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Have we seen Derek Law’s ceiling?

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2018 was another rough season for the once-promising reliever.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

STAT LINE 7 games: 1-0, 7.43 ERA / 5.43 FIP (13.1 IP), 12 K, 8 BB, 1.80 WHIP

Remember when Derek Law was considered to be the Giants’ future closer? His standing within the organization has been in steady decline since the beginning of 2017, and when you watch him pitch, it’s easy to understand why. He’s not one of those frustrating talents, he’s simply been inconsistent.

Maybe it has something to do with this gangly large frame that leads to inconsistencies in his delivery and command, but whatever the reason, inconsistency has been the law of Derek’s land. He just hasn’t been able to repeat his performance at the major league level, as demonstrated by his walks in 40.2 Triple-A innings compared to 8 walks in 13 major league innings this past season.

Role on the 2018 team

Law did not make the cut out of Spring Training but called up a couple of weeks into the season replacing Andrew Suarez on the roster after the rookie made his major league debut in a spot start against Arizona. Bruce Bochy wound up using him late in a 7-0 shutout against the Padres and those two scoreless innings seemed like a very encouraging sign.

Instead, he gave up 9 runs combined over his next two appearances (4.1 innings pitched), forcing the Giants to send him down. After a quick recall in May where he pitched 2.2 scoreless innings in Philadelphia, he was placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury. We wouldn’t see him again until August and another trip to the disabled list prevented him from being a September call-up. Or was that the real reason?

We might not ever figure this guy out. Here was his season, per Brooks Baseball:

He threw his fastball most of the time, and I thought maybe there was a dip in velocity — but, nope. Right in line with career averages (93.5 mph). He had more success with his slider and changeup (50% and 60% whiff rates, respectively, though in a very limited sampling), as has been the case for his brief MLB career.

Upon closer inspection, this could be the culprit: a high average velocity on his fastball, but not a lot of movement. The average spin rate of a Major League 4-seam fastball is 2,226 rpm. Over the last three seasons, Law has averaged 2,152, 2,162, and 2,104.

It wasn’t all bad, though. He did notch his first major league hit in that first blowout against the Dodgers:

Role on the 2019 team

Pitchers need their fastball to setup their other pitches. Law has the velocity but not the movement which means he needs to command it better. If he can do that, then he might be able to make his slider, change, and curve work to even greater effect and cut out a lot of these blowout appearances he’s posted with regularity at the major league level (he’s allowed at least 1 run in 10 of his last 20 major league appearances).

The team wound up having enough depth to get by without him last season, but if he could step into that 5th or 6th inning swing role to bail out a struggling starter and is able to actually keep the opponent off the board, then he’ll have value. Otherwise, his career looks dangerously close to crashing against the rocks, forcing him to Odysseus his way through pro ball until he’s past his physical prime.

Baseball Reference throws out two comparable players who caught my eye: Tanner Scheppers and Josh Lindblom. Scheppers’ fastball has a higher average velocity (94-95) and a higher spin rate (only two years of Statcast data to confirm, but they were 2,289 in 2016 and 2,344 in 2017) but pretty much the same whiff rate as Law’s. His only other pitch is a curveball, which gives Law a distinct advantage as a four-pitch pitcher. Still, at 31, Schneppers (4.23 ERA in 183 IP, 148:72 K:BB) spent 2018 in Japan pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Meanwhile, Josh Lindblom (4.10 ERA in 147 IP, 131:61 K:BB) has only one year of Statcast data, a lower average fastball velocity, but an above average spin rate on it. He was also recorded throwing six different pitches. That was back in 2017 (in 10.1 innings, so, an incredibly small sample), his last season of Major League Baseball. Prior to 2018, he’d also been a Chiba Lotte Marine. This year, he was on the KBO’s Doosan Bears in his age-31 season.

Derek Law turned 28 this past September, but he’s already 105.2 innings into his major league career. 2019 might be the year that decides if Derek Law will need to go overseas to continue playing pro ball.

Final Grade: F

Derek Law’s 55 innings in 2016 were remarkable. They were also a long time ago.