Touki’s Turning the Corner

Touki’s Turning the Corner

All season, there have been two competing observations when it comes to Touki Toussaint.

On one side, you had people looking at his ERA, which has been above 5 for most of the season, which prompted people to lose some of their patience in the young kid with the electric arm. They saw a 2-9 record and grew tired of waiting for Toussaint to live up to the hype. After all, he wasn’t all that great last year, right? With other Baby Braves pitchers not struggling, Toussaint seemed lost in the shuffle.

The flip side to that argument had fans ignore all of those bad numbers and look for improvement – or, to use a more accurate word, progression. What they saw was a better strikeout rate than he had last season. They saw a walk rate cut by 3%. They saw a groundball rate that was up 7%. They saw the lowest FIP of Toussaint’s young career. What they saw was a guy who was pitching better than his numbers may have suggested.

I don’t want to frame this as a traditional fan vs. statnerd debate. That said, the second group is starting to look like the one that was on the right side after all. Last night, Toussaint mowed down the St. Lucie Mets as he pitched the Fire Frogs to a 4-1 victory. Facing a Mets lineup with four players currently in the MLB.com Mets Top 30, Toussaint gave up just three hits – including a two-out home run in the eighth inning. He settled to strike out Michael Paez, ranked as the #30th best Mets prospect according to MLB Pipeline. By the way, those four prospects that are considered some of the best prospects in the Mets’ system collectively went 0-for-12 against Toussaint with six strikeouts.

Paez’s swinging K came on Toussaint’s 105th and final pitch. He threw 72 strikes and struck out eleven batters while walking none. Of the eight innings he tossed, each frame had at least one strikeout in it, including three in the fifth inning. Oh, and that Tim Tebow guy? He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Toussaint. In fact, Toussaint struck out every Met except John Mora during the game. Always a solid teammate, Adam McCreery got Mora swinging in his sketchy one inning to secure the save.

The game merely built on two previous solid starts and together, he has lowered his ERA from 5.90 to 5.11. Over his last three starts, he’s thrown 21 innings, walked six, and struck out 28 batters. I am told by reliable sources that those are good numbers.

I’m a guy who looks for one thing in minor league stats over anything else. Progression. The reason why I believed Brian McCann would be a better major league hitter than Jeff Francoeur is because the former showed progression during his brief minor league career while the other stagnated. In Toussaint, the Braves have seen progression despite what his ERA and win-loss record said. Here are some numbers that have me excited:

  • Two years ago, Toussaint struck out 18% of opposing hitters. Last year, he K’d 22%. This year, it’s up to 26%.
  • Two years ago, Toussaint walked 13% of opposing hitters. Last year, he walked 12%. This year, it’s down to 9%.
  • Two years ago, Toussaint had a groundball rate of 38.4%. Last year, it was nearly the same at 38.3%. This year, it’s up to 45%.

Toussaint turned 21 a month ago. While he didn’t figure it out enough to be an All-Star at Double-A by the age of 19 like Mike Soroka, that doesn’t mean Toussaint’s not a top prospect. The high-end potential has always been there, but he needed experience and plenty of hard work with Dan Meyer, Chuck Hernandez, and current Florida pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn to tweak his delivery. If Friday night is any indication, the work put in by those three, other coaches and players, and – of course – Toussaint is beginning to help the kid turn the corner in a big way.

Gvedak, via Reddit

It’s hard not to love Toussaint. He possesses a solid low-to-mid 90’s fastball and has learned to pitch low in the zone with it. When he trusts his stuff, his fastball becomes a plus pitch – capable of getting strikes and putting away hitters with its movement. His changeup will decide whether or not he stays as a starter and it’s seemingly improved each year as he gets a better handle on it with improved mechanics. It’s still not a great pitch – it may never be one – but I think it’s good enough to keep the starting pitcher option available. His best delivery is the curve, which can be baseball pornography when you watch it. It has a traditional 12-6 break, but what makes it so special is how much it drops. Either the hitter swings over it believing it’s a hanger or they recognize it, buckle their knees, and pray the umpire doesn’t ring them up. In each case, Toussaint has shown progression with learning how to pitch with his three options rather than continue to try to throw them perfectly.

There’s been a good deal of prospect fatigue when it comes to Toussaint. This happens when you continue to hear about what a player can be despite the results not being there. It pushes people to forget that the hype surrounding the prospect is often based on real scouting reports and sometimes, if you dig deeper, the numbers do support the belief that the player is performing better than their baseball card stats may suggest. In Toussaint’s case, he most certainly had been and on Friday, he put an exclamation point on it. Don’t get down on him because his ERA is closer to 6 than it is to 3. He’s been much better than you think he’s been all season. His efforts against Tebow and Company only made that a bit more clear.

1 Comments

Tommy, great article. I've been really pleased with Touki this year; big steps forward like you mentioned. Another Braves SP prospect whose star is losing luster this year is Max Fried, but his FIP and xFIP indicate he's been better than his results would show.

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