In a season where the Toronto Blue Jays have paraded rookie after rookie out as the team’s rebuild takes shape, it would be easy not to see T.J. Zeuch’s debut as a big deal.
After all, Zeuch is 24 and has been far from electric at Triple-A this season, and he doesn’t come with the kind of expectations as a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette. On the other hand, Zeuch is a former first round pick who threw a no-hitter just 16 days ago, so it’s not like there’s no intrigue there.
In his first MLB appearance on Tuesday, Zeuch came in after opener Wilmer Font and gave the Blue Jays four innings of two-run ball with two walks and four strikeouts. That’s about as average as you can be in the box score, but Zeuch’s debut tell us quite a bit with a closer look.
Four innings’ worth of performance isn’t going to be too revelatory, so the most important thing a player can demonstrate is his repertoire. Zeuch threw five pitches: a four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, curveball and slider.
He only threw the four-seamer three times and the curve four, so it’s hard to get much of a read on them. While he did get one strikeout on the hook, it came on a two-strike foul bunt by Atlanta Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz, which is on the very outer boundary of what we should consider a strikeout.
Zeuch leaned heavily on his sinker, slider, and changeup. Here’s a brief outline of what those pitches did from a velocity and movement standpoint:
The sinker appears to be his best pitch movement wise, which helps explain his excellent groundball rates in the minor leagues. The velocity gap to his changeup also looks good, but the pitch itself appears to be fairly unremarkable.
His most interesting offering seems to be the slider, which has more depth but less glove-side movement than you’d expect. A good example of that profile is this 1-1 pitch to Tyler Flowers that dips, but doesn’t reach the edge of the zone.
When a guy has a 4.50 K/9 in Triple-A, it’s safe to assume he doesn’t have outstanding raw stuff. Zeuch did nothing to contradict that assumption on Tuesday. It’s not hard to imagine his sinker being effective if his command is on, but his velocity is subpar and it doesn’t look like his secondary offerings are going to miss too many bats.
For a low-strikeout pitcher like Zeuch to be successful, he’ll have to locate the ball better than most. One outing can’t tell us too much about how consistent the right-hander’s command will be, but it gives us a taste.
Whenever you look at pitch charts it’s always helpful to split them between right-handers and left-handers because the batter’s handedness radically changes a pitcher’s approach.
This is what Zeuch did against righties:
Zeuch lost a few sliders and changeups up in the zone, but he had a coherent plan of attacking low and outside and seemed to execute it well. Most of the misses here are competitive misses and not too many pitches are wasted.
Against lefties, things didn’t look as good:
This plot is filled with more hittable pitches, without much rhyme of reason to them. Zeuch’s sliders in particular are all over the place and he left up a couple of changeups, like this dreadful one to Rafael Ortega that resulted in the first hit conceded in the rookie’s career:
Something that may have played a factor in Zeuch’s scattershot moments was his release point, which had more variance than you’d like to see. In fact, Baseball Savant described it as “very erratic” and it’s not hard to envision him tipping pitches if he can’t close this down a bit:
It’s far too soon to project that to be a tragic flaw, but it bears watching.
The Lefty Problem
Looking at Zeuch’s repertoire, the question that most readily comes to mind is “how is this guy going to get lefties out?” He doesn’t really have the high fastball as an option, his slider hardly seems like a back foot weapon, and the changeup isn’t Marco Estrada-esque. His curveball has some potential as a platoon nullifier, maybe, but there’s work to do there as well.
Those concerns are borne out in his Triple-A numbers where he has twice as many walks (24) as strikeouts (12) against lefties and allowed them to hit .289. On Tuesday he did surprisingly well holding the Braves’ left-handers to 2-for-7 with a walk and two strikeouts, but his platoon splits will require close monitoring going forward.
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