Josh Lindblom and the eastern road to fulfillment.

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He wasn’t supposed to be throwing in MLB this year. He was happy to be earning a living doing what he loves to do, pitching, in a now more than familiar place for him thousands of miles away from home.

But things changed quickly, and soon he found himself on a bidding war for his services, won by the Brewers. The rest is a still-developing story.

Lindblom debuted professionally in the Dodgers farm system in 2008, picked 15th in the second round of the June Amateur Draft, spending from 2008 to 2011 in the minors and finally being promoted to the majors that 2011, proving himself very usable posting a 2.73 ERA, 3 HLD, 1 W, no losses in 27 games and 29.2 IP.

The following year he was traded to Texas and played with the Rangers, bouncing around the big team and the minors until 2014 when he was traded again, this time to Oakland where he spent most of the year in AAA.

In 2015, he made the decision to start playing in the Korean Baseball Organization where he spent the last five seasons, with a brief intermission in 2017 due to family matters. This is how he found the opportunity back to MLB after blossoming in the South Korean baseball, especially the last two years. And here we are, trying to figure out what is he bringing to the table for Milwaukee.

So, how do we gauge what Lindblom is capable of doing and what can we take from what he has showed so far this season?

To try to answer this, I will completely ignore any of his previous MLB experience and will focus on his KBO numbers. Let’s take a look at them:

SeasonTeamWLERAGSIPHERHRBBSOPitchesK/9BB/9HR/9AVGWHIPBABIPLOB%FIPK%BB%K-BB%
2015Giants (KBO)13113.5632210.019683285218033297.712.231.200.2461.1800.285078.80%4.5020.90%6.00%14.90%
2016Giants (KBO)10135.2830177.1197104287714831067.513.911.420.2791.5500.320071.40%5.6018.70%9.70%9.00%
2017Giants (KBO)533.721272.2663010187611309.412.231.240.2391.1600.295076.40%4.2125.70%6.10%19.60%
2018Bears (KBO)1542.8826168.214254163815726058.382.030.850.2241.0700.273079.70%3.9823.10%5.60%17.50%
2019Bears (KBO)2032.5030194.216554132918929828.741.340.600.2241.0000.284078.70%2.8324.40%3.80%20.70%
2020Brewers116.65521.223165113239413.294.572.080.2711.5700.375067.90%4.8633.00%11.30%21.60%

Lindblom went from being good in his first three seasons in Korea, to be outstanding in 2018 and 2019. For comparison let’s look at how better was him against average in some stats (league averages were taken from here):

This was achieved in 194.2 IP, as close to a full MLB season as it gets.

As you can see, Lindblom was way better than most pitchers in Korea last year. And without context his numbers were fantastic. His (k-bb)/ip, one of the metrics I rely on the most on when evaluating a pitcher, was 0.82389; comparing, the (k-bb)/ip average in MLB in 2019 was 0.62020, so he was almost 25% better in that regard and, although we can’t do a one-on-one straight comparison here, there is some evidence that good magnitudes of it translate well from AA-AAA to the big leagues so making the assumption that Korea is somewhere around that level of baseball (which is not a far fetched statement) we can have an idea of how things could fare.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at his numbers this MLB season:

A surface look would give us the impression that Lindblom will not translate his Korean success to his tenure in Milwaukee; the 6.65 ERA is ugly and that 4.57 walks per nine innings is bad, too, for sure. But if we go to the underlying numbers, things change and a lot.

FIP treats him a lot better, 4.86, and pCRA (my favorite ERA estimator) is way nicer at 3.62, so we get the idea that his bloated ERA has depended on more factors than his sole fault. I’m giving that his high walk numbers is of concern but whenever this happens if the pitcher can sustain high K% then he can frequently get off the hook, and that’s a game changer.

In that respect, Lindblom’s K% is really high 33%, that’s better than Yu Darvish’s and Gerrit Cole’s, making his K%-BB% of more than 21% to be as good as Brandon Woodruff’s and Zac Gallen’s. On top of that, his CSW is better than those of Luis Castillo, Mike Clevinger, and Walker Buehler.

The big concern here is that he needs to consistently strike batters out as when they make contact, their combined wOBA is 0.361.

To forecast his possibilities from now on, I calculated Lindblom’s Kwindex, an aggregate index which balances (k-bb)/ip and CSW (the “dominance by power” factors) with Zone% and F-Strike% (“dominance by control” items) and the ERA estimator, pCRA, into a 0 to 100% index where 43% is the current league average; Lindblom’s 52.54% is good for number 26 of the qualifying pitchers, very close to Tyler Glasnow’s profile (before August, 25th performance), who is 21.

This is a very telling chart: by different means, both pitchers are getting similar results. Lindblom throws a lot softer than Glasnow (90.4 vs 97 mph for the Four-Seamer) but while Glasnow depends 96% of the time on his fastball (60%) and curveball (36%), Lindblom uses an astonishing number of six different pitches varying its usage from 9% of the total pitches for the curveball and the changeup each, to 33% for the fastball, having split-fingers, sliders, and cutters in between.

This capability allows Lindblom to manage at-bats using a mixture of throws that, with appropriate control, end in strikeout 1 out of 3 times:

Strike 1
Strikes 2 and 3.

All the mixing Lindblom does, lets him “surprise” batters with his 90mph fastball, as seen in the second strike.

I’m expecting a firm correction in Lindblom’s ERA towards 3.50-3.80, his K% should be already stabilizing and BB% will surely regress to a lower number, which will only help to his cause.

Josh Lindblom is criminally available in more than 90% of the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball public leagues.

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