M’s Add Arquimedes Caminero and Pat Venditte
While the “trade deadline” has come and gone, teams can still swap players, as the M’s just demonstrated. Today, the M’s add two polar opposites to their bullpen: hard-throwing righty Arquimedes Caminero and NOT-hard-throwing ambidextrous oddity Pat Venditte.
Given that Caminero’s out of options, has a FIP of 4.74 this year, did time on the DL this year and hit two D’Backs in the head in one game, it’s not a surprise that he cleared waivers.
That said, Caminero will always get a shot. Caminero’s fastball has averaged 98.4 MPH over his career, good for 8th fastest in the pitch fx era. He has what looks like a decent slider/cutter at 92mph (!), and a very intriguing splitter that he may not use enough. He threw it almost a quarter of the time in his initial call-up with Miami, but it’s been relegated to third or fourth pitch status by Ray Searage and the Pirates.
About a month into his tenure with Pittsburgh, it looked like the Pirates had unearthed a gem. Under Searage’s tutelage, Caminero seemed to throw more strikes AND increased his grounder rate by over 10 percentage points. But soon after, things began to fall apart again. His command was essentially AWOL by July, and while he had a solid second half, whatever he’d ‘learned’ from Searage seemed to come and go. That pattern continued this year, as he started off pitching like a sub-replacement-level arm for a few months, with 14 Ks to 16 free passes (walks and HBPs) through May.
What’s he done differently? First of all, he’s essentially scrapped the sinker that the Pirates taught him. He began 2016 throwing his sinker as his primary fastball, but he’s thrown it about 3% of the time since. In addition, it looks like he may have moved a bit on the rubber, as his horizontal release point has moved about a foot since the end of May. The question is: will these changes be enough to give him some consistency for the first time in his career? I can’t say it’s terribly likely, but Caminero’s arm is special enough* that you can’t blame the M’s for taking a chance.
Pat Venditte is famously ambidextrous, and uses that skill to carve out a niche in MLB despite averaging less than 85mph** with his fastball. The M’s picked him up from Toronto today for another PTBNL. Venditte throws a sinking fastball from a low 3/4, almost sidearm, arm slot, and throws his looping, low-70s curve a ton. With Oakland in 2015, he gave lefties a steady dose of the curve and actually posted decent results – his FIP was just 2.35 thanks to a K% of over 30%. Righties, though, were a different story. He throws a bit harder from the right side, and used his fastball a bit more, but couldn’t miss any bats. He walked more than he struck out, and thus his FIP against righties was well above 5.
This year, he’s been bad across the board, as his K rate – even against lefties – is below average, and he’s walking far too many. The Jays seem to have made some minor tweaks to his mechanics – like moving him further out on the rubber – so we can look to see if the M’s change him back to the way he threw with Oakland or do something else entirely. The switch-pitching thing *seems* like it’d be really valuable, but I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t best suited as an odd kind of LOOGY. Bring him in to face lefty/righty/lefty, Mariners.
To make room on the 25- and 40-man rosters, the M’s have DFA’d two relievers, Donn Roach and Blake Parker. Parker pitched a few days ago against Boston and looked okay, touching 94 with his fastball and a decent curve. He’d been great with Tacoma, but may not miss a ton of bats at the big league level. Donn Roach had an odd year – striking out errybody in spring training after carving out a niche as an extreme pitch-to-contact ground ball specialist. After getting lit up early in April with Tacoma, he settled in as a surprisingly effective starter before moving to the bullpen as an emergency call-up and then back with the Rainiers. His velocity was 2 MPH or so better than he showed with the Padres in 2014, and better than he averaged this spring. He’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but as a guy with a career GB% near 70%, he has his uses.
A couple of things stand out from these moves: first, Jerry Dipoto just can’t stop messing with his bullpen. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, as I mentioned the other day – if Zduriencik’s flaw was sticking with a plan even as evidence mounted it was the wrong one, Dipoto makes adjustments all the time. There’s nothing wrong with these kind of waiver wire deals – the Athletics famously constructed a great bullpen a few years ago in just this manner. But at some point, I’d like to see a real plan or philosophy here beyond “Let’s try a different guy now.” Getting Caminero to use his splitter more or letting the coaching staff work with him could pay huge dividends, so I don’t want to downplay that, but if these two are replaced early in the offseason, it’s going to seem a little weird. Lots of sound and fury, signifying impatience.
Second, is the shine coming off of Ray Searage a bit? This week, the Pirates cut bait on what had been his greatest success story of recent years, Francisco Liriano. Caminero seemed like another case where Searage’s philosophy “fixed” a previously wild arm, turning him into a useful piece. Liriano had a few good years before turning back into a pumpkin, but then, he did that in Minnesota, too. Caminero never quite made it above “promising” or “raw” despite a month or two where he looked like a future all-star. The Pirates also traded Jon Niese back to the Mets, after it became clear that Searage’s instructions made him worse, not better. By fWAR, the Pirates’ staff ranked 28th this year, and while they still rack up grounders, they don’t strike people out and walk too many. One year or one Jon Niese season isn’t enough to tarnish Searage’s reputation, but if his fixes are temporary, then they’re simply not as valuable. If teams adjust to low fastballs, and there’s evidence that they are, can Searage adjust back? Is it possible that Searage’s modus operandi was perfectly suited for the era in which the strikezone kept expanding lower and lower, but once that movement stopped, and once batters started squaring up low fastballs a bit better, it stopped “working?” I don’t know, and it’s still too early to tell, but man, it’s not been a great year for the “Ray Searage is a guru” movement.
* If I’m honest, I think his name may be even more special than his arm. The math jokes just write themselves. He’s the second Arquimedes/Arquimedez to play for the M’s after Arquimedez Pozo, meaning the M’s have employed both players named after a famous Syracusan mathematician.
** In one day, the M’s have added one of the hardest throwing relievers of the past 10 years (and thus, probably, ever) and one of the slowest throwing relievers of the past 10 years.