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The Dodgers Should Take a Look at Former Elite Reliever Tyler Thornburg

Thornburg posted a 2.87 ERA across 5 seasons with Milwaukee.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Tyler Thornburg #47 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the ninth inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on April 30, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

As the deadline approaches, the Dodgers primary need remains a back-end bullpen piece or two. The rumors continue to swirl around the Dodgers’ reported interest in Giants’ southpaw Will Smith, Pirates’ flamethrower Felipe Vazquez, and Tigers’ right-hander Shane Greene.

A Friedman Darling

We all know the Friedman regime has been marked by the under-the-radar, bargain bin move. Here is a potentially elite one: Tyler Thornburg.

Thornburg is not far removed from being a legitimate bullpen asset at the back-end of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen, but he is also not far removed from thoracic outlet syndrome, an injury he suffered from in 2017.

Underlying Positives

When looking at Thornburg, he may look like damaged goods. However, the components that made him as elite as he was a few years back still remain with him in 2019.

Just take a look at his Baseball Savant statistics to see the foundation of a top-tier reliever:

His spin rates on both his curve and fastball are amongst the best in the game and in May of this year, he held a 23.3 swinging strike rate on his fastball in particular, per Brooks Baseball. He has one genuine plus pitch in his curveball, but also possesses another with potential to be fantastic:

Thornburg is second in all of baseball this season in vertical (rising) fastball movement. That is beyond impressive and would bode well with the Dodgers’ typical plan of attacking pitchers up in the zone. There is a non-zero chance that the Red Sox simply did not know how best to utilize Thornburg and fully harness his repertoire.

Here might be the issue as well:

He is throwing his fastball dead-center. That is a quick fix with the Dodgers’ philosophy.

Thornburg’s History

When the Red Sox traded Travis Shaw, then top-prospect Mauricio Dubon, and more to the Milwaukee Brewers for Thornburg in 2016, Boston was expecting to receive an up-and-coming closer-of-the-future type of pitcher. They simply did not. After his major 2017 surgery, he has not shown the same makings.

For the Milwaukee Brewers from 2013-2016, Thornburg held a 2.69 ERA and struck out 200 batters in 197 2/3 innings. In 2018 and 2019 combined, he has posted a 6.54 ERA and has struck out basically a batter per inning across 42 2/3 innings. Yeah, that is a substantial difference, but the fact that Thornburg was utilized incorrectly, the concept that the Boston Red Sox are not as cutting-edge of an organization as the Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to reclamation projects, and the fact that he still possesses absolutely filthy stuff makes for a good bet to turn it around.

Expectations

These types of pitchers are the ideal reclamation projects that Andrew Friedman and the rest of the Dodgers’ front office braintrust look for.

In no way is Thornburg the current answer to the bullpen issue, but it does not hurt to try to turn him into exactly that on a simple minor league deal. This is the type of low-risk, high-reward move that clubs salivate over and it would not surprise me at all if the Dodgers are licking their chops at the potential of bringing a guy like this into their organization. It was not long ago that Brandon Morrow was a similar injury-prone reclamation project and became the Dodgers’ best reliever across the 2017 season. Yes, Thornburg is a guy that has that kind of ceiling.

Overall

This is what Brooks Baseball has to say regarding his repertoire for a final look:

His four-seam fastball has good rising action, results in more fly balls compared to other pitchers’ four-seamers, has essentially average velocity and has slightly less natural movement than typical. His curve has an exceptional bite. His change generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups, has a lot of backspin and is slightly firmer than usual.

Lots of positive verbiage there. Just imagine what Rick Honeycutt and the other members of the pitching reformation team could do for a guy with a foundation like Thornburg — there is a chance he becomes a success story rather than another injury statistic.

Go get him, Friedman.

Written by Daniel Preciado

My name is Daniel Preciado and I am 18 years old. I am a sophomore Sport Analytics major and Cognitive Science and Economics dual minor at Syracuse University. When I am not in New York, I live in Whittier, California --- not too far from Chavez Ravine. I am pretty old-school for being an analytics guy and I will always embrace debate. Also, Chase Utley did absolutely nothing wrong.

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  1. Very well thought out and written article. It would make perfect sense for the Dodgers to be the team that picks him up, and a smart decision on his part to go to an organization that could help him resurrect his career.

  2. If they can do a minor league deal with him what’s not to like? Lots of up side for a small investment. And if Boston has to pay most of his contract all the better.

  3. Honeycut and the Dodgers coaches are incredible at helping players optimize their performance. It is worth a try…
    I would like to see them bring up some young arms from the Farm and see if one of them impresses…

    You never know if a young guy can all of a sudden find his groove and destroy batters, That is also worth a shot and costs the Dodgers nothing plus it gives some of the young guys encouragement on their progress and a way for them to measure where they are in their progress and what they need to do to get to the Big Leagues. Win Win

  4. Yes, this would be reasonable, but I am hoping for a big time relief pitcher to finish the season with a ring.

    • Gary I believe we all would as far as a big time reliever goes but that said reliever will not guarantee us a ring or anything if the rest of the team starts to tank in similar fashion as that series against the padres before the ASG.

  5. This makes much more sense than trading top line Everyday Player prospects for short relief pitcher. AF has blundered the last two seasons with trades, lets try another route.

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