Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obscure Signings of the Week

Lots of well known names signed this week. Most were to avoid arbitration. A weekly feature, the Obscure Signings of the Week celebrate those lesser known names who signed contracts in hope of keeping their fringe major league careers going. Among them:

Tim Byrdak - LHP - Houston Astros: One year contract

Timothy Christopher Byrdak is a 35 year old pitcher born in Oak Lawn, Illinois. After a career at Rice, he was drafted way back in 1994 by the Royals in the fifth round. He had brief stints for the club that drafted him in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and was pretty awful. In those three years, he was 0-4, giving up 30 runs in just 32+ innings. And then a funny thing happened. He disappeared for five years.

After not pitching in the majors at all in the 2001 to 2004 seasons, he shows up in Baltimore in 2005 and pitched in 41 games, all in relief. There are few more obscure players than lefty specialists out of the bullpen. Called upon to get one or two outs, Byrdak logged only 26+ innings in those 41 appearances. But he had more strikeouts than innings and finished respectably with an ERA of 4.09. Unfortunately, he crashed and burned the following year and posted an ERA over 12.00 and had injury problems. The Orioles released him.

He then hooks on with the Tigers in 2007 and by then had developed a forkball to go along with his fastball and curve. He was very good for the Tigers, posting a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings in relief. He even won three games. His most memorable moment that season was striking out five of six Red Sox batters, including the heart of their order.

Houston signed him last year and he finished with a 3.90 ERA in 59 appearances. Byrdak misses quite a few bats, but also walks a lot of people. He has 106 walks given in 166+ big league innings. Though 35 with a zigzag of a career, lefty relievers always seem to be able to find a job somewhere.

Casey Fossum - LHP - New York Mets: Minor League Contract

How come "Casey" names usually end with an "Umm" sound? Casey Kasem, Casey Fossum...oh nevermind. Fossum is a former Red Sox prospect that they had hoped would pitch in their rotation for years. Well, he did for a few years, but always without much success.

He was a star in college at Texas A & M, where he led that team to the College World Series and was an second team All American. The Red Sox selected him with the 48th overall pick in the June, 1999 draft and put him on the fast track for the majors.

He arrived in the bigs in 2001 and started seven games out of his total appearances. He won 3 of his 5 decisions, but walked a lot of batters and had a high ERA. 2002 was his best year. He appeared in 43 games and started 12 and finished with an ERA of 3.46 to go along with a 5-4 record and one save. He struck out more batters than innings pitched for the only time in his career.

It's been all downhill from there. He pitched one more year for Boston and had an ERA over five (in 2003). After that season and after shoulder surgery, he was part of the Curt Schilling trade and went to the Diamondbacks who made him a starter. It wasn't pretty. He finished with a 4-15 record with a 6.65 ERA. He then pitched three years in Tampa Bay and had season ERAs of 4.92, 5.33 and 7.07. Ugh.

Last year, he went to the Tigers and pitched 41 innings for them and finished with a 5.66 ERA. In his big league career, he has given up 1184 base runners in 782 innings. Yowza.

Jason Taschner - LHP - San Francisco Giants: Signed one year contract

Taschner, who finishes our triumvirate of lefty hurlers, proves as much as Fossum and Byrdak that if you are left handed, you don't have to be good to have an obscure MLB career on the fringes of rosters.

The lefty was drafted by the Giants in the second round in the 1999 draft after a college career at the University of Wisconsin-Oskosh. Starting in 2005, Taschner has appeared in MLB games each year for the last four years, the past two seeing over 60 appearances per year. A typical lefty situational pitcher, Taschner has only logged 98 total innings in 130 appearances in those two years.

Like many of these lefty specialists, he tries to get sweeping breaking balls over to left handed batters. In the process, many walk. 53 walks occurred during his 98 innings. The result is a 5.01 lifetime ERA. One has to wonder why managers stick with this strategy that only seems to work half the time.

But they do, and as a result, Taschner gets another year in the big leagues.

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