Tyson Ross and his Closer Arsenal


Apr 23, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross (38) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres established himself as one of baseball’s better starters in 2014, but his arsenal is quite different than the average starter.  One of the things that can differentiate many starters from relievers is the number of pitches they throw.  A lot of closers tend to get by on a plus fastball and a secondary breaking pitch.  Most starters tend to have three or even four pitches at their disposal.

The interesting thing about Tyson Ross is that he just throws a fastball about 60% of the time and his slider roughly 40% of the time as an established starter.  His slider usage only trails that of Collin McHugh of the Houston Astros among MLB starters.

At first, I was surprised that Ross could sustain his level of success with only two pitches, but his 12.5% swinging strike rate since the start of 2014 ranks fourth in baseball.  Virtually all of the top pitchers in baseball can be found near the top of that leader board with Clayton Kershaw first, Chris Sale third, Felix Hernandez seventh, etc.  Even with only two pitches, Ross clearly has great stuff.

One of the building blocks of most successful arsenals is fastball velocity, which is something that Tyson Ross has always excelled in.  The San Diego righty had an average fastball of 93.4 MPH in 2014.  So far, his 93.2 MPH velocity in 2015 is just fine as the decimal should creep up a couple of tenths as the weather gets warmer.  Ross has above average velocity for a starter that sets up his slider nicely.

His mid to upper 80’s slider is an absolutely nasty pitch to watch, and it makes sense why he throws it roughly two-fifths of the time.  However, if anyone throws a slider that frequently, then it tends to scare me a bit.  Ross does have a bit of an injury history in the past, and sliders are not exactly great for the long-term health of a pitcher.  While his slider usage could be a concern, all pitchers are injury risks.

As far as his current fantasy prospects, I think Ross is a solid SP2 and he can even cover as your ace if you loaded up on bats.  His ground ball rate is all the way up to 58.5% of his batted balls and his strikeout rate is a nasty 26.6%.  Even though no one is happy with his 4.15 ERA and 1.59 WHIP, a good bit of the ERA can be explained by his .341 BABIP and 15% HR/FB rate.

However, Tyson Ross does have a dreadful 5.45 BB/9 in his first six starts.  He is averaging 3.5 walks per start and that needs to come down immediately or his WHIP will continue to suffer.  While Ross has never been the epitome of control, there is no reason that his WHIP should not be in the 1.20 range going forward.  While he will likely be less snake-bitten in terms of his home run rate, especially at Petco Park, Ross needs to solve his command issues immediately.

Even though Tyson Ross has an excellent GB% and has very good stuff with plus velocity, there is a real chance that his BABIP would be lower if he played for any other team.  When A.J. Preller went out and acquired everyone this past off-season, he threw caution into the wind with respect to defense.  While this could affect Ross a little bit, he still has the stuff to be a top 20 pitcher going forward in 2015.

Based on his elite swinging strike rate, strong velocity, nasty slider, and even playing in Petco for half of his starts, Tyson Ross could be even better in 2016 than he was in 2014 and will likely be this year.  If Ross can develop a third pitch like a change-up, then he could really dominate if he mixes an effective off-speed pitch into his arsenal.  An above average third pitch would take him beyond the tier of very good pitchers to the elite level.

However, in order for Tyson Ross to achieve that next level, he will need to learn the third pitch in 2016 Spring Training.  While this is far away, I hope that he could bring an 82-84 MPH change-up into his arsenal because that could really throw off hitters.  He currently throws everything around 85-95 MPH, so a slow change with a nice drop could really make him a bonafide ace.

The development of a third pitch is something to watch for in next February or March, but as for now, do not worry about Ross’s poor ERA and WHIP.  His peripherals look solid, he is inducing the same type of contact as 2014, and his strikeout rate is still through the roof.  My only concern is if he continues to walk batters left and right, but I have to believe he will regain some command shortly.

If you own Tyson Ross, then I would definitely hold on to him and start the Padres RHP with confidence.  If a Tyson Ross owner is frustrated with him, then you should absolutely buy low on someone who should be a top 20 starter going forward.

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