A few months of baseball have passed since the Tigers flipped disappointing power righty Ryan Perry, who was once assumed to be the Tigers’ future closer, over to the Washington Nationals for Collin Balester.
So far, returns on that trade don’t look all that great. Want to know why Putkonen was thrown out there in a 5-4 game last night? No faith in Balester is why. Balester has an ERA of 6.32 in 15 2/3 pitched. Bad luck? Small Sample? Well… maybe. But Balester has done all this with a BABIP of only .156 and a HR/FB rate less than a percentage point over his career average. He has been quite a fly ball pitcher and he’s giving up a lot of fly balls, four of which have so far gone yard. The hope was – in part – that playing in a large park would help Balester allow fewer big flies so he could post ERAs like his xFIPs (xFIP holds a pitchers HR/FB down toward league average) the past couple of years in the Nats ‘pen. Hasn’t worked so far.
Home runs aside, there are two other damning bits of evidence against Mr. Balester: He’s walking way too many guys (5.72 per 9) – throwing too few pitches in the zone to begin with. He’s also striking out too few – 6.32 per 9 innings against 8.58 in 2011 and 12.00 in 2010. The culprit? I’d lay a fair bet it comes down to velocity: his fastball averaged 94.1 in 2010-2011 but only 92.9 so far this year. Plenty of guys can thrive in the bullpen with an average fastball at 92.9 (take Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit) – but they’d better have something else going for them aside from ‘throwing hard’.
I don’t know that I’d exactly condemn the trade, though – over in Washington Ryan Perry isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. He started the season in AAA and pitched well, earning a call up in which he has pitched poorly. Small samples, obviously, but the story still gives you Déjà vu. If you evaluated this trade as two teams giving up on two pitchers at the same time, so far you’re looking prescient.
The season is, of course, long. Perhaps by the end of it one of those two will look like a real contributor. Seems more likely that Ryan Perry will spend most of the season in the minors and Balester will, at some point, be DFA’ed. If anyone would really step up to take his job away, that could happen soon. If nobody does (and guys like Putkonen, Weber and Villarreal haven’t looked good in their auditions) Balester’s probably going to get a lot of low-leverage chances to turn things around.