What the Boston Red Sox Are Getting in Jake Peavy

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJuly 30, 2013

After a very long and dragged out process, Jake Peavy finally knows that Fenway Park will be his new home. The Chicago White Sox were inclined to bite the bullet and trade him, and a big three-team deal between the Red Sox, White Sox and Tigers satisfied all sides.

Ultimately, with any trade that gets made this time of year, teams are hoping to find a piece that puts them over the top in the quest for a championship. Some will be looking for results this year, others are building for the future, but you still want a big leaguer with any deal made. 

Peavy certainly falls into the former category as a 12-year veteran with a Cy Young award on his mantle and nearly $24 million left on his contract. But those are just the superficial reasons the Red Sox pounced on the 32-year-old. 

Here are the more in-depth reasons that the Red Sox were aggressive in acquiring Peavy this deadline season. 

Physical Attributes: Peavy's Body, Mechanics and Delivery

There is a certain standard that teams look for when evaluating right-handed pitching. They want to see someone with a big 6'2", 200-pound frame that you can look at and know they will be able to pitch at the top of a rotation while giving you 220-plus innings every year. 

Peavy does not fit that bill. He is a bit undersized at 6'1", 195 pounds and that has played a role in the way his stuff plays. 

In addition to being a bit small for a right-handed pitcher, Peavy's mechanics and delivery are problematic and have undoubtedly played a role in his injury problems over the years. (He has broken the 180-inning mark just once in the last five years, in 2012 with the White Sox.)

Let's start with Peavy's windup and work our way through the rest of the delivery as it happens, shall we?

First, Peavy brings his hands high over his head and uses a very big leg kick to time his release, though his upper half does tend to open up more than you would like.

Because he doesn't have long limbs, he doesn't take a huge stride towards home plate. But he does get out front quickly with his lead leg and the arm follows as soon as his foot plants. 

It is a very deliberate windup and motion that Peavy uses and one that he repeats very well, allowing him to command his entire arsenal better than someone with that arm action should be able to. 

Peavy delivers the ball from a three-quarters arm slot. There is some effort in the arm action, as it tends to drag behind the rest of his body putting more stress on his shoulder, and at the end of the delivery, when he sort of jumps at the hitters. There is also an arm recoil, where he pulls his arm back after releasing the ball that can put more stress on the shoulder. 

Also, because Peavy doesn't stay on top of the fastball, it can flatten out and hitters can elevate it to drive it. That wasn't a problem when he pitched in San Diego, but it has gotten more noticeable since he moved to Chicago. 

I am not a fan of his baseball analysis, but MLB Network's Mitch Williams provided a solid breakdown of some of the flaws in Peavy's mechanics in the video below. 

Prior to being traded in 2009, Peavy had a home run rate over 1.00 twice in seven years with the Padres. He has done that three times in four years, including 2013, with the White Sox. 

Given the effort at the end of the delivery, it is not surprising that he is able to miss bats as his velocity has dipped over the years. He also has tremendous arm speed that allows him to generate velocity on his fastball, even though he doesn't use his lower half as much as he could. 

Hitters are creatures of habit, and they get used to seeing a pitcher's delivery end a certain way. Since Peavy's delivery ends so much differently than that of a normal starter, it is hard to pick up the ball and time it out of his hand. 

The Stuff

As Peavy has gotten older and more experienced, his stuff has evolved and allows him to keep his strikeout rates roughly in line with his career mark. For instance, this season he is striking out 8.6 per nine innings compared to 8.7 for his career. 

Peavy uses a deep arsenal of five pitches (fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball, slider). His bread-and-butter pitch is the cutter, which he gets a lot of movement on thanks to his low arm-slot delivery. 

There does seem to be a belief out there that Peavy threw really hard at his peak. Certainly there were times he could dial his fastball up to 94-95, but for his career he has never averaged more than 92.5 mph on the pitch (h/t Fangraphs). 

As age and injuries have piled up for Peavy, the velocity has taken a dip. His average fastball velocity this season is 90.6, the lowest it has been since his rookie season in 2002. 

Despite the diminished velocity on the fastball, Peavy is actually throwing it more than he has in four years (53.7 percent of the time).

He has all but abandoned the slider, which he threw 15 percent of the time in 2012 and just 5.1 percent this season, in favor of the cutter (up from 10.5 percent last year to 21.1 this year).

That makes sense for a guy like Peavy, who has had injury problems throughout his career, because the cutter puts less stress on the shoulder and elbow than the slider and is easier to throw for strikes. 

Plus, when you notice the movement on the cutter and how it has improved over the last year, you can see why Peavy trusts the pitch so much. 

In 2012, Peavy's cutter had averaged 2.45 inches of vertical break. Fast forward to 2013 and the pitch is averaging 5.26 inches of break (h/t Brooks Baseball). 

Aside from the improvements with his cutter, nothing about Peavy's stuff has really changed that much in the last year. His curveball and slider are more show-me pitches than anything else because he doesn't throw them often enough to put hitters away. His fastball is an above-average offering, despite the loss of velocity, because of the glove-side run generated by the low arm slot. 

Even with the deception mentioned in his delivery, Peavy is not someone who lives outside the zone. In fact, if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Peavy's 67.7 percent zone swing rate would be the best in baseball, and his zone contact percentage of 88.6 would be 45th out of 127. 

Considering how often Peavy is around the zone, that is a very good ratio of balls put in play to volume of strikes thrown. 

As is often the case with pitchers who come from a low arm slot, Peavy does have a notable platoon split that any team interested in acquiring has undoubtedly noticed. For his career, righties have an OPS of just .612; lefties are at .731. 

This season the gap is even wider between righties (.637) and lefties (.792, including a .488 slugging percentage). 

The Upside

Ultimately, whatever team tries to acquire Peavy, they are betting on him being able to impact their rotation down the stretch this season and in 2014. Starters who can miss bats and stay around the zone are very rare, so you can see the allure. 

But when you bet on a player like Peavy, you have to take all the baggage that comes with it. At this point in his career, given his age, mileage on his arm and injury history, you can't depend on him to make 30 starts or throw 200 innings in a season. 

(Or in the case of the 45-55 games most teams have left, don't count on Peavy for more than five or six starts.)

That said, given Peavy's ability to post good strikeout numbers and limit walks, he could put up an ERA around 3.50-3.75 in 30-35 innings of work with 25-30 strikeouts. The park he plays in will be critical, as his home run problems in Chicago do shine a light on the fact that he would be best served playing in a big park with a good outfield defense behind him. 

So with that, Peavy represents a quality No. 3 starter. He is someone who will give you a little better than a league-average performance, with the possibility for more if you get lucky and he stays healthy. 

There is certainly nothing wrong with a No. 3 starter. In fact, most teams would love to have that kind of pitcher in their rotation. But the White Sox may be viewing Peavy as something more than that and asking for a hefty ransom in return because he is the best starter currently on the market (assuming you don't think the Phillies will deal Cliff Lee) and has another year left on his contract. 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 


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