With Christmas a couple of days away, we’re going to see a lull in terms of news for the next while. So, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at a few players on the roster, and what we should expect from them in 2009 versus what they gave us in 2008.
I’ll start with Miguel Batista, who was about as bad as a pitcher can be last year. He had the worst walk rate in baseball, putting 6.38 men on base via the free pass per nine innings. His terrible command led to a disastrous 6.23 FIP, and he was a failure of massive proportions. He performed worse than what you’d expect by calling up a Triple-A arm and handing them innings.
At 38 years old, coming off a horrible season like his ’08 campaign, most people are ready to chalk him up as a guy whose career is just over. However, I’d like to point out the following.
Miguel Batista, 2000: 65 IP, 5.10 BB/9, 5.10 K/9, 2.62 HR/9 (!), 7.57 FIP
Miguel Batista, 2001: 139 IP, 3.88 BB/9, 5.81 K/9, 0.84 HR/9, 4.48 FIP
In 2000, Batista was the worst pitcher anyone has ever seen. He allowed 19 home runs in 65 innings, walked as many as he struck out, and was a bigger disaster then than he was last year. He rebounded in 2001, became a quality pitcher, and then proceeded to rattle off seven pretty successful season. We’ve seen Batista implode and rebound before. Of course, he wasn’t 38 before, so maybe his decline was age related?
It doesn’t look like it. His average fastball in 2008 was 91.4 MPH, down just slightly from the 92.2 MPH fastball he threw in 2007. Age related decline is usually more about losing stuff than about losing command, and while Batista’s stuff has regressed, it didn’t disappear entirely. Even with shaky command, an average fastball of 92 with decent movement is still a pretty good pitch.
With the glut of starting pitcher options combined with Batista’s experience in the bullpen, I’d say it’s extremely likely that he’s going to end up as part of the bullpen this year. That can only help – most pitchers get a +1 to +2 MPH boost on their fastball when they move to relief full time, so it’s not hard to see Batista getting right back to that 92-93 MPH fastball he had a few years ago if he’s only throwing 20-30 pitches per outing.
Being used in relief will also increase the proportion of right-handed hitters that he faces, as Wakamatsu will have the advantage of bringing him in in situations where there are several RH hitters in a row. As a starting pitcher, he didn’t have that luxury, and left-handed batters have always presented problems for Batista. By using him in situations where he can avoid the toughest LH bats, one of his main flaws will be neutralized.
As a right-handed 7th or 8th inning guy, there are quite a few reasons to think Batista can be an effective pitcher in 2009. There’s no chance he’ll be worth the $9 million the team owes him, but that’s a sunk cost, and is out the window at this point. As a guy with potential to be a league average reliever, he’s still a contributor to the roster. In fact, Miguel Batista is one of the reasons that I’m fairly optimistic about the bullpen in 2009, despite the loss of Putz and Green.
Don’t let 2008’s performance cloud your judgment. Miguel Batista still has some life left in his fastball, and a move to the bullpen could be just what he needed to regain some usefulness.