This past week the Mariners called up Max Povse, the 6’8” righty, from AA-Arkansas. It was a bit of a surprising move, as I didn’t even realize Povse had come off the disabled list—which he did, on the 14th of this month, in time to make one start against Springfield before being called up. He wasn’t exactly sterling in that start, either, where he loaded the bases on one hit (a bunt single) in the first inning before being lucky enough to get a sharp lineout caught by a leaping Jeff Kobernus (who is in the Mariners organization. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that.), doubling the runner off of second for an inning-ending double play. He started off the second inning walking the next batter on four pitches but came back with a strikeout and then got another double play to end the inning. It wasn’t an ineffective outing, as he gave up no runs, but 3 BBs and 3 hits on 56 pitches (30 strikes) in just 3.1 innings isn’t exactly a model of efficiency.
But if calling Povse up was a surprise, it pales in comparison to the team’s decision to transition him into the bullpen. For a team that’s starved for credible rotation arms, moving a starter who was acquired in a high-profile trade (Povse and Rob Whalen came from Atlanta in exchange for former first-round draft choice Alex Jackson), especially one with as much success as Povse, seemed...a bit of a head-scratcher. The argument from the team was that they think he can succeed in a Chris Devenski-type role, which would also allow him to help the team sooner. Let’s take a closer look at what Povse brings to see if he can join the “elite reliever with a v in the middle of his name” club.
Povse will primarily use his fastball, which has been clocked at 97 before but more generally sits in the low to mid-90s. Povse’s fastball has great downward plane action thanks to the angle he throws from, which makes it look almost Paxton-esque.
This results in lots of ground balls, but occasionally a left-handed batter will be able to reach down and tattoo one of his pitches. In fact, this year Povse’s ERA against lefties is twice what it is against righties, which might be a contributing factor in his move to the bullpen. He’s always had a fairly significant lefty-righty split, but so far in 2017, it’s much more pronounced.
Povse works with a three-pitch mix: fastball, changeup, and curve. He throws the fastball most of the time, but he will also use his big, late-breaking curve a fair amount. Povse has a lot of comfort with his ability to locate the curve and will throw it at any time, even when he’s behind in counts. While Povse isn’t a huge strikeout pitcher, he will often use the curve as his putaway pitch.
When he’s looking for a strikeout, he can throw the curve even harder, with a sharper, later break. People fooled by this pitch: 1. The batter; 2. The Tulsa announcer, who announced this as a changeup; 3. The umpire, who somehow claimed the batter doesn’t go around here. (I suppose there’s an argument for 4. catcher Tyler Marlette. sigh.)
The changeup is probably the least developed of Povse’s pitches and the one he throws the least, as it can be challenging for him to throw it for strikes. This pitch should be one of his most effective against left-handed batters, and maybe has been in the past, but this year he’s really struggled to weaponize it against lefties. Scouts are divided on Povse’s changeup; some call it his best secondary pitch, and others his worst (Longenhagen at FanGraphs calls it his best pitch, period). It’s got plenty of arm side run—maybe too much—and like the rest of his repertoire, features solid sinking action. A catcher who’s especially skilled at stealing strikes horizontally will be a good batterymate for Povse.
While Povse has a simple wind with easy overhead arm action, his height can cause him problems on his follow-through. Sometimes he overstrides and lands awkwardly, which might contribute to the various lower-body problems he’s had in his career. He lost much of his 2015 to a variety of injuries, and missed time this year with what was initially reported as a labrum issue, but somehow became a hamstring injury. In that first curveball K gif (the grainy, low-quality one), you can see how his back foot comes across his body on the follow-through, torquing his plant leg around. Here’s the pitch he got injured on this year in Tulsa that kept him out of action from May 22nd to June 14th. Look at how his plant leg kind of flies open and torques his knee around:
Sometimes that over-rotation can also cause the change, especially, to run away, which can be both a good and bad thing, giving the pitch a lot of horizontal movement in addition to its vertical movement, but also resulting in a fair number of balls. This is something that can catch up to Povse as he goes deeper into games and damages his pitch count; this year he’s posted his highest BB% yet during his time in the minors. Povse is a quick worker who likes to get hitters on his timing and attack the zone, but when he gets behind and starts to nibble, he starts to miss the zone pretty significantly. A move to the pen should let Povse conserve his energy and pitch in the manner in which he’s most effective: working at his own pace and going right after hitters. Not having to worry about the change as much and being able to focus on his two plus pitches will also help them both play up. Povse has had his struggles this year but when he’s looked good, he’s looked like one of the best pitchers in the Texas League. A move to the pen might help him look like that pitcher every time he steps on the mound.