Sunday, April 08, 2007

1-4 Start Has Phillies Seeking Bullpen Help

The Phillies continual search for bullpen help has been an interesting one with four names featured prominently over the past week. How about a closer look?

Ron Villone - PASS

The Phillies talked to Ron Villone and agent Scott Boras but passed on signing the veteran lefty reliever released last week by the Yankees, who offered Villone a minor-league deal with an out by May 1. [NY Post: 4/4]

Talk to him, check him out, see if he has anything left...and then decide he's not a good fit. I support the process and am glad the Phillies looked into adding a potentially helpful guy. It's also encouraging that management didn't rush into making a bad signing just because of a perceived hole in the bullpen that just haaaaad to be filled up by a "proven" reliever rather than another, more creative option - in prior seasons, the powers that be might have rushed out to sign Villone even if they weren't convinced he would be a real improvement simply to get another veteran arm in the pen (something that sadly appeases many "fans" of the team).

Dustin Hermanson - IN LIMBO

General manager Pat Gillick said the Phillies might take another look at righthander Dustin Hermanson, who was released Sunday by Cincinnati. The Phils saw Hermanson in the off-season but weren't impressed. He had a 7.36 ERA in eight appearances this spring for the Reds. He started well, but struggled late in the spring. Hermanson missed much of last season because of back problems. [Philly Inquirer 4/7]

The Phillies worked him out about a month ago and passed, but apparently absence makes the heart grow fonder - life without Dustin has proved just far too difficult for Pat Gillick to bear. If they think Hermanson is better than what they currently have on the roster, he could be in Phillies pinstripes by the end of next week. One can't help but wonder what has changed in the past few weeks that could have changed the Phillies mind about Hermanson - if his stuff really has deteroriated as much as the rumors surrounding him lead you to believe, would he really be an upgrade over a reliever who has been relatively effective, but lacks great stuff like Clay Condrey?

Francisco Rosario - WELCOME TO PHILLY

Plenty to say about Rosario, the newest addition to the roster after the Phillies snatched him from the Blue Jays for a mere $100,000. Rosario had a legitimately great 2002 minor league season between A and A+ ball. Unfortunately, he was not given a chance to immediately build on his success because he went under the knife after hearing a pop in his elbow while pitching in the AFL. He missed the entire 2003 season and the first six weeks of 2004 with an unrelated upper-arm injury. Rosario started in the minors up until the Blue Jays converted him into a reliever in August of 2005.

His current repertoire is explained in the quote from the 2007 edition of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, but his progression of "stuff" has been a fascinating one. Using all kinds of resources both electronic and print, I've managed to put together the following: Plus fastball (92-97 MPH pre-injury with "exceptional command," 93-96 MPH post-injury with "solid command"); above average 86-88 MPH changeup with late action; pre-injury he threw a slurve, post-injury it was more a slider (85-88 MPH). Below are quotes taken from Baseball America that track Rosario's progress over the years:

Baseball America 2004 Prospect Handbook (ranked 5th, ahead of Aaron Hill, Dave Bush, and Jayson Werth): "Rosario would have been the Jays' No. 1 prospect last year if not for the surgery."

Baseball America 2005 Prospect Handbook (ranked 4th, only behind Brandon League, Aaron Hill, and Guillermo Quiroz): "Rosario has the power stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter."

Baseball America 2006 Prospect Handbook (ranked 8th): "Some observers think he pitches as if he fears hurting his elbow again."

Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook (ranked 6th): "Rosario employs true power stuff: a mid-90s fastball peaking at 98 mph with life, an 85-88 mph slider and a hard split-grip changeup."

From Baseball Prospectus 2007:

Once considered a high-upside guy, Francsico [sic] Rosario has had his share of arm troubles and has gotten older without the upside coming around, but he could be salvaged as a decent arm out of the bullpen if he maintains the uptick in control he experienced with Syracuse last year.

That's a lot of information to digest, but the bottom line is fairly clear: Rosario had great stuff and command pre-injury, has good to very good stuff and command post-injury, but still hasn't put it all together at the big league level. He is at the point of his career where he needs to be given a shot to sink or swim in the majors and I'm extremely happy to see the Phillies as the team willing to give him that shot.


The Phillies added inventory to their relief corps yesterday when they signed free-agent righthander Rick Bauer to a minor-league contract, pending a physical. Bauer, 30, went 3-1 with two saves and a 3.55 earned run average in 58 games for Texas last season, but the Rangers released him March 28. He had a bad spring. He went 0-1 with a 15.63 ERA in five appearances. In 61/3 innings, he allowed 19 hits, 15 runs (11 earned), 4 home runs, and 4 walks. He hit two batters and struck out four. [Philadelphia Inquirer 4/7]

The move itself is nothing to jump and down with excitement about, but the context of such a signing is pretty exciting. You build a good bullpen by getting as many interesting arms as possible (and ideally for as cheap as possible) and letting them sort themselves out - if Bauer looks good up in Ottawa, great; if not, what have you lost? There is no commodity in baseball quite as fungible as the relief pitcher and moves like the Bauer put this theory to work.

In fact, just as I was about to put this post to bed I stumbled across Bauer's comment in Baseball Prospectus 2007. I think it really reinforces the point made in the preceding paragraph plus it adds an interesting projection for '07:

Relievers are a volatile lot. Maybe it's that luck plays a bigger hand in their results given the small sample sizes of their annual workloads, maybe it's that it's more difficult to maintain all the different mechanical aspects of pitching when you only throw so many pitches at a time, or perhaps that lack of consistency is what put many relievers in the pen in the first place. Bauer is actually one of the more consistent relievers within his range; he's been a more or less league-average pitcher since 2001...PECOTA sees his unimpressive K/BB rate catching up with him in 2007.

The blurb also mentions Bauer's ability to adjust to pitching in Texas last year by his marked improvement in GB% (from 45.2% in 2005 with the Orioles to 54.5% with Texas). It should also be noted that Bauer only gave up one homer in 146 batters faced in 2006, certainly an encouraging skill for a pitcher with dreams of pitching in South Philly at some point in '07.


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