Comping Ian Clarkin using scouting reports and PITCHf/x

Chung Sung-Jun

The Yankees selected left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin with their supplemental first round pick last year. What can they expect from him going forward?

Earlier this week, Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus published a scouting report on 19-year-old prospect Ian Clarkin, who's currently pitching for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees low-A affiliate. Parker reports on all three of Clarkin's pitches: his fastball, curveball, and changeup. Using his descriptions, I mined through the PITCHf/x database -- a detailed log of all major league pitches thrown since 2008 -- in search of left-handed pitchers whose stuff grades out similarly to Clarkin's. I considered pitchers with at least 2,500 pitches (around 25 starts' worth).

Fastball

Clarkin throws a four-seam fastball, which according to Parker, sits at 90 MPH, but tops out at 93. Here's what he had to say about the pitch.

"Good velocity for a lefty on his fastball. Lacks the traditional lefty movement to his fastball. Comes in flat. Features good plane and he has no problem mixing locations on his fastball. Currently his control is better than his command leading to many pitches over the white of the plate. Raise in future grade comes from a predicted increase in his command as he at least shows a willingness to vary fastball location at the moment. Body is close to physical maturity so a velocity increase might be unlikely."
Filters

Velocity: 89-93 MPH

Break angle: Between -20 and 20 degrees. This filter is meant to only capture fastballs like Clarkins, which "comes in flat".  The greater the angle, the more movement on the pitch, so only relatively straight fastballs are included within this threshold. For left-handed pitchers, about one third of all fastballs fall within this classification.

Comps

Fastball_medium

Curveball

Clarkin's curveball reportedly sits at 72 with a maximum velocity of 74. Parker describes it as a...

"Big looping breaking ball. 12-6 action that when thrown correctly is a monster to low-level hitters. He will throw it to both righties and lefties but has trouble extending to his glove side. Rather than work away with this pitch to lefties he tends to aim for the dirt right behind the center of home plate.

Movement wise it can get soft and show a noticeable "hump" on its trip to the plate. The movement is solid but doesn't feature any real "fall of a table" break. Between the overall movement and the ability for Clarkin to keep arm speed and not tip this pitch it will be a useable offering."
Filters

Velocity: 71-74 MPH

Break length: At least 13.5 inches. Break length measures "the greatest distance between the trajectory of the pitch at any point between the release point and the front of home plate, and the straight line path from the release point and the front of home plate". Due to its "noticeable hump", Clarkin's curveball would deviate pretty far from the "straight line path". I chose 13.5 since its roughly the median break for curveballs thrown by left-handers.

Comps

Curve_ball_medium

Changeup

Clarkin's changeup usually comes in at 81 MPH with a maximum of 83. According to Parker:

"I believe this will be Clarkin's best off-speed pitch when he is fully developed. The curveball will always look better but in terms of effectiveness his changeup wins out. Has both deception and just enough life to his arm side. He can also throw it for strikes or chase pitches to both batters. He is comfortable doubling up on the pitch and using it at any point in the count.

It's not as "sexy" as his big breaking ball but it has more utility. When thrown badly its not as bad as a hanging breaking ball as he tends to spike it. When it's thrown well hitters are flailing. He seems more comfortable with his changeup and can bust it out at any time."
Filters

Velocity: 80-83 MPH

Break angle: Less than -24.5 degrees. A pitch has a negative break angle if it breaks away from right-handed hitters. In other words, it measures "arm-side life", of which Clarkin has "just enough". An angle of -24.5 is the median for changeups thrown by lefties.

Comps

Changeup_medium

Pulling it all together

My original plan was to assemble a final list of comps by simply summing the above percentages for each pitcher. But this methodology resulted in some pitchers rating highly based solely on one similar pitch -- namely their fastball. For example, 40% of Robbie Ross' pitches met my criteria for Clarkin's fastball, but Ross hardly ever throws a curveball or changeup. Ross is a fastball-slider guy, and outside of his fastball, isn't all that similar to Clarkin. To weed out cases like this, I limited my final list of comps to only include pitchers who throw each of Clarkin's pitches -- fastball, curve, and changeup -- at least 5% of the time. Without further adieu, here's the final list:

Overall_medium

There are certainly some interesting names here. None of these pitchers are bonafide stars; but Garcia, Minor, Niese, and Quintana are all be reliable, mid-rotation arms. I'm sure the Yankees wouldn't complain if Clarkin's career path emulated that of a Quintana or Minor. Sure, there are a couple of bad apples here, but overall, this is an encouraging collection of names. Still, none of these pitchers have the sex appeal of a Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw's fastball and curve were both similar to Clarkin's, but he ultimately missed my cut because he hardly ever throws a changeup -- a pitch that's expected to be a key piece of Clarkin's arsenal. Instead, Kershaw relies on his slider, which he's thrown 19% of the time over his career. Kershaw's not a terrible comp, but there are other pitchers with arsenals that are more similar to Clarkin's. Of course, that arsenal is subject to change as he climbs the minor league ladder.

Clarkin's one of the Yankees most intriguing prospects, and represents one of the few shining lights in a system that's been ravaged by pitcher injuries over the last few years. Just 19-years-old, Clarkin's still years away from the big leagues, but definitely has the type of stuff that will get him there once he becomes more polished. Only time can tell what the future holds for Clarkin, but lets hope he develops into a quality rotation piece, and not the next Jo-Jo Reyes.

Scouting Report courtesy of Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus; PITCHf/x data courtesy of Baseball Savant; Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

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