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.
Whilst I should technically have been listening to a lecture on Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge in my English class earlier today, I was instead thinking about Prince Fielder – and more specifically, the news that emerged earlier today that he had opted to undergo season-ending fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. With Fielder becoming the 17th Rangers player to hit the DL this year alone, I naturally began to wonder whether any team in baseball had been hit so hard in terms on injuries. My Reds have had a few notable ones for sure, injuries striking down arguably three of Cincy’s top five players in Joey Votto, Mat Latos, and Jay Bruce. Both the A’s and Brave’s lost a pair of pitchers to Tommy John surgery before the season even started. But there was only one other team, in one particular element of the game, that I could draw a truly accurate comparison of hurt with – the New York Yankees’ starting rotation.
After forty minutes of pretending to listen, but silently pondering, I still can not choose who’s in worse shape; the Rangers, or the Yanks. Let’s break it down;
At the head of each rotation is an unquestionable ace. For the Rangers, it’s Yu Darvish, he of the 2.35 ERA this year, a 2nd-place Cy Young award finish last year, and a mind-boggling array of pitches – wouldn’t you agree Torii Hunter?
For the Evil Empire, it’s their new Japanese Import and $155 million man, Masahro Tanaka, who has raced out to a 6-1 record with a 2.39 ERA while leading the league in strikeout to walk rate. He’s got some pretty nasty stuff of his own, as brilliantly detailed by Grantland‘s Shane Ryan earlier today. Little needs to be said about these two – ultimately they should both finish with top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young race this year, and cancel each other out in terms of our little contest.
It gets considerably dicier immediately after those two however, and all because of those pesky injuries.
It’s been a long while since he was as good as his reputation foretold, but C.C. Sabathia being out for six weeks with his degenerative knee problem might not especially hurt the Yankees considering how this year he has a 5.28 ERA in 46 innings. Losing Michael Pineda to first a suspension, and then a strained back muscle, has been a significant blow – the young righty had a 1.83 ERA in the four games he started earlier in the season. Ivan Nova too, after seemingly figuring it out at the end of 2013, is gone for the year after requiring the dreaded TJ.
What’s left isn’t scaring anyone. Hiroki Kuroda has been a shadow of his former self, and with a 4.61 ERA at 39-years-old, looks cooked. Vidal Nuno has been similarly awful, but doesn’t have the excuse of needing a stick to walk out to the mound for his disgusting 5.82 ERA. David Phelps is David freakin’ Phelps, whereas Alfredo Aceves (who is listed as their fifth starter by ESPN’s depth chart but is yet to start a game) is really just a poor man’s version of Phelps – lacking incredible velocity, with marginal stuff and shaky command, the sort of pitcher who profiles best to a long-man relief role. That’s a whole lot of David Phelps mentioned right there. Eeesh…
Texas on the other hand, lost presumptive no. 2 Derek Holland before the season began in a curious incident with a dog (in the night time – read the book, if you haven’t already). Matt Harrison returned after missing the majority of last season, but would only give the Rangers one additional quality start before bowing out spondylolisthesis, a forward displacement of a vertebra which causes severe nerve irritation, in the lumbosacral joint (L5-S1) in his lower back (yes, I googled that). To add to their starting pitcher availability woes, free agent signing Tommy Hanson didn’t make the team, Alexi Ogando couldn’t be stretched out from the bullpen in time, and Neftali Feliz was moved back into a relief role (and is at Triple-A).
All of which left the Rangers in their current situation, rolling out Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, and Scott Baker behind Colby Lewis and the aforementioned Darvish. Things have gotten so desperate in Arlington that Joe Saunders, who lasted 3.2 innings and gave up four earned runs in his only start of the year thus far, will immediately step into the rotation when he returns from the DL soon, the same of which can’t be said for Tanner Scheppers. I might just have to give this one to the Yankees, but by the slimmest of margins.
Neither staff is especially helped by their home park. Yankee Stadium is infamous for its short right field porch, and undeniably augments home runs – just ask Phil Hughes, who having escaped to the cavernous Target Field in Minnesota is looking like the solid pitcher many expected when he was a Yankees farmhand many moons ago. Globe life Park in Arlington too, is incredibly friendly to power hitters, particularly when it heats up. One of the biggest reasons why many predicted Prince Fielder would rebound this year was the fact that he’d be playing half his games in the Texas heat. Presumably this would not only aid his fly balls out of the park, but help him lose a little weight in the process while rounding the bases. All looks equal here then.
But the defense, oh the defense. To the left side of the infield in Texas, the combination of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus gobble up ground balls. J.P. Arencibia is (mercifully) gone from behind the plate, and their outfield defense is stellar. In the Bronx on the other hand, though the outfield is solid, the infield is dire; Yangervis Solarte is a utility player manning third base, and Brian Roberts a statue at the keystone. Mark Teixeira is a long way removed from his gold glove caliber days. And then there’s Derek Jeter.
By the metrics, Jeff Samardzija has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this year. After Johnny Cueto gave up six earned runs in his Tuesday start, the ‘Shark’ leads all qualified starters in ERA with a mark of 1.46. Through his 68 innings pitched, the 29-year-old has an obscene ERA+ number of 266, a figure 68 points better than his nearest competition (Mark Buehrle, if you were wondering). He’s tied for first with Cueto in pitcher WAR, both NL Central righties holding a 2.7 value above replacement. Though his strikeout rate is at its lowest since he became a full-time starter back in 2012 (7.1 K/9 in 2014, compared to a 9.1 average the prior two seasons), he is walking fewer batters (2.8 BB/9 in contrast to 3.1), and inducing more ground balls then ever before (after a 0.90 GB/FB ratio in 2012/3, Samardzija is currently inducing grounders at a 51.6% clip – good for a 1.06 ratio). Never before has Jeff Samardzija been as good as he is now.
And yet after 10 starts, as good as he has been, Samardzija still has a big fat zero in the win column.
In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the Cubs have gone 1-9 in games he has started this year, doesn’t especially matter anymore; it seems most people associated with the sport have recognized that wins are driven by run support, good defense, and a solid bullpen. It’s now not completely unusual for stud pitchers to endure wonky looking seasons by record – just ask Cliff Lee (6 wins in 2012), or Cole Hamels (8 wins last year). Samardzija’s brilliance this year in fact, has perhaps only been shoved further into the spotlight by the fact that his team can’t muster up any support for him; nuggets like this, “Going back to last year, Samardzija has now gone 13 consecutive starts allowing two or fewer earned runs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the second-longest streak since the league started compiling earned runs in 1913,” via Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com, and this from Ted berg of usatoday.com, “Samardzija became the first pitcher in the live-ball era — and one of only two since 1917 — to open a season with seven straight starts of at least five innings with fewer than three earned runs and record no wins in the process,” have ensured Samardzija’s infamous dominance has gone down in lore.
The Indiana native’s 0-4 record doesn’t seem to be hurting his trade value either. After being unable to come to an agreement with the team in regards to a long term contract this past offseason, articles linking Samardzija with trades to the Rockies, Blue Jays, Marlins, and of course the Yankees, have been abundant. Former Cub Matt Garza added fuel to the fire too, when he advised Samardzija to “pitch your way out of there.”
So why then, do standard fantasy leagues place so much value on the win ‘statistic’? Despite his high standing in all of the aforementioned metrics, Samardzija’s excellence lands him… 31st among pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater? While his closest comparisons in terms of underlying stats – Cueto and Adam Wainwright – rank first and second respectively, Chicago’s ace finds himself in the same fantasy realm as Aaron Harang, who is about to turn back into a pumpkin. Heck, he’s only six spots and .20 ahead of Giants reliever Jean Machi, who has somehow walked his way into five wins already this season. The importance attributed to the win category is quite frankly, baffling.
Now I’m not advocating the win be erased from baseball altogether – like with the inherently unreliable RBI statistic as a harbinger of offensive excellence, if the win were to be erased fans of records would most likely march on Cooperstown and riot. But seriously, can it be done away with in fantasy leagues at least? Use another category, quality starts for instance – of which Samardzija has 8 already – when it comes to rewarding quality starting pitching. Every year otherwise, there will be another unlucky Lee, Hamels, or Samardzija type, plugging away on a crappy team while some fluke soft-tosser, or God forbid, a reliever, steals in a few wins and jumps ahead of them in value. I don’t even own Samardzija and am infuriated by the prospect of such an outcome occurring!
Next year then, do away with the win. Jeff Samardzija might be racking them up on another team by then, but some ace out there will be getting shafted. Make sure you aren’t going to be stuck owning their misfortune.
It took 40 games and 65 at-bats, but a Mets pitcher finally has a hit. Unfortunately (at least for comedic purposes), it wasn’t Bartolo Colon who broke the streak – though he did his part in contributing 11 outs to the cause. Nor was it Jenrry Mejia, who aside from being unable to get through a lineup more than once, swings as wildly as an unlatched, rusty gate during a hurricane. And no, it wasn’t Jon Niese, the owner of a .205 batting average last year and who I reckoned the staff’s best hope for salvation.
Nope, the pitcher to finally end the record-setting futility was Jacob deGrom. Who you say? Jacob. deGrom. A 25-year-old rookie making his very first appearance in the big leagues, in the final tilt of a subway series no less. And how did he do it? With all the skill left over from his former days as a shortstop at Stetson University, singling in the third inning – his first at-bat in the majors.
So what if it came against Chase Whitley?!* Though it came way too late to prevent the Mets’ motley crew of hurlers from establishing the longest hitless streak to start a season in Major League history, deGrom’s single ensured the pitchers no longer have to collectively worry about challenging the all-time longest hitless streak for pitchers – a 100-year record set by the 1914 Cleveland Naps, who contrived to go 0-for-92 (!) during one especially putrid midseason stretch.
If only deGrom could possibly have batted more for New York, perhaps then he’d have left with a debut win. His ungrateful teammates however, only scratched 2 more hits all night (in related news, Dellin Betances is a monster out of the bullpen). Poor deGrom then, who went 7 innings while allowing only four hits and two walks and striking out six, was unfortunately awarded a rather tough-luck loss.
I’ve got your back Jacob, even if your horrible offense doesn’t.
A couple of other things to note concerning this special occasion;
– If Jacoby Ellsbury had gotten just a minutely better jump out in center field, that ball is being caught. Seriously, it lands within a few feet of him. Now Ellsbury and the Yankees are probably overly-conscious of the consequences of laying out considering his brittle injury history, hence why he didn’t dive, but I prefer to believe that Ellsbury was simply in too much shock to comprehend fully what was happening. The poor guy probably wasn’t expecting the ball to leave the infield if contact was made at all.
– This is no way makes up for the shocking haircut (or lack thereof) deGrom is currently sporting. I can absolve him of blame for the silly spelling of his surname – that isn’t his fault after all – but that hair… It’s like some nasty cross between Clay Buchholz, the 2010 version of Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Samardzija. Mind you, if he pitches anything like the latter, fans at Citi Field will soon be coveting his gnarly tresses to place in lockets over their hearts (this is how depressingly weird I imagine life as a fan of the not-so-Amazin’s to be).
* If you were looking for well-known starting pitchers, this game was not for you.
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 new 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? The Mets’ No. 2 prospect behind Noah Syndergaard, that’s who! Out of the Dominican Republic Montero signed with the Mets at the relatively late age of 20 back in 2011. Despite his late introduction to professional ball stateside however, the diminutive righty has shot through the farm system to become one of the more polished pitching prospects in the game.
What has he done? Montero split the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a total of 156 innings and 150 strikeouts to go with a combined 12-7 record and 2.78 ERA in his 27 starts. Pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in Triple-A, Las Vegas’ Cashman Field, Montero greatly aided his prospect status with 88.2 innings of sub-3 FIP ball – he had a 2.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and surrendered only two homers in nine home starts. Having started 2014 back in the PCL, the 24-year-old has done nothing but impress once again; prior to his promotion he was 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 41 2-3 innings, and tossed 5 1-3 hitless innings (98 pitches) in his last start – a win over Salt Lake. He also started the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field for the World team
How has he done it? Though slight of build, he possesses as close to a perfect delivery as any in the game, an easy and repeatable motion from a three quarter arm slot that truly benefits his performance. According to Marc Hulet of Fangraphs ‘[Montero’s] strengths as a pitcher are his above-average command and control, which help all three of his pitches play up. He possesses a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup.” Sounds dead-on: while he doesn’t overpower batters (though he can reach back for some 95 mph heat if he needs it), thanks to his sound mechanics, that great command of his fastball and slider in particular has allowed him to dominate his minor league competition thus far.
Why is he pitching in the majors? Primarily because Jenrry Mejia, after a couple of decent enough starts to begin the season, has lately proven he can’t work through a big league lineup effectively more than twice (he can ‘moonwalk’ off the mound after striking out a batter to end the inning however). To wit, Mejia was limiting opponents to a .193/.258/.246 line in their first plate appearance of the game, a somewhat-palatable .245/.365/.415 triple slash the second time around, but a disastrous .405/.500/.595 clip the third time through. Combine his dicey injury history (the 24-year-old has already undergone two operations on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2011), with the Mets’ horrific relief corps (they’ve deployed both Jose Valverde and Daisuke Matsuzaka far too plentifully for a team with any self-respect), and a trip to the bullpen was log in the cards for Mejia – opening up a rotation spot.
What they’re saying: Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman gave his departing stud a nice endorsement on his way out the door – “With Rafael, he’s able to locate to both sides of the plate, commands his off-speed stuff. He throws every pitch over the plate for strikes. If he falls behind in the count, he’s capable of throwing his changeup, his breaking ball over for strikes at any time. He’s always ahead in the count and the kid really knows how to pitch.” But c’mon, what was he really going to say? The objective Hulet, in his pre-season write-up of New York’s top 10 prospects deemed that “Montero cannot challenge the ceilings of Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard but he has the potential to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter.” That’s a darn sight better than Mejia anyway.
Worth a follow on Twitter? Unfortunately not. As far as my not-so-extensive search indicated, Rafael Montero does not have Twitter, or even Instagram. He does however, have a very poorly maintained fan page on Facebook – which has so far garnered a whole 23 likes. Go Rafael!
Anything else? He’ll be squaring off against Masahiro Tanaka, who is currently the proud owner of a 2.57 ERA and perfect 5-0 record, so is unlikely to pick up the ‘win’. If he manages to notch a hit and break the Mets pitchers’ collective 0-63 streak though, he’ll be a winner in my eyes no matter what he does on the mound.
ESPN’s Stats and Info group knew something was up:
Jose Fernandez: averaged 94.6 mph with fastball in first 4 innings of last start, 90.7 mph in last 2 innings
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 12, 2014
How else could the abysmal San Diego Padres offense, Jedd Gyorko in particular, suddenly be able to touch up one of the game’s best pitchers? Something had to be wrong. Of course, Ken Rosenthal broke the news:
Sources: Jose Fernandez expected to be placed on disabled list. Exact nature of injury not known. #Marlins
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 12, 2014
The exact nature of the injury was in fact, the dreaded elbow discomfort. Miami’s ace was placed on the 15-day DL, underwent an MRI scan in LA., and sent back to Florida. Cut to the five stages of Fernandez-related grief…
Jose Fernandez MRI reveals God, wrapped inextricably around right elbow ligament. “truth be told we kind of suspected as much,” says doctor
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) May 12, 2014
WHICH ONE OF YOU BROKE JOSE FERNANDEZ — keithlaw (@keithlaw) May 12, 2014
Placing myself on the 15-day disabled list with emotions about Jose Fernandez
— Ben Lindbergh (@ben_lindbergh) May 12, 2014
I knew Jose Fernandez shouldn’t have flown so close to the sun. — Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 12, 2014
All we know for now, thanks to Marlins manager Mike Redmond, is that the MRI revealed a right elbow sprain. ‘Sprain’ would imply ligament trouble, as opposed to a ‘strain’ more commonly associated with muscle injuries. If the worst is later confirmed, and Fernandez joins the epic list of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery this season, robbing us of one of the game’s most exciting young talents (way more so than Matt Harvey last year I’d argue, well, Dan Symborski has the appropriate response covered:
Jose Fernandez MRI and disabled list. If the worst case scenario, all Marlins fans are allowed 4 hours of crying and 1 overturned car. — Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) May 12, 2014
Please, Lord, say it ain’t so. Don’t take away Jose.
A little advance warning – this post by no means condones the Doug Fister trade. The many reasons why that deal was immediately heralded as a coup for the Washington Nationals, rated not just by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs as the worst transaction of the 2014 offseason, but ranking no. 1 and 2 in the Baseball Prospectus staff’s 11 least-favorite offseason moves, all still stand true today. It was the sort of lopsided piece of business that, in the words of Jonah Keri, made ‘every front-office type, journalist, and peanut vendor share the same reaction at the same time: “The Tigers traded Doug Fister for what?!’ It doesn’t especially matter how Fister would go on to miss the first 34 games of the Nationals’ season recovering from a strained right lat muscle, and then allow five earned runs on nine hits over 4.1 innings when he finally made his debut against Oakland last Friday, the fact of the matter remains; you would have to think that if all other 28 ML teams knew Fister and crucially, his two years of team control, was available, Detroit would have received more in return than Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi*, and Robbie Ray.
But if there’s one thing we should have learnt by now, it’s the mantra that all new GM’s should have tattooed to their wrist: Don’t Doubt Dave Dombrowski.
This is the man after all, who cut his chops as the architect of the legendary (for sad reasons) 1994 Expos team. His next masterpiece of team-building; only steering the expansion Florida Marlins to a championship in just their fifth season of existence. Before he left the post in 2001, he’d drafted Josh Beckett and signed a 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela. That kid turned out to be Miguel Cabrera, and in 2003, the Marlins won it all once again. His subsequent work in Detroit is so legendary it’s a surprise that anyone trades with him anymore; he fleeced the Marlins to get Miggy after the 2007 season by giving up two top 10 prospects, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who haven’t amounted to much. He bagged Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco at bargain prices. He nabbed Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer at the expense of Curtis Granderson. He picked up Jhonny Peralta, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and of course Fister. In the 58 trades he’d made prior to this season at the helm in Detroit, Double D had given away just 84.5 bWAR worth of players, but acquired 188.9 bWAR – a net profit of 104.4 bWAR.
Might acquiring Robbie Ray just be his next heist?
As shouted from the rooftops at the time of the deal (Matthew Kory’s words in that aforementioned BP piece are a typical response), Ray wasn’t much of a prospect. After being popped in the 12th round and signed for nearly $800,000 in the 2010 amateur draft, he promptly slogged his way through the lower rungs of the Nats’ farm system for the next two seasons, the nadir coming when he posted a 6.56 ERA in 21 starts (22 appearances) at High-A in 2012. The light then somewhat clicked on in Ray’s third trip to the Carolina League in 2013, the 6’2 lefty putting up a 3.11 ERA in 16 starts, striking out 100 batters with just 60 hits allowed along the way, before he was promoted to Double-A in the second half. There he made 11 starts, struck out over a batter an inning (9.31 K/9 if you’re picky), lowered his walk rate, and had a 3.72 ERA. Then came the trade, and the projections, Marc Hulet initially pegging the Brentwood, Tennessee native with the following:
After making just 11 starts at the level last year, Ray will likely return to Double-A to open the 2014 season. A lack of premium talent in the upper levels of the system in Detroit could help him quickly reach Triple-A.
So much for that. Ray would jump straight into the Triple-A pool, and immediately dominate, making five starts (six total appearances) during which he assembled an impressive 1.53 ERA, before an injury to Anibal Sanchez (a finger laceration to be specific), dictated the Tiger’s find themselves a starter for May 6. As we all know, they called upon Ray, who in a feat literally no one expected, probably not even the mastermind/witch Dombrowski himself, pitched in the majors before Fister this season.
Yes, it was against the Astros, and as put by Jeff Sullivan, ‘there’s only so much you can make of a start, particularly when it’s a first start.’ But one run on five hits with five strikeouts in 5.1 innings? That’s something. Some of his pitches looked a work in progress, as excellently detailed by Sullivan here, but the promise was apparent. For an encore yesterday though, this time facing the Twins, he was even better; he stifled the Minnesota offense for six shutout innings, giving up just four hits and surrendering only one walk, striking out two. When he left, the Tigers were up 3-0, but would go on to lose 4-3 after the bullpen blew the lead. Having showcased a lean, athletic build, easy delivery, and decent four-seam fastball in his two starts so far, Ray has proven he has the components of a major-league starter – the results themselves speak to his effectiveness. Dave Dombrowski might well have done it again.
No, Ray’s not an impact rookie like Jose Fernandez, with a future as an ace ahead, but could he develop into an above-average mid-rotation starter, more than capable of eating 200 innings a year? Absolutely. Already, he’s a back-of-the-rotation type. Funny, because many would label Fister an above-average mid-rotation starter too, except that he’s 30-years-old and heading for free agency. Ray, on the other hand is just 22, and has six full years of team control left before he’ll sniff the lucrative open waters. That payday might yet be delayed even further, seeing as how Ray is due to be sent back down to Toledo today with Sanchez returning from the DL, such is the wealth of starting pitching in Detroit.
Still, you’re telling me that Dombrowski couldn’t have got Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, or even Rafael freakin’ Soriano included in the trade, to prevent bullpen blowups like what happened yesterday occurring?! C’mon man…
* Lombardozzi was of course then included in Detroit’s trade for Alex Gonzalez, as they
panicked and pulled the trigger too early sought a capable fill-in at shortstop with positional incumbent Jose Iglesias out for the year.