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Kyle Backhus

Is he a diamond in the rough?

Kyle Backhus displays his sidearm pitch.
Kyle Backhus displays his sidearm pitch.
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Kyle Backhus is a left-handed pitcher who throws sidearm pitches. That is his raison d’être. He throws sinkers and sliders. Let’s look at how he arrived where he is today.

His senior year of high school he excelled in the role of starting pitcher.

In his senior year of high school, Kyle Backhus was named the 2016 Montgomery County Pitcher of the Year. His ERA that season was less than 1.

“He was the guy we looked to when we needed a big outing. … We expected him to throw up zeroes every single night and he was able to do that.” — Coach Brad Propst

In high school he enjoyed basketball, too. However, unlike baseball he did not make the official roster.

In college, he played baseball for Sam Houston State.

Over 5 seasons, he was a starter and a reliever. Except for 2019, his results were good.

  • Mixed roles. In 2017/2018 he pitched a mix of relief and starts with good results.
  • Relief role. In 2019 he switched to relief (except one starter appearance) and his ERA spiked to 10.57 while his HR9 spiked to 1.76. In 2020 he pitched 3 games in relief, allowing zero runs in 3 innings.
  • Starter role. In 2021 he switched to starting (except one relief appearance) and his ERA improved to 3.49.

He started his professional career.

In July of 2021 he signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks. He was one of two players the Diamondbacks signed as free agents a week after the draft.

His first year and a half as a Diamondback had three phases.

Phase 1. Starter. In 2021 and 2022, he pitched 26 innings as a starter with an ERA of 4.50.

Phase 2. Reliever. In 2022 he pitched 39 innings as a reliever with an ERA of 3.00.

Phase 3. Closer. He was promoted to AA. What really caught my attention was his role changed to closer per the Baseball Cube Website. At the higher AA level, his results showed promise.

  • He earned 3 saves. If I knew how many save opportunities, we could look at his save percentage.
  • He allowed zero homers at the AA level.
  • His 6.08 hits per 9 innings at the AA level was better than at the A level (data from
  • His 11.5 K/9 at the AA level was a strength.
  • His 5.4 BB/9 at the AA level was a strength
  • He pitched 13.1 innings with an ERA of 4.05.

Playing in the minors for the Diamondbacks, he pitched better as a reliever and a closer.

A sidearm relief pitcher would be valuable to the Diamondbacks.

My view is that a team that adds a sidearm reliever gains advantage. Not only is it difficult for the batter to see his unique pitches, but that style pitching confers a healthy platoon advantage. Let’s look at those two points.

  • Batters struggled to see his sidearm pitches. Michael McDermott wrote that in the 15 October Arizona Fall league game, The hitters had a difficult time picking up his pitches, thanks to his low arm slot.”
  • A big platoon advantage is gained via sidearm pitches. Sean Testerman’s AZ Snake Pit article had a diagram that illustrated that when a pitcher throws a greater distance across his body (as a sidearm pitcher does compared to an over-the-top pitcher), that pitcher will generally have greater platoon splits. That can translate to a big platoon advantage.

The closer role remains a possibility.

The Diamondbacks very much need players who excel in relief, including as the closer.

When Kyle Backhus reaches the Majors, he will likely be a reliever, and possibly a closer. On 15 October, in the Arizona Fall League, he earned a save. Through 29 October in the Arizona Fall League, he allowed only 1 earned run in 4.1 innings pitched per Baseball Reference.

Former Diamondback Brad Ziegler was one of the best submarine pitchers of all time.

His 149 career ERA+ over 11 seasons was remarkable. By a landslide 73%, Brad Ziegler was voted as the all-decade Diamondbacks reliever per this AZ Snake Pit article. Bryan Zarpentine ranked Brad Ziegler as the fourth best submarine pitcher in MLB history.

It wasn’t until his third season as a Diamondback that Brad Zeigler started closing (except for two blown saves in the prior season). As a Diamondback from 2013 to July 2016 when he was traded away, Brad Ziegler earned 62 saves and 61 holds. His 30 saves in 2015 ranked 10th highest in the NL. His career 105 saves ranked 151st all-time.

Brad Ziegler is a right-handed pitcher and Kyle Backhus is a left-handed pitcher. There are other differences, too. Although my expectation for Kyle Backhus is not to pitch as well as Brad Ziegler, my view is that pitching sidearm has significant advantages due to uniqueness and deception. To the extent that Kyle Backhus achieves those characteristics, he will be a valuable reliever and possible closer for the Diamondbacks.