What do the Rays have in Burke Badenhop?

The Rays got have made two trades this offseason, acquiring two relievers, Josh Lueke from the Mariners and Burke Badenhop from the Marlins. Can these two new pitchers be effective relievers for Joe Maddon and the Rays?

I was going to do a post on Lueke, but there’s nothing about him that I didn’t say in my first post ever at RCG, here. So in this post we’re going to take a look at Badenhop’s stats and Pitch F/X in an attempt for figure out how good a pitcher he has been in the major leagues and how good of a pitcher he has the potential to be for the Rays in 2012.

The past three years, Badenhop has averaged 46 major league appearances, a 3.94 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9, amounting to a 3.63 FIP. He allowed a very good 56.3% groundball percentage, and his xFIP was 3.60. SIERA particularly liked Badenhop, giving him a ratings 3.52 or lower each of the past three seasons. Based on the stats, it seems like Badenhop is a pitcher with good control who doesn’t really miss bat but keeps the ball down in the zone to yield lots of groundballs and keep the ball in the ballpark. Let’s see if we can confirm that through that Badenhop’s Pitch F/X Data.

This graph (which you can see a detailed explanation for in the post I did on Lueke that I linked to above- below the similarly looking graph), shows why Badenhop has been successful. He doesn’t throw very hard, but he variates the movement on his fastball well, sometimes going with a four-seam grip (the dark blue line) and other times with a two-seam grip (the light blue line) that had more downward movement. Adding in his changeup and splitter, even if hitters weren’t fooled enough by Badenhop’s pitches to swing and miss, they were often fooled enough to hit the ball on the ground. That trickery combined with the fact that every single one of Badenhop’s pitches finishes at least slightly down (even his four-seamer finishes an inch and half below its peak height) led to Badenhop’s great groundball rate. Badenhop’s slider was basically something out of left field for hitters because it moves in the exact opposite direction horizontally with some pretty good bite. Adding in the fact that Badenhop possesses good control and it becomes apparent that Badenhop’s success for the Marlins the past three seasons had a lot more to do with his pitches than with luck.

What’s very interesting is Badenhop’s 2011 stats and Pitch F/X data. In 2011, Badenhop posted a 4.10 ERA in 50 appearances, higher than the 3.87 ERA he had posted the previous two seasons. He posted a career-high 7.2 K/9 although is walk rate jumped to 3.4 after being 2.9 the previous two seasons. But the big thing for Badenhop was that he allowed just one home run all year, an outstanding 0.1 HR/9. A big reason for that was Badenhop’s 58.7% groundball percentage, the top mark of his career. On the season, Badenhop posted an excellent 2.95 FIP and 3.20 SIERA, and even his xFIP was a career-best at 3.55. What happened? Well let’s see what Pitch F/X tells us.

Basically what Badenhop did was limit himself to using the best three of his five pitches. His four-seamer and sinker were too similar in movement for two pitches thrown at just about the same velocity, and it was the same story with his changeup and splitter. So Badenhop cut his fastball and changeup from his arsenal, throwing his four-seamer just three times all season and not using his changeup all together. In fact, he threw more curveballs (one) than he threw changeups, and the curveball has never been a regular pitch for him, even when he was a starter. (It was a good curveball by the way, moving 9.5 inches in to a righty batter and dropping about 8 inches from its peak height with sharp 11-to-5 break.) Badenhop has some trouble controlling his splitter using it as a full-time pitch for the first time, but it had some very nice movement and it helped raise his strikeout rate. His sinker also had enough downward and horizontal movement to be very effective even though he was using it so much more than he had in the past, and his slider remained a good pitch as well. If Badenhop can control his splitter better, he should be able to raise his strikeout rate a little bit more while getting his walk rate back to its previous levels.

While Burke Badenhop is by no means an elite reliever, he’s a dependable pitcher who gets a very good amount of groundballs, keeps the ball in the ballpark, and posts a solid strikeout rate as well. Especially with the Rays defense behind him, Badenhop could really have a nice year in 2012. He’s nearly a sure bet to make the team and he could be a nice reliever for Joe Maddon to utilize in any situation, given his ability to throw anywhere from one batter to four innings in his appearances. Badenhop was an astute pickup by the Rays and he should be an important piece of their bullpen in 2012.

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Tags: Burke Badenhop Joe Maddon Josh Lueke

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