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Milwaukee Brewers free agent target: Mike Foltynewicz

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Atlanta’s former ace looks as if he could return to form.

Atlanta Braves v Boston Red Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, the Milwaukee Brewers have a very nice 1-2 punch atop their starting rotation going into 2021. They also have pitching depth that could emerge as effective options for the rotation, including Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, and Adrian Houser. Plus there are the bullpen arms: Josh Hader, Brent Suter, and Devin Williams as well as names like Drew Rasmussen, Justin Topa, and Eric Yardley.

With all of those pitchers, is there enough room to bring in another arm or two? If you agree with the axiom that you can never have enough pitching then the answer is an absolute yes. Plus Milwaukee should always be looking to upgrade, and there are some arms on the free agent market that could potentially be in that category that the Brewers should be targeting.

Imagine if the Brew Crew could land a starting pitcher that was an All-Star and took the rubber for 31 starts and pitched to a 2.85 ERA across 184 innings as recently as 2018. Imagine putting this guy in the middle or even back of the starting rotation. That is the possiblity if Milwaukee was to pursue Mike Foltynewicz.

Foltynewicz recently showcased himself in a throwing session at Georgia Tech. Multiple teams were on hand to watch the former Braves’ pitcher throw. The word was that he looked pretty good, and the Twins, Mets, White Sox, and Rays have reportedly shown interest.

Evidently he hit 92 mph on the radar gun. That is actually pretty good at this stage in the offseason.

Velocity is an important consideration with Foltynewicz, because of the precipitous drop in velocity he experienced in 2019 and 2020. Folty’s calling card was velocity with a wipeout slider. He generally averaged over 96 mph throughout his career. That changed in 2019 and nose dived in 2020.

4-seam fastball velocity: Mike Foltynewicz
Fangraphs

When we look at pitch values of his 4-seam fastball and slider, we see a stark difference between his 2018 breakout season and 2019 and 2020. In 2018, he put it all together and demonstrated very nice pitch values with his 4-seamer and an elite slider.

Pitch values for Mike Foltynewicz
Fangraphs

In 2019, he actually stopped throwing his 4-seamer as much and reverted back to what he did prior to his breakout in 2018. In 2018 he threw the 4-seamer almost 41% of the time. He threw the 4-seamer only 26.4% of the time in 2019 while throwing the 2-seamer 10% more in 2019 than 2018. Why he did that is likely a result in reduced velocity in the 4-seamer. The results for 2019 were not as strong as he would have liked, obviously.

Percentage of pitch types thrown by Mike Foltynewicz
Fangraphs

The good news for Foltynewicz in 2019 is that he pitched much better in the second half of the year. Unfortunately, it took him until August of that season and a trip to Triple-A for him to get back to form. When he did return, he was fantastic. Across his final 57.2 innings pitched during August and September of 2019, Foltynewicz went 6-1, pitched to a 2.65 ERA, and struck out 8.58 per nine. Opposing hitters had a .210 batting average against him in that time period. His fastball velocity remained just below 95 mph, but he started throwing the slider almost 31% of the time.

When he is on and his fastball velocity is up, his slider plays up to an elite level. Just as a back-of-the-mind thought, if he struggles in a starting rotation, that combination would play big in the bullpen.

While the end of 2019 worked out for him and Atlanta, 2020 was a nightmare, and the Braves were not going to be patient with him. Folty made one start in 2020, and he was crushed. He gave up six earned runs on four hits. Three of those hits were home runs. He also walked three over 3.1 innings. Altanta summarily DFA’d him, and he cleared waivers. He spent the rest of the season at Atlanta’s Alternate Training Site.

Atlanta likely made this decision because their former ace came to camp with notable weight loss and notable velocity decrease. His fastball velocity dip was 5-6 mph lower than normal, and he actually looked ill. The Braves had an understanding of what was going on and pulled the plug really early.

In an article written by Paul Newberry just after the Foltynewicz DFA, the author quotes teammate Mike Soroka about Foltynewicz. In the article Newberry wrote that Soroka suggested that Foltynewicz appears to have an undetected injury while also conceding that his problems could be the result of mechanical flaws in delivery.

Obviously, there’s an elbow or shoulder (problem), whatever it may be...I know Folty when he’s healthy. It’s what he looked like in 2018. It’s just not coming out quite the same. He’s got to address that.

As Braves’ manager, Brian Snitker said, Foltynewicz is a stuff guy. He is also just 29 years old. The showcase he put on for major league teams was meant to demonstrate that his stuff is still there. He demonstrated enough of that stuff, albeit in a non-competitive setting, to get multiple teams interested in him. As Soroka alluded to, Foltynewicz has top-of-the-rotation offerings when he’s right, and that loss of stuff was most likely the result of not being healthy and mechanical flaw.

If Foltynewicz could return to 2018 from in a Brewers’ uniform, that would give Milwaukee three arms in their starting rotation with top-of-the-rotation stuff. There are not many MLB teams that can say that.

If Foltynewicz’ velocity is back, he can return to throwing his 4-seam fastball more. That will allow his slider to play up to potentially elite levels. If velocity is back, that probably also means he is healthy, at an appropriate weight, and mechanical flaws may have been corrected. All of those things are good signs for any acquiring team. There is enough doubt around Foltynewicz that he would likely have to sign a pillow contract that would be affordable for a team like Milwaukee. With that in mind, this would be the type of move that could put the Brewers over that proverbial hump. That is, if the offense comes around.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs