The Rays have acquired right-handed pitcher Matt Buschmann, 28, from the Washington Nationals from cash considerations and assigned him to Double-A Montgomery, as Mark Topkin tweeted. This is another upside play by Andrew Friedman and has a little more to it than meets the eye.
Your average press release would tell you Buschmann’s 2011 numbers: He went 12-6 between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tuscon in the San Diego Padres organization, but with just a 6.16 ERA in 134.1 IP. That ERA does not look like all that much of a fluke as he posted just a 6.1 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9, amounting to a bad 4.65 FIP. For a player who turned 28 in February, Buschmann does not look like much at all. But we have to look farther back than 2011.
Buschmann, not to be confused with the now infamous Matt Bush, was a 15th round pick by the Padres in 2006 as a senior sign out of Vanderbilt University. According to David Price, he was actually Price’s roommate at Vanderbilt!
— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) April 16, 2012
Buschmann wasn’t notable otherwise in his first three seasons at Vandy, posting a 3.30 ERA and a 3.65 FIP in 51 relief appearances, 19 starts, and 193.2 IP. But a lot of things changed as a senior for Buschmann. Buschmann was moved to the Vanderbilt rotation and got off to a 3-3 start with a 4.27 ERA in his first 7 starts. But included among those 7 starts were 2 complete games, and his FIP was 3.20 as he posted an 8.2 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9. However, Buschmann apparently suffered an injury that sidelined him the rest of the college season and dropped him to the 15th round of the ’06 draft. But he was just as good as he was pre-injury when he began his pro career at the Padres’ Short Season-A Eugene affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, going 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts, 5 relief appearances, and 60.2 IP. His FIP was a nearly identical 3.18. He was so good that the Padres were unafraid to call him up to High-A Lake Elsinore for a couple of emergency starts, and he actually went 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA in 2 starts and 12.2 IP. Buschmann turned 23 in February of 2007, but he looked like he had some promise as a prospect.
The Padres decided to skip Buschmann over Low-A and send him to Lake Elsinore for the 2007 minor league season. The results were the best displays of pitching aptitude that Buschmann had ever shown. He went 12-6 with a 2.89 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 1.6 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 25 starts, 3 relief appearances, and 149.1 IP. The Padres were impressed. They brought up Buschmann to Double-A San Antonio for 2008 seeing if he could maintain that type of performance. At first glance, he did, going 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 27 starts, including a complete game, and 148 IP. However, while his K/9 jumped to 7.2, his BB/9 more than doubled to 3.5 and his HR/9 went up to a less impressive 0.8 HR/9. That would be an omen of things to come.
The last three seasons, Buschmann has made 107 appearances, 52 of which were starts, and tossed 366 innings, all of which were between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tuscon. The results have been disastrous as he has posted a 19-23 record, a 5.68 ERA, and just a 6.6 K/9, a 3.4 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9, amounting to a 3.92 FIP. His stock as a prospect had fallen so steeply that Buschmann was selected by the Washington Nationals in the Double-A portion of the 2011 Rule 5 Draft.
Why should we care about this Buschmann signing at all? Listen to what Fangraphs said about Buschmann in 2008.
The Riser: Matt Buschmann | Born: February 1984 | Right-Handed Pitcher
Matt Buschmann was stolen in the 15th round of the 2006 draft out of Vanderbilt University, which is a heavily-scouted college. He has made significant improvements in his pro career and is finally on the cusp of a big league role. Buschmann survived the 2007 while pitching at a very good hitters’ environment. His 2008 numbers were even better upon a promotion to Double-A and he allowed just 137 hits in 147 innings of work. His rates included 3.53 BB/9 and 7.18 K/9. His fastball is fringe-average at 88-90 mph, along with a potentially-plus slider and a developing change-up.
Buschmann has struggled considerably in recent years. But he has shown nice potential with his secondary pitches and that ability could not have simply evaporated. Friedman and the Rays are acquiring Buschmann for next to nothing. Maybe there’s a very slim chance that Buschmann ever gets back on track, but there’s no risk involved here and it’s nice that the Rays were able to acquire David Price’s roommate no matter what happens. And if Buschmann can somehow harness his unfulfilled potential, Friedman will have managed to make something out of nothing once again.
(Cover image credit Flickr User SD Dirk.)