Jun 30, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Joe Saunders (47) throws in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Orioles transitioning Joe Saunders from starter to lefty specialist

Ever see a tweet and it takes you aback? I saw this yesterday in reference to the recent Orioles minor-league signing of pitcher Joe Saunders.

As Kubatko mentions Rapada, as in Clay Rapada. Upon signing Saunders to his deal, Rapada was released.

So why did this tweet give me the reaction it did? All you have to do is head to Baseball Reference and view some splits for Saunders.

v RHB: .295/.352/.482
v LHB: .242/.289/.331

Sure, against lefties, Saunders is better. That is obvious. It’s not terrible as he has kept LHB from doing much more damage than RHB. Now, what about for the limited time he’s spent in the majors this year with the Texas Rangers (8 starts, 39.2 IP)?

v RHB: .367/.436/.656 (149 PA)
v LHB: .326/.367/.326 (49 PA)

There are potential sliver linings here. One is there’s a thought that Saunders should see a slight increase in his velocity with move. He hasn’t lost a lot since coming into the league since 2007, the first season where such data is readily available.

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Slider Curve
2007 92.84 92.56 83.00 84.60 77.80
2008 92.05 91.38 82.18 83.12 77.37
2009 91.53 90.88 83.03 81.76 76.83
2010 91.33 91.10 82.53 81.22 76.70
2011 90.61 90.15 81.91 83.10 76.78
2012 90.33 89.64 80.97 0.00 75.66
2013 90.55 90.41 82.59 82.62 75.76
2014 91.64 91.70 82.46 83.47 75.73

Information from Brooks Baseball

We could postulate that Saunders could post career-high velocities. Now, will that prohibit opposing batters from obtaining success? Won’t know until we see the work.

I won’t rule out the possibility that Saunders could eliminate one of least effective pitches. But don’t look to Fangraphs to view his PITCHf/x pitch values/100 and hope to see anything to raise a glimmer of hope. FOr his career, all of Saunders’ pitches are negative. That said, the worst is his changeup at -0.66. The best is his fastball at -0.26.

We could delve more into contact rates, swinging strike percentage, and many other numbers, but very few offer positives. I suppose we could turn to the following…

We recently saw a similar move a couple of seasons ago when the Milwaukee Brewers did this exact move with Manny Parra. Parra was struggling in his starter’s role. Milwaukee moved him to the bullpen and had provided decent results. Parra parlayed that limited success into a free agent deal with the Cincinnati Reds. And how did Parra fare in his first year in Cincy?

v RHB: .310/.370/.524
v LHB: .167/.237/.238

And once again, Parra reaped benefits from his performance. This past off-season, the Reds rewarded Parra with a two-year, $5.5M deal. Granted, Parra has dealt with injuries in 2014 as he did in 2013. The numbers from this season are less flattering.

To add here, the Reds haven’t used Parra exclusively as a LOOGY, especially this season. For 2014, he has faced one batter in 9 of his 40 appearances.

This could be an extremely shrewd move by the Orioles front office. If Saunders is successful, the Orioles brass will look like geniuses. If not, well, at least they tried.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Joe Saunders MLB

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