While MLB’s lockout continues, this hasn’t stopped other leagues around the world from making moves and shoring up their rosters for the coming season. In the KBO, all roster spots for foreign players have now been filled, and two pitchers with MLB experience were not signed by any team in the league. Both Dan Straily and Aaron Brooks come with questions, but they could end up being useful depth options for MLB teams, or look to catch on in another league.
We’ll look at Straily in this article and Brooks in a separate piece in the near future.
Straily came to the KBO with high expectations, as he easily had the most MLB experience of any pitcher looking to prove themselves in Korea.
From 2012-2019 Straily was 44-40 with a 4.56 ERA in just over 800 career innings. The best stretch of his career was from 2016-2018, when he was a roughly league-average starter over almost 500 innings for the Reds and Marlins. However, his 2019 season was a disaster, as he had a 9.82 ERA that was fueled by allowing 4.2 HR/9.
|2020 KBO||15-4||2.50||194 2/3||1.02||2.4||9.5|
|2021 KBO||10-12||4.07||165 2/3||1.38||3.6||8.9|
As the chart shows, Straily appeared to right the ship in 2020. He became the first KBO pitcher in 8 seasons to reach 200 strikeouts in a season (Hyun-jin Ryu had been the last pitcher to do so), and produced a great ERA in a league with defense well below the MLB standard. While his 2021 results were not as excellent as 2020, there were some positives to take from the season as well. Straily is now hoping to return to MLB for the 2022 season.
|Pitch Type||Usage (2021)||Average Velocity (MPH)|
Straily was aware that the league would adjust to him for a second season. He added a cutter to his repertoire, which he had not thrown before in either MLB or in Korea. He did scrap the pitch by July, but it shows his willingness to adapt and stay ahead of hitters. He also added a tick of velocity to his fastball, despite having thrown over 3,000 pitches in 2020.
Straily’s changeup also became a better pitch in terms of limiting significant damage in 2021. His changeup features good downward break and armside run, which would typically make it more effective against left-handed hitters. But lefties hit the pitch surprisingly well with a .326 average against, while right-handed hitters only hit .121.
However, despite the high batting average by left-handed hitters, it’s worth notingthat no hitter managed an extra-base hit against his changeup all season.
What led to the drop in his performance was some regression in control. Straily was pitching from behind more often, and had fewer opportunities for strikeouts.
Look at his best breaking pitch, the slider. It was his most used pitch with two strikes in both 2020 and 2021, and in both seasons his whiff rate on the pitch was around 30%.
However, he dropped from 114 strikeouts with the slider in 2020 to only 62 in 2021. Part of the drop is likely attributed to hitters expecting the slider with two strikes in 2021, but the biggest factor was that he didn’t have as many opportunities to pitch with two strikes. His slider strike rate dropped from 70% in 2020 to 65% in 2021.
The dip in control also contributed to a loss of effectiveness with his fastball. Despite adding 1 MPH to his average velocity, his OPS versus his fastball rose from .706 in 2020 to .890 in 2021.
It wasn’t so much that his fastball was a worse pitch, just that his command wasn’t as sharp, and he was forced to throw it in the zone more as he fell behind in more counts.
Overall, let’s keep the expectations reasonable.
Straily looks like a potential back-end or depth starter candidate. Given his experience, and his having to make several adjustments throughout his career, he could be a good mentor who soaks up innings on a younger team, or he could be used as a swingman type on a competitive team that needs more pitching depth.