Top 13 pitchers poised to benefit from a team change in 2014

  • Colby Richards

New place and a new case made for improvement out of these pitchers. Player movement that can help a pitcher’s performance includes switching to the NL or moving to a more pitcher-friendly park.  Their value can shoot up with their pitching remaining the same. While there is an ongoing debate on how much a pitcher really controls in getting Wins, it is helpful for the pitcher to do his part, and when there is a switch from an anemic offense to a juggernaut, it can be most helpful to the Win column. Most recently, switching teams has also been to take advantage of the benefit of a coach and pitching or hitting philosophy. Pitching with a lead is very important and can have a significant effect on how the pitcher attacks hitters, and how much the pitch to contact mentality shows through. It’s hard to say what’s more damaging pitching with fear or hitting with fear, but regardless neither gets the job done.  Here we discuss 13 pitchers to watch for improvement because of a change in scenery.

Edinson Volquez

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

Volquez went with the Sinker as his primary pitch in 2013 and hitters were happy to see it batting .301 and also surrendering the worst BB rate of all his pitches. Volquez struggled with command  as seen on the heat maps. He had a tough year in San Diego, but has had success in the MLB, he is set to fill the 5th slot in the rotation in the Steel City. Volquez’s move to the Burgh will help his struggles with LHB, PNC seems to do a good job at keeping the ball in the yard, just like Petco. Pittsburgh’s Pitching Coach Ray Searage has been able to take BB off of his pitchers’ stat lines over the last few years. Burnett, Melancon, Liriano and Morton have improved tremendously over Searage’s three years at the pitching helm. Count on Volquez to improve by establishing his Sinker and letting his Change Up and Curveball be the route he takes to racking up outs.

Hector Santiago 

Santiago was the “other guy” in the Diamondbacks trade for Trumbo, Skaggs was viewed by many as the prize. I have my doubts on Skaggs, but Santiago is the guy I am more interested to see progress out of this season. Santiago is a true FB/CH LHP. He has been able to collect whiffs with his speed differential of 9 MPH, his sinker and fastball proved worthy of 87 Ks, and his change up add 31 K. After Santiago’s experiments with the Cell Theory in Chicago, he has moved to the land of the beach to pitch for the Angels. The transition to Angels stadium will certainly feel like he has as much room in the park as there is sand on the beach. Santiago was not able to fully show his success, because of his fly ball tendencies. Those same fly balls turn in to many HR at U.S. Cellular Field. The switch to a good fielding team as well as a more competitive team will allow Santiago to use his stuff better by keeping it in the zone, cutting the BB rate and allowing him to pitch deeper into games. Hector will also enjoy the leadership Weaver and Wilson provide, he will be a pivot point for the Angels success, regardless of their hitters’ production. If the Angels lead with their pitching watch them take off like they were expected to for a while now.

Phil Hughes

Courtesy of St. Cloud Times

Courtesy of St. Cloud Times

Hughes is moving to Target Field, and his contract states he will have to shop at Target even after the Accounts becoming compromised. Hughes is past his prospect stage, with lots of MLB experience for a player his age, which is very important to pitchers entering their prime, and could be a factor in many pitchers finally getting off the ground after a few middling production years in to their career. Hughes has been like the HDTV when it first came out a few years ago, people spent a lot of money to get “the next big thing” only to see the picture wasn’t much until all of the channels to watch were upgraded. The Twins saw the bad picture of Hughes’ first few years, with flashes of good games similar to the local channels broadcasting in HD. Now the Twins have their Full HD package paid for and depending how he produces in 2014 they are either getting the Directv or Dish Network Value. Hughes is an extreme fly ball guy, and if you look just right, you can see the fences from Home Plate at Target Field. Good news for the Twins! They have gathered a few guys to run down all of those flyballs. Minnesota has put together plus defenders up the middle with Dozier and Florimon as well as a great receiver in Suzuki. The OF has Aricia and Presley who provide help in the outfield grass but Willingham is more unorthodox with the scarecrow tactics in LF. Hughes may not have put up good conventional numbers in 2012 but his K/BB ratio of 3.59, probably the only way he was able to limit the damage of 35 HR with a 4.26 ERA. In 2013, Hughes gave up more R than the ER in 2012. His increase in BB was not accompanied by a decrease in HR allowed, moving to 1 HR allowed every 5 IP in 2013 from 1 every 6 in 2012. Hughes sat out for dead arm in 2013 Spring Training, the command is affected as much as velocity and in 2013 Hughes’ FA allowed a .325 BAA even though velocity was the same. Chalk up his Flyball rate to his pitching extremely high location. He threw too many over the middle to both RHB and LHB. Stat to help things fall into place for Hughes: K/BB

Josh Johnson

Johnson is headed for paradise, Corona shows how difficult his 2013 season was and the relief it is for him to find his beach in San Diego. The Pitching Paradise known as Petco Park located in San Diego. He is going to bounce back, isn’t he… isn’t he…isn’t he????????? Johnson posted a superb 2010 season with a 2.30 ERA, his velocity has yet to be regained he has been a tick under 93 the last 2 years touching 95, while in 201o he was consistently 95 touching 98. His Change Up was 8 MPH slower than his Fastball in 2010, which is the bare minimum speed differential coaches ask of pitchers. His Change Up has remained at 88 while his Fastball velocity has dropped 2 MPH. This means his Change Up was only helping hitters catch up to his Fastball and did they ever! .478 batting average on 25 AB ending with a Change Up. It appears he used his Curve as a speed differential pitch 14 MPH slower than his 4 Seamer. He didn’ t even have a curve in 2010.  The problem with a slower curve is the hitter will see the ball go up right out of his hand so the hitter has even more time to make the adjustment if he was sitting dead red. MLB hitters can put very good swings when they only have to go up there looking for something straight. Johnson has Change Up Great Ian Kennedy to help him with the pitch. Johnson has the makings of a true ace, as seen in this article, not giving up the longball correlates very well with the Cy Young candidates. In Johnson’s 3 full season ’09,’10, and ’12, Josh wasn’t close to allowing a HR every 10 IP, he averaged 1 every 18 IP with the high being in ’10 with 1 every 26 IP! I’ve looked at a lot of players and surely that’s the highest I’ve seen. The Padres have done well at taking guys that were HR/FB prone and utilizing the facilities, but now they are taking an extreme HR dissuader and placing him in a NO-FLY-ZONE! There’s a team coming together in San Diego. Stat to hang your hat on: HR/9

Heath Bell

 The Bell was cracked in Arizona, and he didn’t boom with the same sound, luckily the Rays have a flier out waiting for a man with his credentials: old, washed up and at least 1 year of a negative WAR, Bell may even be overqualified, since he has had 2 years in a row with a negative WAR. Fernando Rodney is the man leaving the door open for Bell to ring in Tampa. Bell will yet again benefit in a pitchers park as his home park, but he now enters the toughest division in the MLB, the only park that is forgiving is his own. Any Relief Pitcher needs to be able to translate his numbers to any park, it seems many NL parks have gone with the help-the- pitchers mentality, while the AL has multiple hitters parks, that take full advantage of  the DH. Bell will be tight roping through jams this season, it is the Rays’ hope that he will be able to miss bats and not miss out over the plate as he did in 2013. The beauty of age is the valuable command that comes with it, as long as health allows it. Look for Bell to use his Fastball with improved command and return to 40+ Saves

Joaquin Benoit

Ron Burgundy & Co. would have quite a time giving the highlights for Benoit in a Padres uniform this year. The Padres appear to be much more competitive this year, they battled injuries and had to get the young kids some experience on the bump. After the past few years of bringing up rookies for the pen, this year they filling out their staff through Free Agency Benoit and Johnson, as well as picking up Seth Smith. The front office has built up a team and now the free agents have come. Benoit has played with winning teams in Tampa as well as the last 3 years in Detroit. Benoit is a K guy with a sweet split finger, untouchable slider and then consistently 94 with the 4 seamer. Benoit has been homer prone through his career, that’s where Petco comes into play, Benoit did have success limiting the HR last season, so when visiting the Hitters’ parks in the NL West (Coors and Chase) he will be able to manage. Benoit will set up Street this year so his save count may not be there, but his WHIP, K and ERA, will shoot up. Benoit will keep on keeping on, possibly cutting his HR total in half. Stat to make the jump to elite RP: HR/9

Jose Veras 

Veras is all set to take another gig for saves, after starting last year as the closer in Houston, he piled up 21 saves, which only happen to benefit in Fantasy, his K as well as WHIP, will be the categories that he will boost the most. Veras can rack up saves as it looks like a more competitive team will inhabit Wrigley Field. His curve brought on most of his Ks last year but his .180 BAA for his Sinker proves his heavy pitch can shut down the 9th quickly. Jose will provide veteran leadership in the bullpen but also live up to his early years with the Yankees. Look for Veras to pound the zone more coming in for the 9th and cut down his BB rate even further. Veras needs to cut his BB to take the next step as a closer.

Ronald Bellisario

Bellisario’s move to the White Sox will make him the setup man. Ronald throws a heavy sinker at 94 and has been good at preventing extra base hits. He will continue to pitch to contact and get ground balls. If he can cut his BB down his value will see a huge jump. He has a consistent BB rate through his MLB career and in 2013, all but 1 of his BB came from his Sinker. That can be expected because of Belisario throws it almost exclusively.  Belisario’s 1.73 GB/FB ratio caught the White Sox eye, and now the run prevention is furthered in “The Cell.” Belisario needs to reduce his Walks in order to cut down on his WHIP and ERA.

Josh Outman

Outman came up as a starter, but after battling injuries, he has a niche as a reliever. His slider is his clear out pitch with a .129 BAA. He was not able to develop his change-up, so he would have difficulty starting with only 2 pitches to lean on. Outman still needs to develop better Fastball command, he misses far too often over the middle of the plate. Outman’s role looks like he may be a LOOGY like Rzepcynski was last year. The Indians would like him to eventually handle a full inning. The Indians have been good at building bullpens recently and Outman could be a real gem with his Slider, and 92 MPH Fastball from the Left Side. There are a few big LHB Outman will be assigned to get out: Hosmer, Mauer, Gordon, and Dunn in the AL Central. Outman could be more than a specialist with better Fastball command. 

Sean Gilmartin

Gilmartin has found a home with the Twins, after being traded for Ryan Doumit, Gilmartin is big league ready, and could be up by June. He had a good career at Florida State and now poses as Minnesota’s one of two LHP with a shot at cracking the rotation. The AL Central is full of RHB, so the Twins could benefit in that respect to all of their right-handedness. Gilmartin is not coming off the greatest of years, but that’s how teams acquire top talent at a reasonable price, buying low and waiting for the player to bounce back. A similar buy-low LH SP scenario for the Twins is when they picked up Johan Santana in the rule 5 draft from the Astros in 2000. Gilmartin also has a good change up, Gilmartin has a good sinker and is effective at getting ground balls. He fits right in with most of the Twins’ rotation is sinkerballers, with exception to Phil Hughes. If Gilmartin starts the season off well in AAA, the Twins will be competitive enough to take a shot at using him in the rotation by June. Gilmartin was the Braves #4 prospect entering 2013 according to Baseball America, and his youth will propel his return to form in 2014.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

Gonzalez is set to be in the rotation for the Phillies, and they have set out to turn the page from 2013, stacking up with veteran arms. As a baseball fan I am excited to see how the entire NL East turns out. After watching some video on Gonzalez he has a lot of arm side run on a Fastball 90-94, which will translate well to the NL. Gonzalez is very smooth throughout his delivery, although he consistently finishes high on his follow through, which does not always translate to good location down in the zone. Gonzalez impressed me most with his “Comeback Fastball” on the outer half to RHB. The pitch starts a ball or even two ball lengths off the plate away only to comeback over the outer half right on the black. Visually this extends the zone for a hitter, and when Gonzalez pitches in, the difference on the inside corner appears greater and exaggerated to a hitter, making his Fastball alone that much better. Gonzalez will take advantage of top-of-the-line defense in the middle of the field (Revere, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz). Utley and Rollins may be older, but they can still turn the double play, and Rollins doesn’t make many errors. Miguel is going to be asked to neutralize LHB in Citizens’ Bank Park with the ball carrying well to Right Field. Gonzalez has the arsenal to do it, many LHB are pull hitters, and with his fastball running away from them, he will miss many barrels and hopefully get a lot of weak contact. The NL East has some tough outs batting from the left side, with the likes of Yelich, Heyward Freeman, Granderson and Davis. Gonzalez needs to get those outs in order to cruise through the NL lineups. Count on a good Fastball paired with International experience for a seamless transition by Gonzalez to the MLB.

Roberto Hernandez

Hernandez didn’t face many RHB in Tampa Bay last season, he eliminated them. Hernandez had one of the largest split differentials in the MLB. While he stymied RHB, his success did not carry over to the left-handers on the other side of the plate. Hernandez will benefit on the switch to the NL, because of the reduced use of the platoon relative to the AL. The lack of a DH in the NL seems to force teams to play full timers or guys that hit well enough against both handed pitchers. The NL uses most of their bench for pinch hitting for the pitcher and double switches. Hernandez will benefit most from the bailout at the bottom of the order and facing the opposing team’s pitcher, so hopefully he turns the lineup over quickly in 2014 and the return of his heavy sinker is awaited by many. The switch to the NL could limit his GBDP, because of the willingness of teams to bunt runners over, without the double play, he will need to maintain close his 2013 strand rate, which was a whopping 70%. Hernandez had 20% of his Flyballs leave the yard, which is quite a feat for a sinkerballer. Hernandez used his Change Up effectively collecting 55 of his 113 K. Hernandez should be able to have more success with better command of his slider, he missed to high and too often. Against RHB, he did not locate enough on the outer half. Sliders do not get enough movement from RHP when located inside to RHB. Hernandez will be able to miss many more bats, if he is able to keep his slider down away to RHB. Hernandez gave up 6 HR and a .329 BA when pitching his Slider, Meaning he gave a quarter of his HR allowed on a pitch that he only threw 15% of the time. Hernandez located his Slider in the zone the highest percentage of each of his pitches at 55% and a 33% FB/HR ratio on his Slider. Hernandez still missed bats with a 7% Swinging Strike Percentage, this shows that his slider is still effective, his mistakes came from location which can be corrected in the off-season. Hernandez can improve his season with better location of his Slider, which in turn would increase his “luck.”

Matt Albers

Albers is returning home with a few other Houston and Texan natives. Albers was once an Astro and has moved to a few different teams before his return. Matt is pegged as the setup man currently yielding to the old vet Chad Qualls. If Qualls’ health holds up, Albers would only be able to help in the Holds category, but I believe it is more than likely he gets saves to his name in the long season of the MLB. A recent trend around the league, is the movement toward GB machines to bring in out of the bullpen. Relievers don’t come cheap, especially ones that rack up Strikeouts. Teams have realized how effective the weak contact generated can benefit in the late innings. Guys like Brad Ziegler and Jim Johnson both had a number of saves in 2013, and they also posted 1.50 GB/FB ratios. Albers fits the bill for an cost-effective reliever sporting a 1.93 GB/FB ratio. Albers will have a good year in his return to the Lone Star State, he is good at preventing his pitches from leaving the yard, that should hold up in his switch indoors in the comfort of Minute Maid Park. Albers will get plenty of usage in 2014, he will certainly make the most of his Sinker as he did in 2013 limiting all XBH especially the long ball.

Depth chart info is referenced from Jason Martinez at http://www.mlbdepthcharts.com/2013-14-offseason-team-pages/

Colby Richards

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