Sunday, January 20, 2013

Craig Breslow - unsung reliever

One of the most fascinating players in baseball is Craig Breslow. To be sure, one man's fascination is not the same as another's. Breslow first appeared in my consciousness back in 2009 when I followed a cool blog called Jews in Baseball. No, I am not Jewish, but I always considered us Italians as the lost ten tribes since our mothers are the same. But anyway, Josh Borenstein, the proprietor of that site listed the daily accomplishments of Jewish players around the majors. Breslow was one of those guys. So I started following him too.

Breslow went to Yale University. He seems to always make the lists of smartest baseball players. He would have been a doctor or a scientist if he had not made it in baseball. But he has had an effective career in baseball so America lost a great scientific talent. Perhaps the scientific career would have had less bumps along the road.

Breslow might be the best relief pitcher in baseball that was selected on waivers three times and released once. He has now been traded twice in two years. That is a lot of roster manipulations he has been through. Was he too smart for the managers he played for? Well, those Red Sox are smart because they just signed him to a two-year contract to give the vagabond lefty a home for a couple of years.

He might have been a starter in his Yale days, but Breslow has only been a reliever in his professional career. He now has logged over 600 appearances in both his major and minor league careers and in all of those appearances, his lone start was in 2006 in the minors. He is left-handed, so naturally you would thing LOOGY. But he is not one of those. Oh sure, he is dominant against those who hit from the left side of the plate, but he has been effective against those from the right side too.

How effective? For his career, Breslow has allowed a puny wOBA of .280 against left-handed hitters. But it is only .293 against right-handed hitters too. He tends to walk more right-handed hitters, which was particularly seen in 2012. And that does elevate his walk rate higher than one would like. But those hitters do not hit him any harder. In an interview he did with a while back, it appears that he believes he can have some impact on BABIP with the location of his pitches. He must know what he is talking about because his career BABIP is just .266.

Breslow is not a hard thrower. His fastball is in the 91 MPH range. He has introduced a two-seam fastball to what has been mostly four-seams and his ground ball rate did rise in 2012. Fangraphs and PitchF/X disagree if his secondary pitch is a slider or a cut fastball. Since both agree that the pitch is around 84 MPH, slider seems like the better call. He also throws a change and a curve. All of his pitches were rated in the positive category in 2012.

As a reliever, his career strand rate of 76.6 does not rate among the best relievers in baseball since 2009, but it is still a very good strand rate. He has had a positive WPA in four of the last five seasons with only 2011 as the exception. His career OPS against in high leverage situations is just slightly higher than his career numbers.

The Red Sox would be wise to make him the eighth inning setup guy. For his career, he has an OPS against of only .578 when pitching in the eighth inning (149 appearances). They would also be wise to limit him to less than 70 appearances. The A's pitched him quite hard and he pitched 152 times for them in 2009 and 2010. Breslow would always seem to have a bad appearance when pitched too many days in a row.

Craig Breslow is simply a very good relief pitcher who should give the Red Sox some reliability for the next couple of seasons. His career ERA is 3.00 and it was less than that in 2012. He is especially good at getting left-handed batters out, but is also good at getting right-handers. It is hard to believe that teams would kick him around for so many seasons. Chalk one up on the plus side for the Red Sox this time.

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