Sam Howard’s 2018 at AAA
Having a 5 ERA in AAA is hardly great for projecting your future value, and the projection systems aren’t kind based on past results. But let’s see what Howard really is. He’s a former Rockies 3rd round pick and he’s posted decent results in the past. The Pacific Coast League is a hitter’s league, and Albuquerque where the Rockies’ AAA affiliate plays is well known for being rough for young pitchers.
It’s hard to say how “unlucky” that Howard was, though, at AAA. His 2018 AAA FIP was 5.03 and ERA is 5.06. His strand rate was a pretty low 70.8 percent and his HR/9 rate of 12.6 percent was slightly high. His expected FIP of 4.67 is probably more in line with his actual performance.
Sam Howard’s MLB Debut
The Rockies saw enough to give Howard a shot out of the bullpen. He pitched only 4 innings with a single strikeout and three walks, but only surrendered a single run. He also had a crazy high 89 percent strand rate. While it’s hardly a back debut, it doesn’t tell us much. However, we did learn a couple things if we dig deeper into his Fangraphs player profile.
Sam Howard’s Future Value
According to FanGraphs, Sam Howard has a below-average fastball in the 90-92 range, an average-ish slider and an average to above-average changeup. His projected future value of a 40 suggests that he probably is doomed to the back of a major league bullpen. That’s hardly terrible, but there are a couple things that suggest that he may be better than that.
The thing that really stands out about Sam Howard is that his changeup is clearly his best pitch, yet he doesn’t throw it all that much. He’s pretty much strictly a fastball/slider pitcher with an occasional changeup. In his very limited debut, he threw his fastball 49 percent of the time, his slider 42 percent of the time, and his changeup only 9 percent of the time.
His scouting report and the pitch value of his changeup certainly lineup, as his changeup was worth 0.5 runs above average, which is a staggering 6.55 per 100 pitches. Compare that to his fastball (0.58 per 100) and his slider (-4.84 per 100). His slider is likely much better than that.
Should Sam Howard Focus on His Changeup?
While projections see him as essentially a replacement level reliever who should mostly face lefties - he was torched for .385/.529/.538 against righties in his 4 MLB games - there is that changeup. While it’s a small sample size, the scouting reports suggest that is his best pitch, yet that is not how he’s been utilized. A changeup is one of the best pitches for a left-handed pitcher versus right-handed batters.
That isn’t to say that doubling his changeup usage while throwing fewer sliders and slightly fewer fastballs will turn him into a back-end starter. But, at the very least, Howard is better off throwing more change-ups. If a team recognizes this, he could turn into a pleasant surprise as a middle reliever who won’t get beat badly by righties. He could perhaps develop into even a swingman type, since he has the endurance. That’s actually pretty valuable.
The Rockies should definitely consider bringing Howard back if they’re willing to see that his changeup could be his path to success. Otherwise, there are plenty of teams that could use a lottery ticket like Howard at the league minimum for a couple of years.