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Community Projection Review: Ian Snell

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PLAYER POS. COMMUNITY ZiPS ACTUAL
Ian Snell SP 200 IP, 173 K, 67 BB, 3.84 ERA 191 IP, 157 K, 62 BB, 4.48 ERA 164 IP, 135 K, 89 BB, 5.42 ERA

Azibuck was really idiosyncratic in his projections of just about every player and got a lot of them very, very wrong, but he nailed this one, guessing Snell would have 166 IP, 132 K, 77 BB and a 5.01 ERA. I'll let him explain what he was thinking, but whatever it was, he got it.

Y'all are going to hate me for this, but here are two seasons each by two pitchers:

IAN SNELL

2007 208 IP, 177 K, 68 BB, 3.76 ERA
2008 164 IP, 135 K, 89 BB, 5.42 ERA

PITCHER X

One Season 197 IP, 147 K, 76 BB, 3.28 ERA
Another Season 182 IP, 132 K, 99 BB, 5.09 ERA

All four seasons happened while the pitchers involved were in their mid-20s. In the case of both pitchers, strikeouts remained relatively high, suggesting that neither pitcher experienced much of a decline in his stuff (which is, in fact, the case). Instead, the problems for both pitchers were spikes in their walk rates, which rose to unacceptable levels and took their ERAs to new heights.

"Pitcher X" is Kip Wells in his 2003 and 2005 seasons. It's quite possible that Wells was dealing with a blood clot in 2005 that ended up wiping out much of his 2006 season. But if you watched him in 2005 you know that he still threw hard, and with a lot of movement, and it appeared that his problems were mostly psychological--his problem was not that he couldn't throw strikes, but rather that he didn't throw strikes early in counts.

The moral here is that pitching is hard, and throwing 95 MPH is not enough, by itself, to get the job done. Also, when a pitcher has trouble with something as fundamental as not allowing walks, it can be very difficult to put the pieces back together again. This is not to say that Snell doesn't have upside or that the Pirates shouldn't keep trying with him, of course, only that the season he had should be very scary to the Pirates going forward.

Wells' problems probably were actually pretty complex, but it often seemed like they could've been summed up in a sentence: "Throw more first-pitch strikes." But Wells, who had a reputation for being a hard worker who really wanted to win, just didn't, or couldn't, do it. 

Snell's problems are a little more difficult to explain, and his temperament might get in the way of him really addressing them. Watching him in San Diego at the end of this year, he threw fastball after fastball after fastball. There was no logic to his pitch sequence that I could discern, beyond simply Snell's wanting to show the Padres what an awesome fastball he had. He does have a good fastball, and in that particular start, it worked for him, but I don't think this is a plan that will lead to long-term success.

We've all heard about how Snell likes to pitch angry, and his pitching in San Diego was consistent with the idea that he was pitching with a bunch of unfocused anger. If he needs the anger as a motivational tool, fine, but he needs to harness it. I would think it would be possible for Snell to focus his anger on throwing a righteous, mitt-popping fastball, then be able to scale it back while thinking through what that fastball meant and what he should throw next. 

Jeff Karstens has less physical ability in his whole body than Snell has in his little finger, and for that reason, it might be a good idea for Snell to watch tape of Karstens setting up batters, choosing his locations like a chess player choosing which pawn to move. Because Karstens doesn't have the stuff Snell has, he's had to compensate by making wise choices. Snell, too, needs to make wise choices; stuff alone just won't cut it for him. I hope this season can help convince him of that. 

In the meantime, though, the future looks bleak; Snell's PECOTA list (subscription required) from earlier this year has several players who had a couple successful seasons early in their careers, then succumbed to injuries or otherwise completely lost it at a young age: Adam Eaton, Joel Pineiro, Wade Miller

Snell is still one of my favorite Pirates, and I still love his competitive attitude, which has brought fire to a Pirates clubhouse that has often otherwise sorely lacked it. I love that he was more successful than any of the tall, over-hyped top draft choices who overshadowed him as he made his way to the majors, and that he proved himself in the rotation after the Pirates had expressed doubts about a short righty making it as a starter. I also still think his upside is very high. But his career may be at a crossroads.