Felix Doubront Is in the Best Shape of His Life

Looking good. (RLRS Photo)

Looking good. (RLRS Photo)

Felix Doubront arrived in camp yesterday. He looks fit. Very fit.

There are a lot of jokes this time of year about players who arrive in camp “in the best shape of their lives.” Because it’s one of the easiest stories to write in the sports media, because the vast majority of players are freaks who can only add so much more fitness anyway, it usually doesn’t translate to unexpected MVP and Cy Young Awards.

But I think there’s an important piece here that isn’t discussed. Currently, no one is writing a “best shape of his life” article about Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels in injured and unlikely to start the season on the Phillies active roster. When a player is in “the best shape of his life,” the first thing it tells us is that he’s not currently injured. For any player, that’s meaningful, and for a pitcher it’s rather a big deal.

Now, there might be still more that matters with Felix Doubront. It was widely reported last spring that Doubront was out of shape when he arrived at camp. Over the season, Doubront seemed to improve as he worked himself back into shape, but he never fully regained the 91-95 mph heater that he’d showed in 2012. Without the big fastball, Doubront’s mostly just a guy. With it, he has front of the rotation upside. If the reason he lost that speed was his fitness, then perhaps there’s some reason to be more hopeful about Felix Doubront in 2014.

Doubront_Brooks

A lefty with a true low-90s fastball and a solid changeup/curveball combination, that’s a heck of a young pitcher. I hope he’s back this year, and the recent stories give us some reason for optimism.

It should be noted, here, that Doubront’s 2012 velocity was a major change. The reason I, among others, became a believer in Doubront as a pitcher with real upside, is that he started throwing a fastball 91-94 mph. If that had been Doubront’s fastball in the minor leagues, he would have been a top 50 prospect. Three-pitch lefties with low-90s heat are always real prospects. But he had never thrown that hard before. Baseball America 2011 profiles Doubront’s stuff and shows no sense that he could show the fastball he did in 2012 for the Red Sox:

As a starter, Doubront works at 88-92 mph and touches 94 with his fastball, with good sink. As a reliever, he challenges hitters more often with a fastball that sits 92-93. He uses a changeup and a cutter to keep righthanders at bay He mad major strides with his curveball in 2010. After minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel helped him find a new grip, Doubront shocked the Red Sox by returning to the majors in July and showing a solid curve.

With that averageish fastball, Doubront is the fringe prospect. With that new curveball, effective off-speed stuff and a true low-90s heater, Doubront has a lot more upside than evaluators thought he did in the minor leagues. Whether he can regain that one-year velocity remains the question.

22 thoughts on “Felix Doubront Is in the Best Shape of His Life

  1. Jose

    The Globe noted that Doobs is working on being “quicker and more efficient” in his delivery. I get the sense this is one of Farrell/Nieves’ “things.” I feel like this was a discussion point last spring with a few guys and Lester in particular seemed to benefit from a better pace.

  2. MCoA Post author

    @Piehole: Doubront had a spike in velocity in 2012. A three-pitch lefty who averages 92-93 on the fastball would never get the “whatever semi-prospect” treatment Doubront got through the minors. Baseball America 2011 says that Doubront sits 88-92, and might profile as a reliever because he sits 92-93 in relief. If he’d been throwing his 2012 fastball in the minors, he’d have been a mainstay on the top 100.

    If he can get it back, Doubront is a potential top of the rotation starter.

  3. Piehole

    @MCoA: From the Sox Prospects scouting report:

    Scouting Report: Left-handed pitcher who has filled out well over the last several years. Fastball sits 91-93 mph. Throws both two-seam and four-seam varieties. Four-seamer can top out at 94 mph when working out of bullpen. Two-seamer shows late arm-side run. Average-to-solid-average fastball command. Struggles to consistently hit spots and control heater in stretches. Can land too open during delivery, which hinders command and reduces ability to throw downhill. Deceptive 3/4 delivery, as hitters don’t pick up the ball until late, causing his fastball to look a little faster. Plus 79-83 mph changeup. Can throw with arm-side fade or turnover for screwball action. Generates swings-and-misses. Out pitch when ahead in the count. Has trust to throw at any point in sequences. 76-79 mph curveball can be inconsistent, but has been improving in creating snap. Improved feel has increased effectiveness against left-handed batters. Can hang pitch too much. At best when keeping fastball in lower tier of strike zone. Needs improvement being more efficient with pitch count to go deeper into games and stick long-term as a starter. Projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter at the major-league level.

    Here’s a guy who sat 92-93 and got the “whatever semi-prospect” rating. I know that everyone wants to believe this guy is going to be great. You watch his stuff and sometimes you think, “man, he should be awesome.” I know you remember Matt Clement. That guy should have been awesome. He just never was. It happens all the time.

  4. Jose

    Here’s a guy who sat 92-93 and got the “whatever semi-prospect” rating. I know that everyone wants to believe this guy is going to be great. You watch his stuff and sometimes you think, “man, he should be awesome.” I know you remember Matt Clement. That guy should have been awesome. He just never was. It happens all the time.

    In my opinion it is not that he is going to be great it is that it is possible that he will be. I wouldn’t bet on it happening but if Doubront becomes a front of the rotation guy it’s not going to be like Kyle Weiland or Alex Wilson becoming a frontline starter, the tools are there.

  5. MCoA Post author

    I trust BA over Sox Prospects. I would bet they changed the velocity number when he added speed but didn’t change the evaluation.

    There is no way that a three-pitch lefty with a low-90s fastball isn’t a serious prospect.

  6. MCoA Post author

    See these two parts of the quote:

    Fastball sits 91-93 mph. Throws both two-seam and four-seam varieties. Four-seamer can top out at 94 mph when working out of bullpen. Two-seamer shows late arm-side run.

    That makes no sense. If he sits 91-93, he tops out well above 94. Certainly he doesn’t need to be pitching in relief to get up there. Sox Prospects is a nice resource, but I trust BA here.

  7. Piehole

    The consensus aligns with Sox Prospects. Sickels, BA, and Sox Prospects all agreed that he was back of the rotation starter.

    Let’s play your game:

    Baseball America 2011 says that Doubront sits 88-92, and might profile as a reliever because he sits 92-93 in relief.

    That makes no sense. If he sits 88-92, he tops out well above 93.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (for the last time), everyone agreed that Doubront would be exactly the pitcher he is. And yet everyone continues to be surprised that he’s not better than he is.

    I will be ecstatic if he actually turns out to be better than he has been. But I just don’t think it’s likely. Looking for the one sign that someone has made a leap to a new level is Eric Van style baseball analysis. In a word, it’s wishcasting.

  8. MCoA Post author

    Yes, everyone thought Doubront was a back of the rotation starter. No one is disputing that. I thought that too – I was advocating dumping Doubront into trades all the time before 2012. What I’m saying is they all thought that because he had an average fastball.

    I was shocked when Doubront showed up in 2012 with that 91-94 fastball. It was totally new, and really cool.

    “Sits” and “tops out” refer to two different things. “Sits” refers to your confidence interval, the majority of fastballs are 92-93 or whatever. “Tops out” refers to the fastball he throws once a game maybe where he bring his best pitch. There is nothing at all contradictory between the two statements in BA because they’re comparing where his fastball sits as a starter, and they used a very wide confidence range (88-92). That means that as a starter he averages 90 and tops out at 94. As a reliever he adds 2-3 mph to his average velocity. Perfectly normal.

    Averaging 92 as a starter and topping out at 94 when he pitches in relief is incoherent.

  9. Nasty Nate

    Aren’t years-old scouting reports completely irrelevant at this point?

    We know what he is, and we can argue what he can/cannot become, but I don’t think opinions from years ago tell us anything.

  10. Piehole

    I see what you’re saying about the Sox Prospects rating.

    I guess my beef is that I don’t trust that a new skill showing up only in the majors is real. There are some reasonable questions we could ask about the rise and drop in velocity. If he could pitch 91-94 why didn’t he do it in the minors? Did he simply throw harder to because he was worried about losing a spot in the rotation? Did throwing harder in 2012 burn out his arm after a year in the majors (meaning, did he injure himself)? Or did he talk with the pitching staff and they suggested he might be able to go deeper into games if he held back a little bit?

    This is my memory talking, but I feel like in 2012 he dropped a lot of velocity at the end of games (just as he still does). I wish I knew how to get the data on pitch velocity by inning over 2012 and 2013.

  11. Piehole

    @Nasty Nate: Well, those scouting reports were based on years of scouting. Sure my high school grades won’t tell you how I’m going to do in graduate school, but they give you a good idea of the upper and lower ranges of my ability. They’re not infallible, but they represent years of observations and are not totally invalid just because they happened a while ago (and I’m old now, so they happened a LONG time ago).

  12. Nasty Nate

    @Piehole:

    Sure, but once you’ve been in college for 3 years, you would look at those 3 years to predict the 4th rather than high school results.

    For baseball players, isn’t information that is most recent and at the major league level way more important than other stuff?

  13. Piehole

    I know. I mean pitch by pitch plus inning by inning plus game by game. I’m looking for the most data possible. The interface doesn’t seem to allow that.

    In any case, I will be happy if Doubront becomes a front-line starter.

  14. Piehole

    @Nasty Nate: Exactly. And you’d expect that if someone was getting C+’s in college for 3 straight years and all of a sudden ends up with A’s in his senior year that something was not right. Doubront was a C+ by Sickels until he got to the majors. Then he shows up with a fastball that is faster on average than what he was throwing in the minors.

    Look, the point is that even with the better stuff in 2012, he wasn’t that much better than he was in 2013. He needs to make many adjustments to become the starter everyone seems to think he can be. One of those adjustments is getting back the good fastball he had in 2012. Another is much better command than he has shown to this point. Another is going deeper into games. Etc. You could say this about a lot of pitchers.

  15. Dave H

    Wait, was Doubront any better in 2012? He struck out a few more guys, but also gave up more homers and his ERA was half a run higher.

  16. Paxton Crawford Ranch

    I agree with MCoA that there’s front of the rotation upside with Doubront if he can get that 2012 velocity and K rate back and combine it with the lower HR rate of 2013 and maybe cut a walk per 9. But even if he never takes that next step, he’s still a pretty darn good pitcher: 46th in fWAR among starters last year, 50th over the last two seasons, 42nd in Steamer’s 2014 projection. The guys around him on those lists include Jhoulys Chacin, Mike Minor, and Jorge de la Rosa. That’s not someone you want fronting your rotation, but it’s a solid number 3 starter.

  17. Dan

    Another guy in impressive shape is Will Middlebrooks. Apparently he put on 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and it shows. It’ll be interesting to see if he can hit more like 2012 than his poor 2013 results.

  18. James

    Doubront has been inconsistent over the past few years, but he has shown flashes of brilliance. Mid-to-late last year, when he was in good form, he was a consistent quality start machine. As he hits his prime and matures as boh a player and a person, these flashes of brilliance we’ve seen will get longer and longer. In the end, I see him as a reliable, mid rotation starter who has the potential to give you a gem on any given day.

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