The Cincinnati Reds have signed right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training for the 2020 season according to Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale.
The now 31-year-old pitcher has struggled in the Major Leagues in each of the last two seasons – both coming with the Boston Red Sox. From 2012-2016 he posted a 2.87 ERA in 144 games for the Milwaukee Brewers over his 219.2 innings pitched that included 91 walks and 220 strikeouts. But he missed all of the 2017 season while recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Since returning he’s only thrown 42.2 innings in the last two seasons at the Major League level, posting ERA’s of 5.63 in 2018 and 7.71 in 2019.
From a velocity standpoint, he wasn’t really any different from where he was before the surgery. He averaged 94.1 MPH on his fastball in 2019. From 2012-2016 he was anywhere from 92.8-95.2 MPH in a given year. His walk rate has gone up a little bit by comparison. The biggest difference, however, has been that his BABIP has skyrockted. From 2012-106 it ranged from .229 to .284, and was only over .271 once in that span. In 2018 it jumped up to .319 and then last season it was .347.
Things weren’t any better in Triple-A – in fact, they were worse. Boston would eventually release him, and the Dodgers picked him up. Between his two stops he posted a 9.13 ERA in 22.2 innings where he allowed eight home runs, walked 18 batters, and struck out 28.
The performance itself has been ugly for Tyler Thornburg since his return from surgery that cost him all of 2017. But there’s a chance that the Reds can figure something out. As noted above, the velocity is still where it used to be. He also has spin rates near the top of the charts on both his fastball and his curveball.
There’s more to using spin to determine just how good a pitch can be. There’s spin, and then there’s effective spin. It’s certainly possible that the spin is there, but it’s not being used correctly at all and thus is negating the effects the pure spin would have if used properly.
As it is with minor league deals – there’s almost no risk here for the Cincinnati Reds. Tyler Thornburg will come to Goodyear in mid-February and get a chance to work with Derek Johnson, Caleb Cotham, and the rest of the Reds staff. The pieces are there for him to potentially get back to where he once was. But if that doesn’t work, it’s no big deal for the Reds to see if he’d like to head to Triple-A to continue working, or to release him and see if he can catch on somewhere else. The reward, though, could be a good one if he’s capable of finding what he once had.