Jon Becker, @mlbrandomfandom
With Opening Day just around the corner, now is a good time to examine current spring training rosters and try to find out who fits best, as Roster Resource’s MLB pages have already accomplished. However, when digging deeper into the statistics, players who their own teams determine as the best fit may not actually be such.
Keep in mind that Roster Resource’s projections take mostly into account what the organization’s thinking is when cobbling together their roster for the season, not what those outside of the organization (such as I) feel.
Here’s a look at a few bullpen situations that, when digging deeper, contradict our roster projections.
Rockies: Jairo Diaz over Tommy Kahnle
While Kahnle was solid last year, especially for a Rule 5 pick (4.19 ERA, 8.26 K/9), he’s not a “Rockies-type” pitcher. His groundball rate was solid (47.1%) but his fly ball percentage was a bit high (35.8%) and his HR/FB rate was unacceptable, as 10.4% of fly balls he induced left the yard.
Diaz actually had quite similar stats in his limited stint with the Angels last year (46.2% groundballs, 38.5% fly balls), but across all leagues in 2014, Diaz allowed just 4 home runs in 70.1 innings, whereas Kahnle allowed 7 in his 68.2 innings with the Rockies in this past season.
No, but what sets Diaz apart is his penchant for the strikeout, which has no chance of harm, even in the hitter haven that is Coors Field. Diaz punched out 8 hitters in his 5.2 MLB innings last year and an additional 11.5 per nine in the minors. Kahnle, on the other hand, posted his aforementioned 8.26 K/9 last year. He always got punch-outs in the minors (12 K/9) but since Diaz’s skills with setting hitters back to the bench has translated far better to the Majors, I’d take him and send Kahnle (who still has options) to AAA for some seasoning.
I also considered David Hale as the one to be banished to the minors, but his excelled 56.7% ground ball percentage in his career in the Majors is just too much for the Rockies to pass up.
Cubs: Drake Britton over Phil Coke
The current Cubs roster actually does list Britton over Coke, but the more I read, the more I find that Coke being signed to a MiLB deal was just a formality, and they want him as their primary (and probably only) lefty reliever out of the bullpen.
Coke’s HR/FB ratio was terrible in 2014 (11.4%) and his FIP (3.98) was even higher than his lackluster 3.88 ERA. Yes, Coke’s BAbip was a little high last year at .339, but it’s not too far off of his career mark of .319. Not to mention that Coke doesn’t get many strikeouts (6.36 per nine in 2014) and his walk rate isn’t low enough to compensate— his 3.1 BB/9 rate would be fine for a guy who’s striking out a batter an inning, but not with his rate.
Britton, on the other hand, is just entering his age-26 season, so there’s always room for improvement, although the Cubs would gladly take the 2.93 ERA he comes into the season with over 27.2 innings with the Red Sox. and his 2.93 BB/9 and 6.83 K/9 are both better than Coke’s.
More importantly than all of this, Britton is out of options and would almost certainly be claimed off of waivers if exposed to them, so the Cubs may have to buckle down and choose the youngster over the seasoned vet sooner rather than later— even if that means losing Coke.
Athletics: R.J. Alvarez over Evan Scribner
This choice is quite the opposite of my stance on the Cubs bullpen— this time I’m picking the player with options to beat out the player who would need to clear waivers to stay with the organization.
Scribner absolutely baffles me. He’s been a brilliant strikeout artist in his minor league career, regardless of level, team or age, with a 11.2 K/9. But he’s only struck out 7.2 per nine at the major league level, and he’s probably not going to change much at this point, as he’s already 29 and has consistently stayed around that 7.2 level while also keeping the walks down (2.4 BB/9, including no walks in 11.2 MLB innings last year).
Despite that level of consistency as well as a decent ERA (4.11) from Scribner in his MLB career, Alvarez is too exciting to keep out of the ‘pen any longer. Alvarez has always walked too many guys (3.8 per nine in the minors, a bit high) but strikes out a ridiculous amount of hitters, with 13.4 per nine in the minors, along with 9 in 8 MLB innings in 2014. Alvarez does so with a wipeout slider that picked up a 33.3 K% along with 3-and-a-half feet of movement on average in his stint with the Padres last year.
Since being acquired along with fellow pitcher Jesse Hahn for catcher Derek Norris and minor leaguer Seth Streich, Alvarez has flown under the radar due to the vast amount of bullpen depth that the A’s possess and much attention going to switch-pitcher Pat Venditte (who has little to no chance of making the roster, by the way). It’s time for that to change.
Based on what the statistics say and also what I’ve heard in reading scouting reports, Alvarez has the stuff to make it in the bigs (and dominate, for that matter), whereas Scribner has shown nothing more than the potential of a middling mid-innings guy.