As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a priming segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least.
Who is this guy? Timothy Edward Butler, that’s who! No wonder he goes by Eddie… Anyhow, Butler is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and attended Greenbrier Christian Academy. The Texas Rangers selected him in the 35th round of the 2009 draft straight out of high school, but Butler opted instead to take his talents to Radford University. Three years later, he was a (supplemental) first round pick, this time drafted 46th overall by the Colorado Rockies, and received a $1 million signing bonus. Probably the right choice to stay in school then.
What has he done? Immediately sent to the Pioneer League after signing in 2012, Butler promptly went 7–1 with a 2.13 earned run average (ERA) and 55 strikeouts, leading the league in ERA, WHIP (1.06) and opponents’ average (.230) in his short pro debut. Not a bad start. His 2013 campaign though, would be even more impressive. Beginning the season with the Low-A Asheville Tourists, Butler would make only 9 dominant starts (1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) in the South Atlantic League before being moved up to the Modesto Nuts of the California League. There we would again impress, posting a 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. After pitching one inning of scoreless ball in the All-Star Futures Game, the then 22-year-old was promoted once again, this time to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, where he would make six starts to conclude the season. Allowing just two runs in his time at Double-A, Butler would finish the season with a cumulative 1.80 ERA, and strike out 143 batters in 149.2 innings (28 starts), and land on Top 100 rankings released by Baseball America (#24), Baseball Prospectus (#26), and MLB.com (#41). So far in 2014, he’s made 11 starts at Tulsa, throwing 68.2 IP with a 2.49 ERA and 1.180 WHIP, whilst forming one of the scariest one-two combinations in the minor leagues with Jon Gray.
How has he done it? Well, according to Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet’s scouting report when he ranked Butler as the rockies’ no. 1 prospect prior to the 2014 season, “Butler made huge strides with his secondary stuff in 2013 and projects to now have three solid weapons with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, changeup and slider — all of which feature a lot of movement. He also has a curveball that lags behind his other offerings. Along with swing-and-miss stuff, Butler’s ground-ball tendencies make him an ideal pitcher for Colorado.” Here’s his changeup making Xander Bogaerts, you know, the guy currently hitting .297 with a 133 OPS+ who won a World Series ring with the Boston ‘freakin Red Sox last year and is a whole year younger than me, look particularly foolish during the Futures Game last summer:
With a pretty low arm slot (which helps him get so much late break on his secondary stuff, particularly that upper 80s slider), you’d have thought Butler would be susceptible to large platoon splits. Not the case; left-handed hitters hit just .202/.278/.300 against Butler in 355 plate appearances last year, compared to a .192/.250/.262 line in 512 plate appearances for righties. Though his K/9 rate has dropped off significantly so far in 2014 to just 5.24, it’s not too much of a worry at this point. Just re-watch the gif a few times – he’ll be fine. (For a more complete breakdown of his stuff, I’d recommend Baseball Prospectus’ ‘The Call-Up’ feature, though it’s available to subscribers only).
Why is he pitching in the majors? How about this? Because Franklin Morales is stinking up the joint. Pressed into starting duty after, surprise surprise, Brett Anderson of all people, was injured (who saw that coming?!), Morales has posted a 6.03 ERA in 62.2 innings of work, which is somehow the third-most innings anyone on the Rockies staff has pitched this year. Furthermore, those numbers are not simply bad luck, as evidence by his nauseating 5.77 FIP.
Meanwhile, after starting the season ridiculously hot, the Rockies have cooled significantly of late; since May 20, Colorado has won just two games and lost ten (including being drubbed 16-8 by Arizona last night) to fall two games below .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Giants. In that stretch their staff has a 5.58 ERA, the second-worst such mark in the majors, and seen their offense further diminished by the losses of Nolan Arenado (broken finger, May 24th) and Carlos Gonzalez (finger, sent to the 15-day DL today). Throw in Jordan Lyles breaking his glove hand last night, and the Rockies are in addition to suddenly swooning, banged up too, and in need of some help to stay in the NL West race.
What they’re saying: “The time is right… Eddie has been very dominant at times over the last couple of seasons. We knew he was a big-leaguer, it was just a matter of time. We feel like we could use some help in the rotation and he’s a very talented young pitcher.” Thanks for making my job easy Walt Weiss. Much better than Troy Tulowitzi’s offering anyway – “I hope he comes in and pitches well enough to give us a chance to win.” Great insight there Troy.
Worth a follow on Twitter? Err, maybe? Here are a few samples:
8am class.. this sucks…
Blake shelton !!!! Whoooo! Awsome.
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) June 25, 2012
On the bus to Rome. New bus driver. Working bus. Gonna be a good road trip
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) May 16, 2013
Perhaps not actually.
Anything else? He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet. Keep an eye out for his Double-A running mate Gray too; with Lyles’ injury, he could soon be arriving in Colorado to partner Butler once again in the very near future.
You know the feeling. We’ve all done it. You’re putting off reading about race and gender in nineteenth-century coastal Ecuador by just casually clicking through Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, or whichever other site your baseball fandom dictates. It was a five minute break twenty minutes ago, when suddenly a certain statistic just sticks out so glaringly it disrupts your deep dive. Now admittedly, my trawling wasn’t particularly intense today – I was feeling vaguely on the ball when it came to my schoolwork – but Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last year?!
As a career .277 hitter, and someone who had never hit above .284 coming into 2013, Cuddyer’s mark of .331 was not only hugely surprising, but blew away the competition; the 34 year old’s clip was a full 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor (Chris Johnson), and left perennial batting average contenders like Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki in the dust. Throw in his 20 HRs, 84 RBIs, and 10 steals, and Cuddyer probably swung more than a few fantasy leagues in his second year as a Rockie. Alas! Fantasy baseball is not real, nor is the idea that Cuddyer will put up a good fight in defending his average crown; his deal with the baseball Gods is likely over.
Quite simply, the regression monster is coming – and in a big way; the former Minnesota man’s 2013 batting average success was all smoke, mirrors, and good ol’ luck on batted balls in play. Trailing only the aforementioned Johnson and former Twin’s teammate Joe Mauer, Cuddyer’s 2013 BABIP of .382 was a full 70 points higher than his career rate, and more than 16 percent higher than his previous career high of .328 all the way back in 2006. And while both Johnson and Mauer were also among the leaders in line drive percentage (27.0% and 27.7% respectively), Cuddyer only managed a rate of 20.2% – only his fourth highest percentage in a season in which he stepped to the plate at least 250 times; based on such a number, Cuddyer’s BABIP should have been at .295, making his average .264. Which y’know, would put him right in line with his 2012 season, in which the then-33 year old slashed .260/.317/.489 thanks to a .287 BABIP and was a 1.5 WAR player – the sort of normal figures that restore my faith in baseball reality.
My aim in pointing out his inflated average is not to rag on Cuddyer, or suggest he is a bad player who simply got by last year by faking it – far from it. In fact, the Virginia native has recently been remarkably consistent, his peripheral numbers remaining mostly the same despite his advancing age and a change in home ballpark. But as fantasy draft season rapidly approaches, such knowledge of obvious regression candidates should be deemed absolutely necessary – kind of like a buyer’s beware PSA. The 16-20 HR power? Legit. Plenty of RBI opportunities batting behind Carlos Gonzalez and Tulo? Assured. 10 steal potential? Sure. A DL stint and a final total of around 140 games played? Inevitable. Terrible defense in right field guaranteed for another year because the Rockies went out and signed Justin Morneau to play first this year? Lock it in.
The batting average though? I’ll let you work that one out.
After a self-restrained post in which I came clean about my hometown bias towards the Cincinnati Reds and gleefully looked forward to the base-stealing exploits of Billy Hamilton, my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series continues in earnest today with a look at the newest member of the Colorado Rockies’ rotation – Brett Anderson. Can he stay on the mound long enough to crack the Coors problem?
When the Colorado Rockies acquired Brett Anderson from the Oakland A’s, sending Drew Pomeranz the other way to primarily make it a swap of 25 year-old left handed starters (the A’s also sent $2 million; the Rockies included Class-A RHP prospect Chris Jensen), I’d be willing to bet that Colorado management had the following graph in mind;
In their ongoing crusade against the mile-high air and spacious outfield gaps of their home, Coors Field, Colorado has quietly built it’s defense upon inducing the groundball and then fielding it proficiently – taking the elements out of the equation. Backed up by plus infielders Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki, and DJ LeMahieu, Colorado converted the sixth-highest percentage of ground balls put in play among MLB clubs in 2013. Furthermore, their only minus regular infielder, 1B Todd Helton, retired this past offseason. Meanwhile the club’s starters checked in at 3rd in ground ball percentage, their rate of 48% trailing only the Pirates and Cardinals. Leading the Rockies in the category was Tyler Chatwood, who in 111.1 innings of work posted a GB rate of 58.5%, good for 6th in the majors (with the qualification of a minimum of 20 IP).
Top of that list? Brett Anderson. As demonstrated by the above graph, Anderson has seen his GB% climb successively for the past 5 seasons, a trend which culminated in the ridiculous 64.4% mark that led the majors last year. How does he do it? Along with a low 90s fastball, Anderson leans heavily on a wipeout slider (fifth-ranked in usage at 33.2% from 2009-2013) to generate weak contact, and more importantly, keep the baseball out of the air. As a result, over his five years in the majors, Anderson has ranked 18th in GB/FB ratio (1.90), while leading the league in line-drive rate (16.7%). Perfectly suited for Colorado’s assault of the infield grass then, why does his acquisition suit the term ‘a roll of the dice’?
As so eloquently put by Mike Petriello, “the giant, gimpy elephant on crutches in the room is Anderson’s near-total inability to stay healthy.” After breaking into the majors in 2009 aged 21, and throwing 175.1 innings on his way to generating an ERA+ mark of 108, Anderson looked like Oakland’s ace-in-waiting heading into his sophomore season. A sore elbow limited him to just 112.1 innings. The next year, 2011, saw Anderson undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery, as he threw just 83.1. He made it back in time for the latter half of the 2012 season, appearing in 6 games before straining his oblique. A badly sprained right ankle then cost the lefty a further 4 months of his 2013 season. In total, Anderson has pitched 450.2 innings in total since he broke into the majors, and hasn’t cracked he 100-inning mark since 2010. While some would call his injury history incredibly bad luck, pointing to the non-recurrence of any specific ailment, others view it as simply indicative of a body that can’t withstand the physical demands of pitching. The Rockies are betting on the former.
Colorado has effectively traded for a lottery ticket. Anderson is owed $8 million in salary this year – minus the $2 million the A’s kicked in as part of the trade – but with a single win now judged to be worth $6 million on the open market, any semblance of a return to form will therefore be a good investment by the club (There is also a team-friendly option for 2015 worth $12.5 million should Anderson’s 2014 showing prove worthy of keeping him around). And though the injury risk with Anderson is more than significant, this kind of high-upside deal is exactly one the Rockies should be making; with their lack of free agent pull and current pitching needs, a bet on a potentially above-average starter is one worth making. As noted by Billy Beane, Oakland’s GM, at the time of the trade “this is the time to get him, because the cost of acquisition a couple of years ago on Brett, well there really wasn’t one. He was an untouchable.”
That the pre-injury version of Brett Anderson still exists is the uncomplicated roll of the dice Colorado is taking. If so, they’ve found themselves a gem of a pitcher perfectly suited to their ballpark at incredible value over the next two years. If not? Well, it only cost them Drew Pomeranz…