At the end of last season, there was a lot of buzz when Matt Brash received the call-up from Triple-A Tacoma. Chatter about his role swirled until assistant general manager Justin Hollander clarified his role. Tyler Anderson was set to start on short rest, and, if they had an opportunity to get Brash into the game, they were going to.
That moment never came. Anderson pitched a helluva game on short rest, but the opportunity didn’t arise, with the Mariners deploying a slew of reliable relievers in Casey Sadler, Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, and Drew Steckenrider. (...Anthony Misiewicz also pitched.) Brash didn’t get an opportunity to pitch in the next game, or the next, or the next, or the next. And so, for the entirety of the offseason, we’ve been left to wonder: what exactly do we have in Brash?
Acquired from the San Diego Padres as the player to be named later for reliever Taylor Williams, Brash, in many ways, represents the archetype of a modern pitcher. Let’s consult some video!
As you might gather from the clips above, Brash checks all of the boxes. Despite his 6’1” frame, he gets down the mound well (i.e., elite extension), throws from a low release point, and he has (arguably — very arguably!) four distinct, usable — albeit not always reliable — pitches. Although I don’t have my hands on the data, his velocity, extension, and low release make for a fastball with a flat approach angle — he posted a -4.21° vertical approach angle with his fastball in the minors last year — and his breaking ball was arguably the best in the minor leagues.
There are a lot of things that make Brash’s breaking ball special. First is that he can spin it above 3,000 RPMs — and he’s done so several times this year in spring training. Paired with his low release, that allows him to spin a wicked breaking ball that sweeps across the zone.
Consider this fastball-slider overlay, courtesy of Pitching Ninja:
Matt Brash, 97mph Fastball and Slider (Sword), Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/K8uNMTKKji— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 2, 2022
As you can see, Brash’s slider has huge movement, pairing plus horizontal movement and plenty of depth in the low-to-mid 80s. He can manipulate the movement, throwing a slurvier shape around 84-86 miles per hour — he can sweep it from a right hander’s front hip to the opposite batter’s box — and also a breaking ball that comes into a little slower, around 81-84 miles per hour that trades some of his sweep for more depth. Either version of his slider is likely to slot in as one of the best pitches in MLB, right away.
Of his two spring training appearances, there is only data available for one, but in it, Brash threw 14 sliders — half of which were converted into called strikes or whiffs — and he posted a 31 called strikes plus whiff (CSW) percentage on his fastball. And while those figures aren’t likely to persist into the season to that degree, they might not be that far off.
The bugaboos for Brash are few, but significant. Perhaps most prominent is that, despite improvements in the past year or so, Brash still has a fair amount of effort in his delivery. That usually portends some issues with command, which Brash has struggled with, but there are a few starting pitchers who have overcome such issues, namely Max Scherzer and his head whip. A tweak to his delivery could bear improvements in his command, but risks undermining his fastball and slider stuff in the process.
The other is that Brash doesn’t have sufficient feel for his changeup — at least not yet. Noteworthy is that he threw just one changeup in his 28-pitch outing linked above, and as our own John Trupin notes, his changeup can be described as “flashing capability,” but is easily a grade or two behind his other pitches, despite it flashing as plus.
As John notes, Brash will need to take a step forward (or perhaps two) with his command or changeup to be a reliable starter, and he could require both. There are examples of pitchers with mediocre command who rely on a fastball-breaking ball combo — I tend to think Dinelson Lamet — but I also think that comp is overused given that Lamet throws in the zone more than most starters.
What the Mariners have in Matt Brash is perhaps the best stuff of any prospect. If he can get his pitches in and around the zone enough as a control-over-command pitcher, I think he’ll be able to pitch five innings most nights. Until we see that, I’ll hedge my bets and forecast him as an elite multi-inning reliever, but no matter his role, the Mariners have a gem in Brash.