Written by: Carlos Marcano (@camarcano)
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Josh Lindblom wasn’t supposed to be throwing in Major League Baseball this year. He was happy to be earning a living doing what he loves to do, pitching, in a now more-than-familiar place for him thousands of miles away from home.
But things changed quickly for the 33-year-old, and soon he found himself on a bidding war for his services, won by the Brewers. The rest is a still-developing story.
Lindblom debuted professionally in the Dodgers farm system in 2008, picked 15th in the second round of the June Amateur Draft, spending from 2008 to 2011 in the minors and finally being promoted to the majors that 2011, proving himself very usable posting a 2.73 ERA, three holds, 1 win and no losses in 27 games and 29.2 IP.
The following year, he was traded to Texas and played with the Rangers, bouncing around the big team and the minors until 2014 when he was traded again, this time to Oakland where he spent most of the year in Triple-A.
In 2015, he made the decision to start playing in the Korean Baseball Organization where he spent the last five seasons, with a brief intermission in 2017 due to family matters. This is how he found the opportunity back to MLB after blossoming in South Korean, especially in his final two seasons in the league. Now here we are, trying to figure out what is he bringing to the table for Milwaukee.
So, how do we gauge what Lindblom is capable of doing and what can we take from what he has showed so far this season? To try to answer this, I will completely ignore any of his previous MLB experience and will focus on his KBO numbers. Let’s take a look at them:
Lindblom went from being good in his first three seasons in Korea, to be outstanding in 2018 and 2019. For comparison, let’s look at how better he was against KBO league average in standard pitching categories (league averages were taken from here):
This was achieved in 194.2 IP, as close to a full MLB season as it gets.
As you can see, Lindblom was way better than most pitchers in Korea last season. And without context, his numbers were fantastic. His (K-BB)/IP, one of the metrics I rely on the most on when evaluating a pitcher, was 0.82389; comparing, the (K-BB)/IP average in MLB in 2019 was 0.62020, so he was almost 25% better in that regard. Although it’s not fair to do a one-on-one straight comparison here, there is some evidence that good magnitudes of it translate well from AA-AAA to the big leagues, so making the assumption that Korea is somewhere around that level of baseball (which is not a far-fetched statement) we can have an idea of how things could fare.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at his numbers this MLB so far this season:
A surface look would give us the impression that Lindblom will not translate his Korean success to his tenure in Milwaukee; the 6.31 ERA is ugly and that 4.21 walks per nine innings is bad too, for sure. But if we go to the underlying numbers, things change, and a lot.
FIP is a bit nicer to the right-hander (4.52), and pCRA (my favorite ERA estimator) is way nicer at 3.62, so we get the idea that his bloated ERA has depended on more factors than his sole fault. The high walk numbers are obviously concerning, but high-BB% pitchers who can sustain high K% tend to be able to wiggle out of jams, and that’s a game changer.
In that respect, Lindblom’s K% is really high 32%, which is higher than Yu Darvish’s and Gerrit Cole’s. The K-BB% of more than 21% is equal to that of Brandon Woodruff’s and Zac Gallen’s. On top of that, his CSW is better than those of Luis Castillo, Mike Clevinger and Walker Buehler.
The big concern here is quality of contact. Despite an appetizing strikeout rate, opposing hitters have posted a combined .343 wOBA when they put the ball in play.
To forecast his possibilities from now on, I calculated Lindblom’s Kwindex, an aggregate index which balances (K-BB)/IP and CSW (the “dominance by power” factors) with Zone% and F-Strike% (“dominance by control” items) and the ERA estimator, pCRA, into a 0 to 100% index where 45% is the current league average; Lindblom’s 54.63% is good for number 23 of the qualifying pitchers, very close to Luis Castillo’s profile (as of August 28th), who is number 17.
This is a very telling chart: by different means, both pitchers are getting similar results. Lindblom throws a lot softer than Castillo (90.2 vs 97.4 mph on average for the Four Seamer), but while latter throws his fastball/curveball combination 65% of the time, Lindblom uses an astonishing number of six different pitches, with only one (Four Seam) being utilized more than 20% of the time.
This capability allows Lindblom to manage at-bats using a mixture of throws that, with appropriate control, end in a strikeout in a third of plate appearances:
Good afternoon and good night.
All the mixing Lindblom does, lets him “surprise” batters with his 90mph fastball, as seen in the second strike. This notion is only cemented when evaluating the pitch’s Whiff% (35.7%) and .222 xBA thru the right-hander’s first six starts.
I’m expecting a firm correction in Lindblom’s ERA towards 3.50-3.80, though we may not fully enjoy this drop until the 2021 season. The K% is in the process of stabilizing, and those numbers appear here to stay. If the 33-year-old’s BB% regresses even a little bit (his 92.8 Command+ is below average but higher than pitchers like Yu Darvish, Trevor Bauer and others), he could one of the biggest and most surprising breakouts throughout the last month of the 2020 sprint season.
Josh Lindblom is criminally available in more than 90% of the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball public leagues.
Follow P365 MLB Analyst Carlos Marcano on Twitter! @camarcano
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
All statistics from Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, Fangraphs and @ckurcon.
Featured image courtesy of photographer Charles LeClaire and USA Today Sports