Lugnuts Notes: 1996 Pitchers

Some short notes, comments, and impressions about the Lugnuts’ pitchers.


A Short Essay on Evaluating Pitchers

Pitchers are harder to figure than position players. One obstacle is the pitching rotation: you don’t see these guys every day. But a bigger obstacle is far more basic: Young pitchers are more difficult to evaluate.

It’s nearly always obvious what the pitcher’s strengths are: He’s got a terrific fastball, or a nasty breaking ball, or his pitches are always near the strike zone. But almost every pitcher in this league has equally obvious faults: There’s a hitch in his delivery, or he routinely forgets to cover home, or every seventh pitch is way off target, or he tips the batter about his next pitch, or (most common) he only throws two pitches, and the second is a weak sister. That’s the evaluation problem; they’re in this league more to eliminate the flaws than to improve the strengths. If the strength alone is sufficient, pitchers don’t usually spend much time at this level.

I can tell you how each guy throws. In some cases I can say what he does wrong. I can toss some numbers your way. What I can’t do is tell you whether they’ll fill in the missing pieces; that’s more a question of character than ability, and I’m not really in a position to judge that. I do know, from years of watching, that pitchers in this league often suddenly see the light and start pitching well. I never know which pitcher that’s going to happen to. Often it’s a surprise to the manager and the pitching coach, as well.


The Pitchers


Except as noted, all stats quoted are thru the season’s end. The original pitcher comments date from early June, and are italicized.


Justin Adam, 8/22/74 (22), 6’2″, 190#, bats & throws right, Windsor, Ontario

7th round draftee in 1992; played for Spokane last summer
46 games (no starts); 80.0 IP; 3 wins, 7 losses, 1 save
ERA 5.18; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.05; Walks 0.73; Strikeouts 0.76; HR 0.09; Hit Batter 0.04; Wild Pitch 0.18
Justin had an awful season, for not-very-obvious reasons.

June 5 comments: Justin’s a big overhand righty who always pitches from the set position. Early in the season he was dreadfully ineffective; he’d come in and come completely apart. Seems better now, though he’s not dependable enough to trust with a close game.

Manuel Bernal, 4/29/74 (22), 5’11”, 155#, bats & throws right, Los Mochis Sinaloa, Mexico

Non-drafted free agent, 1994; played for GCL Royals and the Sultans last summer
34 games (6 starts); 95.0 IP; 2 wins, 4 losses, 2 saves
ERA 4.55; Opponents BA .315
Per inning: Hits 1.29; Walks 0.17; Strikeouts 0.43; HR 0.07; Hit Batter 0.03; Wild Pitch 0.02
Bernal coils his body before he pitches; he gets momentum from unwinding the coil. I’m not sure if his motion changed during the season or I just understand it better now. He was fairly effective in relief but extremely unsuccessful as a starter. Great control, but gives up a lot of hits.

June 5 comments: Bernal appears to pitch mostly with his arm and wrist, rather than using his whole body to generate momentum. He was a starter early in the season, but Poldberg’s been using him in middle relief lately; he’s been reasonably effective. He’s effective as long as he keeps the ball down; if the other team starts getting the ball in the air, he gives up runs. (Brian’s now pulling him when that occurs.)

Richard Boring, 7/23/75 (21), 6’5″, 205#, bats & throws right, Nacogdoches, Texas

Started the season with the GCL Royals
1996 draftee from Texas A&M
3 games (no starts), 3.0 IP; 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 saves
ERA 3.00; Opponents BA .364
Per Inning: Hits 1.33, Walks 0.67; Strikeouts 0.67; HR 0.00; Hit Batter 0.00; Wild Pitch 0.00
1.90 ERA, 1 win, 1 loss, 4 saves, 10 Ks, 28 IP at GCL Royals
Didn’t see him pitch often enough to form an impression.

Tim Grieve, 8/17/71 (25), 6’0″, 180#, bats & throws right, Arlington, Texas

Finished the season in Wilmington
Played for the GCL Royals in 1994; did not play last summer
3 games (no starts); 3.0 IP; 0 wins, 1 loss, 0 saves
ERA 3.00; Opponents BA .000
Per inning: Hits 0.00, Walks 2.00; Strikeouts 1.67; HR ?.??; Hit Batter ?.??; Wild Pitch 0.00
1.31 ERA, 4 wins, 1 loss, 4 saves, 30 Ks, 34 IP at Wilmington
I saw Tim pitch once with the Nuts; he was ineffective but looked terrific. Evidently that’s all the Royals were expecting. He pitched pretty well for the Blue Rocks.

Kevin Hodges (Majors), 6/24/73 (23), 6’4″, 200#, bats & throws right, Spring, Texas

Finished the season in Wilmington
Drafted (I presume) 1991; played for Wilmington last summer
9 games (9 starts); 48.1 IP; 1 win, 2 losses, 0 saves
ERA 4.66; Opponents BA .261
Per inning: Hits 0.98; Walks 0.40; Strikeouts 0.48; HR 0.06; Hit Batter 0.13; Wild Pitch 0.06
5.35 ERA, 2 wins, 4 losses, 8 starts, 15 Ks, 39 IP at Wilmington
Kevin pitched regularly while he was in Lansing. His first start was his best; his last was also excellent. In between he was adequate.

June 5 comments: Unfortunately, I missed his first game, which was possibly the best game the Nuts played this season.

Brent Kaysner, 4/23/74 (22), 6’6″, 235#, bats left, throws right, Bothell, Washington

Drafted in the 29th round of the 1994 draft; played for Spokane last summer
38 games (no starts); 44.1 IP; 2 wins, 3 losses, no saves
ERA 5.08; Opponents BA .233
Per inning: Hits 0.86; Walks 1.30; Strikeouts 0.89; HR 0.07; Hit Batter 0.30; Wild Pitch 0.32
A miserable season. Usually a pitcher’s per-inning statistics remain nearly constant for the entire season, but Kaysner’s collapsed in August. I’d hate to be the starter he relieved in a close game.

June 5 comments: Brent’s a tall, thin right-hander with an easy overhand motion. He seems like he should throw harder than I think he actually does. Poldberg’s been using him mainly in the ninth inning, so I guess he’s being used as a closer; he started the season on the DL. Kaysner always lets runners get on base, then has to work out of the resulting situation. Sometimes it works out.

Scott Key, 10/4/76 (19), 5’10”, 162#, bats & throws right, Cantonment, Florida

Kansas City’s 33rd draft choice in 1995; played for the GCL Royals last summer
42 games (no starts); 61.2 IP; 1 win, 5 losses, 5 saves
ERA 5.40; Opponents BA .231
Per inning: Hits 0.84, Walks 0.75, Strikeouts 0.98, HR 0.07, Hit Batter 0.21, Wild Pitch 0.23
Scott’s delivery is now very peculiar; the mechanics cannot be better than his original motion. Next season will tell. He’s got a really strange stat line; the high strikeout ratio and low opponent BA don’t fit well with the high ERA.

June 5 comments: Francis Scott Key, III, is an extreme sidearm thrower, rather like Jim Bunning was. Besides delivering the ball from around knee level, he throws hard. Baseball’s accepted wisdom is that this sort of pitcher can be quite effective but most such pitchers are wild. Key is reinforcing that stereotype; he has appearances where he’s unhittable and appearances where he can’t find home plate. Poldberg generally brings him in as a mid-inning reliever, probably on the assumption that the next batter won’t handle the transition. When he throws well, that works. To all appearances the team’s trying to move his delivery to a somewhat less horizontal position, probably to improve his control; I’m not sure what I think about that.

Luis Matos; 6/13/78 (18), 5’11”, 185#, bats & throws right, Santo Domingo, PR

Returned to Extended Spring in early May; evidently he’s since been released
Non-drafted free agent; apparently an amateur in Puerto Rico last summer
8 games (no starts); 17.0 IP; 1 win, 1 loss, no saves
ERA 6.35; Opponents BA .324
Per Inning: Hits 1.35, Walks 0.53; Strikeouts 0.59, HR 0.12, Hit Batter 0.00, Wild Pitch 0.41
There’s some confusion about this player’s age. Regardless, I never saw him look good on the mound; the word that comes to mind is “insecure”. I hope someday to see him pitch again under more comfortable circumstances.

Blaine Mull, 8/14/76 (20), 6’4″, 190#, bats & throws right, Morganton, North Carolina

All-Star
6th round draftee in 1994; pitched for the Sultans last season
28 games (all starts); 174.2 IP; 15 wins, 8 losses, no saves (1 CG)
ERA 3.25; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.07, Walks 0.23, Strikeouts 0.66, HR 0.05, Hit Batter 0.05, Wild Pitch 0.03
The June comments are probably still appropriate. Was successful in August, but wasn’t pitching well.

June 5 comments: Despite a couple bad recent outings, the Lugnuts best pitcher. No particular traits worth mentioning; just stands out there and gets the batters out. Not particularly fast. Gets outs on the ground or in the air, without much pattern. His control’s much better than last year, for whatever that’s worth.

Carlos Paredes, 5/10/76 (20), 6’0″, 170#, bats & throws right, Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic

Evidently a 1995 free agent signee; pitched for the GCL Royals last summer
23 games (all starts), 118.2 IP; 7 wins, 8 losses, no saves
ERA 4.85; Opponents BA .296
Per inning: Hits 1.17, Walks 0.58, Strikeouts 0.61, HR 0.02, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.13
This pitcher figured things out, and got much better in August. Nothing obvious changed. He just stopped throwing away games when things went wrong.

June 5 comments: Carlos looks like a little power pitcher out there; a long stride and a simple overhand throw. He started the year in extended spring training, then was promoted to our team when it became clear we needed to move a starter or two into the bullpen. He’s effective so long as the other team hits grounders; when they start getting the ball into the air he’s nearly always done. His last outing was by far his best, which I hope means something; we need him.

Jason Ritter, 7/16/74 (22), 6’2″, 185#, bats & throws right; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Jason’s been released by the Royals
27th round draftee in 1994; pitched for the GCL Royals, Spokane, and the Sultans last summer
13 games (no starts); 17 IP; no wins, no losses, no saves
ERA 9.53; Opponents BA .429
Per inning: Hits 2.25, Walks 0.58, Strikeouts 0.50, HR 0.25, Hit Batter 0.00, Wild Pitch 0.00

June 5 comments: Jason’s a three-quarter overhand righty and he was (as you can see) extremely ineffective for the Lugnuts. Seems to have decent control, but nothing to fool the other team.

Michael Robbins, 2/7/74 (22), 6’1″, 190#, bats & throws left; Oakland, California

9th round draftee in 1995; pitched for Spokane and the Sultans last summer
25 games (15 starts); 116.1 IP; 9 wins, 6 losses, no saves
ERA 3.40; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.05, Walks 0.32, Strikeouts 0.66, HR 0.04, Hit Batter 0.05, Wild Pitch 0.05
The June comments are a fair summary of Mike’s season.

June 5 comments: Robbins is now being used as a starter; Poldberg used him in every conceivable role early in the season. He’s been pretty effective however he’s been used. He gives up a few hits too many, but balances that with excellent control.

Allen Sanders, 4/15/75 (21), 6’3″, 195#, bats & throws right; Deer Park, Texas

7th round draftee in 1995; pitched for the GCL Royals and Spokane last summer
5 games (all starts); 31.1 IP; 3 wins, no losses, no saves
ERA 4.31; Opponents BA .309
Per inning: Hits 1.23, Walks 0.06, Strikeouts 0.16, HR 0.10, Hit Batter 0.10, Wild Pitch 0.00
4.53 ERA, 5 wins, 2 losses, no saves, 5 starts, 19 Ks, 44 IP in Spokane
Allen’s a big, strong guy who throws hard and seems to have good control. The no-decisions could have been wins; both had one very bad inning but were otherwise strong outings.

Craig Sanders, 7/31/72 (24), 6’4″, 225#, bats both, throws right; Lincoln, Nebraska

Finished the season on Spokane’s roster.
35th round selection in the 1995 draft; pitched for Spokane last summer
8 games (no starts); 15.0 IP; 2 wins, 1 loss, no saves
ERA 4,80; Opponents BA .204
Per inning: Hits 0.67, Walks 1.13, Strikeouts 1.00, HR 0.13, Hit Batter 0.13, Wild Pitch 0.20
10.32 ERA, no wins, 1 loss, 1 save, 5 Ks, 11 IP in Spokane

June 5 comments: Except for the walks, those are decent numbers. I’ve only seen Craig pitch a couple times, so I won’t offer any comments.

Jose Santiago (Majors), 11/5/74 (21), 6’3″, 200#, bats & throws right; Loiza, Puerto Rico

70th round selection in 1994; pitched for Spokane last summer
54 games (no starts); 77.0 IP; 7 wins, 6 losses, 19 saves
ERA 2.57; Opponents BA .263
Per inning: Hits 1.01, Walks 0.27, Strikeouts 0.71, HR 0.05, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.04
Jose was excellent in July and better in August. He throws harder than my June comments gave him credit for, has good control, and doesn’t let the game situation get to him.

June 5 comments: Jose’s the Lugnuts closer; he’s the only dependable pitcher in late innings. His early stat line was badly distorted by a single painful outing in Wisconsin. He’s not an overpowering pitcher, but he throws strikes with the game on the line and he looks real impressive on the mound.

Todd Thorn, 11/4/76 (19), 6’2″, 175#, bats & throws left; Stratford, Ontario

Player of the Month for August
All-Star
26th round selection in the 1994 free agent draft; pitched for the GCL Royals last summer
27 games (all starts); 170.2 IP; 11 wins, 5 losses, no saves
ERA 3.11; Opponents BA .249
Per inning: Hits 0.94, Walks 0.20, Strikeouts 0.63, HR 0.08, Hit Batter 0.03, Wild Pitch 0.05
An excellent season; arguably it was better than Mull’s. This pitcher is always effective, which I take as a sign of intelligence.

June 5 comments: Todd’s a lefty who mainly throws breaking balls; his fastball’s decent but not overpowering. Thorn’s style assumes the defense will assist him; with this team, that can be pretty costly. In Battle Creek in late May the Cats always seemed to know his changeup was coming, and keyed on it. He’s doing quite well, regardless.

Modesto Villarreal, 10/29/75 (20), 6’4″, 170#, bats & throws right; Panama City, Panama

Finished the season in Spokane
Non-drafted free agent signed in 1993; played for Spokane last summer
15 games (5 starts); 42.0 IP; no wins, 5 losses, no saves
ERA 6.21; Opponents BA .318
Per inning: Hits 1.28, Walks 0.28, Strikeouts 0.69, HR 0.14, Hit Batter 0.10, Wild Pitch 0.05
5.74 ERA, 2 wins, 4 losses, 3 saves, 3 starts, 35 Ks, 47 IP at Spokane
Modesto’s problems were mental, not physical. I hope they give him another chance.

June 5 comments: Modesto began the season as an ineffective starter, now being used as an ineffective middle reliever. Villarreal looks terrific out there, with a high leg kick and a pretty delivery. I want to believe the appearance, not the stat line; it’s fun watching this man pitch. But we always lose….

Jeff Wallace (Majors), 4/12/76 (20), 6’2″, 235#, bats & throws left; Paris, Ohio

25th round draftee in 1995; pitched for GCL Royals last summer
30 games (21 starts); 122.1 IP; 4 wins, 9 losses, no saves
ERA 5.30; Opponents BA .294
Per inning: Hits 1.15, Walks 0.54, Strikeouts 0.69, HR 0.08, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.10
On his best days, Jeff’s an incredibly good pitcher. But he had lots of bad days. I can see him as Mickey Lolich. Or Lee Smith. Or Ryne Duren. Or Steve Dalkowski.

June 5 comments: Jeff’s a heavy-set southpaw who seems to throw easily; he’s got a good fastball that he only uses in spots. If I had to guess which one pitcher’s going to find his form this summer, I’d bet on this one. But he’s not there yet.