Bill Graham, most of the 31 concerts were performed at stadiums and speedways with lengthy sets and clear, audible sound—firsts for an outdoor rock tour. Tickets cost about $7.50 (or $36 in today’s dollars).

Although the band hadn’t had a top-10 album since 1971, CSNY performed three-hour sets before crowds averaging 50,000 per concert, paving the way for rock stadium tours that followed.

Graham Nash: The idea for the tour was Bill Graham’s. Bill called me in my room at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles in early ’74. Bill said a lot of money could be made, and we knew Bill was used to putting on large events and had just produced Bob Dylan’s 40-date tour. Bill also pointed out that something on this scale had never been tried before, which sounded pretty cool to us.

For our music-sports nexus, the article also sheds a little light on Stephen Stills’ well-photographed penchant for wearing football jerseys onstage and on album covers:

[Tour photographer Joel] Bernstein: Stephen started wearing football jerseys on stage that year. The jerseys had a practical purpose—they were big and loose and perfect for a guitarist on stage. But they also were a statement. Remember, there were no NFL stores back then. All of those jerseys were originals, given to him by NFL players. I think for Stephen, they symbolized being in a stadium on a great team. There probably was a certain amount of irony there, too—he was a big football fan.

Speaking of photographs, the article includes a slideshow, which is the real gem here. High-quality audio and video from the tour are due out next month, but HD sideburn images are just a click away.   Continue reading

Winter Birthday Jam

Stephen Stills is one of my most favorite musicians and, like with Steve Winwood, I’ve enjoyed tracing his career through different ensembles and solo ventures and musical styles and phases. Somehow lesser-recognized today than bandmates David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stills was the guitar and vocal muscle that drove and textured CSN’s harmonies. Even though it eventually left him, relatively speaking, Stills’ songwriting muse burned bright in those early days too.

I could write another essay just on Manassas, my favorite Stills band, and their two albums, the first of which has been called “a sprawling masterpiece akin to the Beatles’ White Album, the Stones’ Exile on Main St., or Wilco’s Being There in its makeup.” Stills also played a critical role in bringing to life Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Super Session, which, like Sgt. Pepper’s, “ushered in several new phases in rock & roll’s concurrent transformation.” Even before all of that, he had penned one of the most lasting 1960s protest songs, “For What It’s Worth,” for Buffalo Springfield.  While Crosby and Nash were off on one of their collaborations, he got together with Neil Young for the underappreciated Long May You Run, a quiet offering that ultimately failed to hold Young’s interest, as Winwood and Blind Faith ultimately failed to hold Eric Clapton’s. Although the strength of his later solo recordings wavered over the years, I enjoy his self-titled solo debut, which coyly hides guitar offerings from Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. I also enjoyed his 2005 solo-comeback-of-sorts, Man Alive!, with its cameos from Nash, Young, and Herbie Hancock. In 2007, Stills issued one of the few truly insightful and valuable archival releases in recent memory, and if you’re still with me at this point, you’ll want to read more about Just Roll Tape.

For all this, though, there’s no better Stills winter record than 1975’s Live, a somewhat brief offering with an electric A side and an acoustic B side. (And by “winter record,” I mean a disc to which you repeatedly turn when you’re trying to use the CD player to kickstart your Blazer’s chronically dysfunctional heater core in January in Michigan.) Today is Stills’ sixty-ninth birthday. Here’s the meat of that A side: