PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17: Relief pitcher Josh Collmenter #55 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on April 17, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 6-5 in the twelfth inning. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Tuesday, in the
second (edit: now first!) game of a doubleheader, the Arizona Diamondbacks will throw righty Josh Collmenter at the Colorado Rockies. This is notable because, if you're like me, you either think now or thought a week ago, "Who in blue blazes is Josh Collmenter?" I'm a guy who considers himself to be pretty aware of the professional baseball player pool, but I hadn't so much as heard Collmenter's name until about a month ago, and he still seems to be a relative unknown. Of all the standout rookies we've remarked upon this season, Collmenter is rarely included among them.
It would be one thing if Collmenter were just some guy. Some guy with a mid-4s ERA and barely more strikeouts than walks. A Royal. That guy, we wouldn't have to get to know, because that guy isn't anything special. But Collmenter isn't that guy. Collmenter's a righty with 26 Major League innings and one walk allowed. Collmenter is worthy of investigation.
There are, I think, four primary things that make Collmenter so interesting:
(1) His delivery
You don't have to know the first thing about pitching mechanics to realize that Josh Collmenter's pitching mechanics are strange.
Where a lot of guys throw three-quarters or sidearm, Collmenter throws over the top, and he throws over the top to the extreme, making himself something of a right-handed lefty. How did he learn to throw this way? This delivery wasn't mapped out in a lab; he learned it by throwing tomahawks as a kid. The result is that his delivery is deceptive, and his pitches break differently than usual, with less side-to-side movement and more drop.
(2) His stuff
Collmenter has a mid- to high-80s fastball, a slow changeup, and an even slower curveball that he'll throw on occasion in what can only be considered a dastardly attempt to increase the league's oblique-strain tally. Collmenter's repertoire is not one you would recommend to a youngster with big league aspirations. Collmenter's repertoire is one you would recommend to a youngster with barista aspirations.
(3) His early results
As mentioned earlier, Collmenter has issued one walk through 26 innings and 89 batters. He's thrown 248 of his 348 pitches for strikes, good for a league-leading 71% strike rate. He's thrown more strikes than Michael Pineda. He's thrown more strikes than Cliff Lee. He's thrown more strikes than everybody. And he also has 15 strikeouts, so he's not just lobbing the ball in there and letting his defense do all the work. Collmenter has demonstrated a moderate ability to miss bats in the early going.
(4) His leap forward
Collmenter wasn't listed among Arizona's top 30 preseason prospects by Baseball America, and while John Sickels was a little more bullish, he still ranked Collmenter just 16th. And that's understandable. Last year, Collmenter had success in AA, but in ten starts with AAA Reno he walked 26 and struck out 39 in 57-2/3 innings. He threw that same repertoire he's throwing now, but with Reno he threw only 60% of his pitches for strikes. Think about that. Last year, in AAA, Collmenter had a strike rate of 60%. This year, in the Majors, Collmenter has a strike rate of 71%.
It's this last part I find the most remarkable. It's rare that you see a pitcher capable of throwing so many strikes; it's rarer still that you see a pitcher who starts doing it all of a sudden. I'm reminded of Doug Fister, who walked 7% of the batters he faced in 2008, and then walked less than 3% of the batters he faced in 2009. These leaps are unusual, which is why Fister is the only other example who comes to mind.
So that's Josh Collmenter. To date, Josh Collmenter has been effective with his mix of deception and control. I can't say whether or not it'll continue. I don't know if Josh Collmenter will keep throwing this many strikes, considering what he did last season, and I don't know if the league will catch up to him as hitters get repeat at bats. Josh Collmenter certainly works with a small margin of error. But then, back in 2008, Jorge Campillo posted a 3.91 ERA over 158-2/3 innings with the Braves while working with a similar arsenal, so it isn't impossible. As long as Josh Collmenter remains physically intact, he may remain statistically intact. Sure, the odds are probably against him, but baseball's just that much more interesting with a successful Josh Collmenter than without.