Building A Cheap Bullpen

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Career minor leaguers have always been a curiosity of mine.  Why do some players get the label of "career minor leaguer" and others get promoted when the former has just as good of stats as the later?  What is it about a player who has a "Million Dollar Arm" who can't make that last step of their profession.  Is it always the "ten cent head", or is it that they've been stuck with the label of "career minor leaguer" and clubs can't get past it?  Bill James, among others, have developed Major League Equivalency (MLE) formulae which demonstrated that it was possible to use AAA stats to predict how a player is most likely to perform at the major league level.  Obviously, these MLE's don't take into account the type of pitcher the player is, i.e. hard-thrower, or a soft-tosser, or even a knuckleballer.  The type of pitcher shouldn't matter, or how fast a pitcher's fastball is clocked, or much his curve breaks.  Beside health issues, all that should matter are the results.  But when talking with an acquaintance who works as a scout, he said that a pitcher could do well in the minors, but if he lacks an "out pitch", major league hitters will wait him out as he nibbles with his pitches.  He added, "As for the success at the higher levels for these career minor leaguers there are a few variables that have to be looked at; 1) They are experienced and veterans of the league; 2) There is a better understanding of the league and the situations that face them daily on and off the field; 3) They are not facing big league hitters.  There are times in the players career were they may have wonderful seasons, but good Triple A numbers don’t always mean good MLB numbers."

The purpose of this article is to question why organizations ignore these types of players.  And why wouldn't an organization go out and acquire some of these types of players to build a cheap and effective bullpen.  I don't think it'd take much to acquire these types of players, in fact most have been granted free agency and signed as minor league free agents at some point in their careers and have changed organizations more than twice.  The Angels spent $21M on their bullpen in 2008, almost half of that went to closer Francisco Rodriguez, but $10M went to 3 pitchers; Darren Oliver ($2M), Justin Speier and Scot Shields ($4.25M each).  For their $10M, the Angels got:

180 15 13 203.1 182 80 73 168 3.54

Not bad, but I'd like to see that strikeout rate be a bit better.  The above total was held down due to Speier's bad year; otherwise the totals aren't too bad.

Below are 4 pitchers, all over 30 who did very well in Triple-A in 2008 (and throughout their minor league career) and who have had limited major league experience:

Jason Childers - Age 33
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1997.  Made his major league debut with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 at the age of 31 after having an impressive spring training.  The perceived problem with Childers is he doesn't throw hard, as his fastball tops out at 90 mph, and he pitches to contact relying on late movement to get outs.  However, his career minor league stats show he does a good job getting the strikeouts and has good command of the strike zone.  Childers has a .89 K/IP rate and strikes out almost 3 batters for every walk.  In 2005 at Triple-A Richmond, Childers led all Braves minor-leaguers with 16 saves and had a team-low 2.09 ERA in 38 outings and yet didn't get a chance with the big league club.  In a 2006 article from the St. Petersburg Times, Childers stated, "I think they're scared of my velocity.  If I got called up and struggled, maybe they'll feel like they'll look bad."  This was prophetic.  He struggled in his first 5 appearances that year with the Rays and was sent down at the end of April.  Never getting the chance to return.

MLB 5 0 1 7.2 12 6 4 5 4.61
AAA-2008 50 4 2 59 34 8 13 61 1.22
ML Career 423 47 48 851.1 763 280 283 791 2.96


Dan Giese - Age 31
Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 34th round of the 1999 draft, Giese (rhymes with vice) has been in professional baseball for 10 seasons.  Made his professional debut with the San Francisco Giants in September of 2007.  Primarily used in a set-up role throughout his minor league career, Giese was converted to a starter in the Yankee's organization in 2008.  Giese was one of several rookie pitchers to give the Angels' hitter a hard time in 2008 when he pitched 6 innings against his favorite team growing up (Giese was born in Anaheim and attended Rubidoux High in Riverside) and left the game with a 2-1 lead.  In the August 9th start against the Angels, Giese gave up just 3 hits while striking out 5 and walking 1.  Giese is not a hard-thrower; his fastball rarely tops 87 mph, but has shown good command during his career in the minors using a change-up as his out pitch.  In 656.1 innings, he has walked 123 batters while striking out 600 and has a career ERA of 2.89 in 387 minor league games.

MLB 28 1 5 52.2 47 22 16 36 3.76
AAA-2008 13 4 2 59 43 13 14 51 1.98
ML Career 387 44 24 656.1 590 211 123 600 2.89


Justin Lehr - Age 30
Rated the 68th best high school prospect in the country by Baseball America before the 1995 season, Lehr was a standout catcher and pitcher at West Covina High School.  Drafted 3 times, 1995 by Detroit in the 15th round and in 1998 by the Angels in the 10th round as a catcher, and in 1999 in the 8th round by Oakland after converting to pitching at USC.  Made his major league debut in June of 2004.  The California native has pitched in 4 different organizations in his 10 year career, splitting his time as both a reliever and starter (110 starts). 

MLB 66 4 3 83 91 49 39 51 5.31
AAA-2008 16 6 2 64.1 51 15 11 41 2.10
ML Career 305 61 41 952 1040 423 292 707 4.00


Scott Strickland - Age 32
Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 10th round of the 1997 draft and made his major league debut in August of 1999.  After having been considered at one time to become the Mets' closer, Strickland's career had been sidelined by injuries.

MLB 236 12 21 240 201 89 111 243 3.34
AAA-2008 52 4 0 66.1 50 26 27 72 3.53
ML Career 260 24 16 459.1 405 171 142 491 3.35


Of the above pitchers, I'd like to see Giese and Strickland in an Angels uniform, either in Triple A or possibly with the big club.  Both of these pitchers have shown success in the majors and most likely could be easily acquired.  Childers and Lehr look to me like they could help a major league club in the right situation, or as a fill-in due to an injury.  If Lehr has overcome what looks like control problems, he'd have a good chance to dominate, at least over a short period of time.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim published on October 11, 2008 12:24 PM.

Where Have you Gone, Alan Bannister? was the previous entry in this blog.

2008 Season Review - Part 1 is the next entry in this blog.

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