Charlie Furbush – Shut-down Reliever or 3rd Starter?

I started this post before Dave Cameron at USS Mariner published his post about Furbush.  We think along the same line, although I believe Furbush may have a little higher upside.  Anyway, go read that and sorry we doubled up on topics today! 

Lately, Mariners starting pitchers not named Felix and Kevin have been bad.  Jason Vargas was awful yesterday and has already given up 20 home runs this year.  Hector Noesi shows flashes of potential has his moments but then gets lit up on 0-2 counts – although his location isn’t terrible and sometimes he’s just a victim of good hitting, regardless of what Geoff Baker would have you believe – and Erasmo has struggled thus far (although I believe he’s a lot better than what he’s shown).  The Mariners rotation is in trouble.

There is help on the way!  Danny Hultzen is finally in Tacoma and Taijuan Walker is still one of the top 2 prospects in the Mariners system.  James Paxton and a few others aren’t too far behind those guys.  Those guys (excluding Hultzen) are still probably a year or so away though so the M’s need to take steps to fix the pitching now.  That’s where Charlie Furbush comes in.

When Charles Roderick Furbush was traded to Seattle for Douglas Wildes Fister he was labeled a starter but after surrendering too many home runs and not impressing the front office, he was moved to the bullpen to be a middle reliever.  He started out by throwing several innings out of the bullpen, but has been used more as a LOOGY and has been quite successful at that.

Through his limited innings, his strikeouts have been higher (although he’s always had a pretty high K rate), his BB’s have been lower and his HR/9 have gone way down.  While starting, Charlie struggled against right-handed batters.  As Cameron points out in his post, last year Furbush gave up 2.08 HR/9 to right-handed hitters.  This year, in facing 48 right-handed hitters he’s only given up 2 home runs.  Sure, it’s a small sample size but it’s not like he’s been getting lucky and just avoiding home-runs either.  Right-handers have a slash line of .130/.167/.283 against him.  That’s an OPS of .450.  Oh, and against lefties he has a .341 OPS against.  Pretty good.

In a small sample size, his OPS against has been better on the road then in home games as well.  So, his progress can’t be attributed to Safeco (although, no doubt the park would help if he became a starter).

With Furbush’s pitches he could be a lock-down reliever for the next 10 years.  I have no doubts about that but with the way he’s pitching right now he could be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter, which is way more valuable to the team.

There’s more on why Furbush would succeed after the jump, including pictures!I assume most of you have seen Charlie pitch since you’re probably a Mariner fan, just in case you haven’t though here’s his release:

As you can see, Furbush has a little lower than 3/4 release (and an amazing ‘pitch face’).  This type of release is usually easier for right-handed hitters to see because his arm is further out and easier to pick up.  This release makes him death on lefties.  Unlike most side-arm pitchers he hides the ball pretty well up to his release.  Take a look at these pictures that show that.

Look at how far the ball is behind his back and how the right arm is pointed somewhere between home plate and the first-base dugout.  The hitter can’t see the ball right now and the front leg is almost down.  There’s nothing strange about not seeing the ball but what’s different about this release is while his lower half is more straight toward the plate, his top half is still twisted.  In a way, he short-arms the ball a little bit.  Consider his arm to be at point-A in this photo and the release shot of his arm to be point-B.  What’s the fastest way to go from one point to another?  That’s right math folks, a straight line.  The next photo shows that Furbush’s arm goes in a straight line from point-A to point-B.

This photo illustrates the midway point between point-A and point-B.  The problem is it’s from 2011 and doesn’t illustrate my point.  See how the batter can already see the ball above Charlie’s head?  That’s not good.  Oh, a 2-seam fastball is coming and he still isn’t even to his release.  His midway point is not  in the middle of a straight line in this picture, it’s a little above where it would be.  Now, let’s looks at a  picture from this year.  It’s not the best image, but it is the best one I could find. 

Again, not the best picture but his midway point is clearly lower and the ball is  blocked by his head even while his body is moving downward.  This is a picture from 2012.  I don’t have as much evidence to prove this point as I’d like to but from the few pictures and video available, Furbush is hiding the ball longer hitters aren’t seeing it as soon as in 2011.  Here’s a link to a video from this year.  Most video supports it from what I can tell.  Especially on change-ups.

I think the Fister trade is one we all wish would turn out a little better.  Seattle Sports Insider recently wrote that if Wells turns out to be more than a 4th outfielder, than the trade isn’t nearly as bad.  Well, what if Furbush turns out to be a 3rd starter?  Sounds good to me.  If he can hold right-handed batters to a reasonable line, which he seems to be more capable of now, he’s a good batter.  I’d at least give him a chance to do that.




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2 responses to “Charlie Furbush – Shut-down Reliever or 3rd Starter?

  1. Matthew

    I’m usually in favor of leaving guys in the rotation, but I don’t think so with Charlie. His deception might be better, but he still has that plant foot way over toward first that he has to wheel around. Not sure he’ll ever be able to master his motion enough to be effective for a whole game. Wouldn’t be sad if they gave him another shot at starting or anything, I just have my doubts.

    What do you think about shutdown relievers being an underrated commodity? If given the choice between a solid 4th starter and a shutdown late inning reliever, I’m probably taking the reliever. You?

  2. Interesting point on the foot. When he pitched on (I think it was) Tuesday he had better command than I’d ever seen him. He was pounding the outside corner and hitting Montero’s glove every time. His change-up would dive right to where Montero wanted it. His slider was deadly, but that’s nothing new. He also flashed a big backdoor breaking ball that he threw to right-handed hitters. Every time he hit the glove, with every pitch aside from the slider (that has so much movement that it doesn’t matter). I don’t know if his foot is landing a little more to home than it was last year but that’s something I’d like to look at.

    That’s a good question. Would you rather have Jason Vargas or Tom Wilhelmsen? I’d probably side with you but the M’s aren’t really short on relievers at the moment but back-end starters may be a concern. I guess it would depend on need but I’d much rather Furbush and the Bartender than watch Jason Vargas pitch.

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