Nick Hagadone’s most recent turn with the Indians ended abruptly yesterday when he was sent back down to AAA for a much younger left hander, Kyle Crockett. Hagadone was surprisingly used regularly in late inning situations, going against Terry Francona’s general policy of overusing his top four or five relievers. In his first two games against Boston, Hagadone legitimized Francona’s belief, throwing two scoreless innings across two games and striking out four. In addition, he allowed just a single single and stranding two runners, helping the Indians win both games and earning the win in the first.
After having no issue retiring David Ortiz, A.J. Pierzynski and a group of Red Sox young stars, it seemed Hagadone was back on track after spending more of 2014 in AAA, but things wouldn’t get that good again. In his third appearance, he walked the only batter he faced. In the next, he retired just a single batter while allowing his first extra base hit, a home run. Hagadone got one last chance on Thursday, facing the team he came up with and was so successful against two weeks earlier. In Boston, Hagadone pitched to two batters, walking a batter and giving up hit, allowing an inherited runner to score with one of his own coming in later. After starting out with two scoreless innings, Hagadone allowed two runs in his next inning, spanning four different appearances, in two of which he didn’t record an out.
At 28 years old, time is running out for Hagadone, who has been a very frustrating player, pitching like a left handed phenom in AAA, then posting a 5.66 ERA in the Majors (Paul Assenmacher this isn’t). Hagadone is a two pitch pitcher (according to Brooks Baseball, he hasn’t thrown a change up since 2011) throwing his fast ball 80-85% of time and his slider for the difference. The interesting part of this distribution is that his slider is essentially unhittable. In fact, no batter has made safe, fair contact with it since last September and prior to that, no batter ever had. This season, it was as good as ever with every single ball hit in play off the slider was a ground ball turned into an out. In addition, 10% of his 15 thrown were swung and missed at.
Everything his slider is, his fastball isn’t. To go along with his .000 average on his slider is a 1.000 slugging percent against the four-seamer. While it does have decent speed (about 95 MPH average), he location with it has been terrible, grabbing too much of the plate without the kind of movement that could make this forgivable. Now, there needs to be a reason that Hagadone would throw his less successful pitch more than five times more often than his fastball and there is one. Hagadone can’t throw his slider for strikes.
Since his debut, Hagadone has thrown a full 75% of his sliders for balls, almost all of them dropping below the plate out towards the right handed batters box. Batters have still been swinging at these pitches, but the more patient, veteran hitters have the ability to ignore the slider until he is forced to throw a fast ball or walk the hitter. It is possible that this lack of control has affected Hagadone mentally. He now must throw the fast ball to get ahead at the beginning of an at bat, or the batter will ignore the slider, which has such movement it is difficult to throw for a strike. If the first fastball happens to land outside the zone (which has happened more than 50% of the time on the first pitch of an at bat), he will have to throw another and the batter knows this. This is the foundation of a 1.000 slugging percent against a certain pitch.
As often is the case with young pitchers, Hagadone’s biggest problem is control. Until he can throw his slider for a strike, he will need to throw his fastball more than 80% of the time and hitter will continue to take batting practice off him. As he passes his prime, it is now or never for Hagadone to figure things out. This is his last MiLB option season and he will be arbitration eligible next season, so this is likely his last chance to make it big with the Indians. With his latest demotion, Hagadone will have a little more time to hone his craft in AAA and hopefully, for his sake, he does so in a hurry. He is a very talented one pitch pitcher and it would be a terrible waste if he can’t make it in the Majors due to a difficulty in throwing strikes.