After a stellar 2018 that saw him ascend to the majors and play a key role out of the pen (2.35 ERA) to the point of making the playoff roster, Caleb Ferguson‘s 2019 was a bit of a reality check. He struggled to a 4.84 ERA in a similar role, with even that being a result of a late-season turnaround, and he found himself watching the playoffs from his couch.
Thankfully, he didn’t take the setback lying down, and in a recent story by Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times, Ferguson talks about his new pitch that he hopes will either be the difference maker in keeping him a starter or elevating his performance to new heights out of the pen.
“It’s a slider, but I call it a cutter,” said Ferguson. “I just call it a cutter so I can keep the same intent to remember to throw it as hard as I can, not turn it into another breaking ball.” Ferguson thinks the impact of the pitch — which he said he’s thrown more often this spring than his trademark curveball — could be two-fold, potentially giving him the extra boost to make the Dodgers’ 26-man roster and be considered a potential starting pitcher in the future, a role the former 38th-round draft pick served during most of his minor league career. “Obviously, I’ll do whatever is going to keep me in the big leagues, but my ultimate goal is that I want to be a starter,” said Ferguson, whose fastball velocity also reaches the mid-90s. “So for me, to develop a third pitch now while I have the time to do it right, it’s big.”
One pitcher he got advice from was Clayton Kershaw, who would know a little something about adding a slider.
Ferguson recalled a conversation he had with Clayton Kershaw last season. Like the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Ferguson, Kershaw was once a young burly lefty with a blistering fastball and hard-breaking curve searching for another pitch. Kershaw told Ferguson of a moment early in his career, when Dodgers coaches approached the future Hall of Famer and encouraged him to add something else. Soon after, he developed a slider. The rest is history. “That’s when it hit home to me,” Ferguson said. “OK, I need a third pitch.”
Now that pitch is why the Dodgers may continue to develop him in the minors as a starter, because if it’s legit then Caleb suddenly has a starter’s arsenal to work with.
And yesterday in a game against the Brewers, Ferguson best showcased the potential impact and the results of his off-season work. He struck out two batters in a scoreless inning, showing a plus fastball, his curve with a better release point, and the ability to get strikeouts with a new slider.
Somebody in the replies made a Patrick Corbin comp, and that looks like a decent best-case scenario if he puts it all together. More realistically, at least for now I think it gives the Dodgers a potentially devastating weapon out of the pen, serving as another reason why a unit with so many question marks going into the season could end up being a strength by October.
Well, assuming COVID-19 doesn’t cancel the season, that is.