Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Smart teams get guys like Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow has always been a pitcher who has intrigued me. My interest probably started when he was featured on Josh Borenstein's "Jews in Baseball" site. I am not Jewish, but Josh ran a good site with an interesting idea. Getting familiar with Breslow from that site, I followed him through his career. I saw that he went to Yale University, which by reference, makes Breslow a smart guy. I saw when the Twins dumped him in the middle of the 2009 season. Then I saw that the A's picked him up that same season and he was terrific. Billy Beane's A's are a smart team. The Red Sox are a smart team. Smart teams get guys like Craig Breslow.

Saying as much, the opposite is: dumb teams get rid of guys like Craig Breslow. That was brought to my mind last night when Breslow was killing it in relief for the Red Sox' clinching game against the Rays. That thought was cemented by this tweet from my Twitter bud, Brandon Warne:

I love guys like Brandon Warne. Not only has he worked his butt off to become the sports journalist he has become, which led him to a job at 1500ESPN Radio as a Twins beat reporter, but he is also one heck of a nice guy. Warne has always been a Twins guy, which has to be difficult because the Twins seem to do things the opposite of trends in the rest of baseball. That has not worked out so well. Personally, I think the Twins are not a smart organization. I could be wrong, but I will stick with that for now.

But Warne is correct. The Twins had picked up Craig Breslow off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in 2008 an Breslow pitched brilliantly for the Twins that same season. But in 2009, Breslow had a bad month to start the season. It really was not as bad as the numbers indicated. Breslow pitched seventeen times for the Twins from April 6 in 2009 to May 19. His ERA was over six. Yup. His walks per nine were also over six, a kiss of death if you are a Twins' pitcher as they get upset over that kind of thing.

But if you look at his game log for those seventeen games, ten of those outings were quite good. Maybe Breslow was out of options. Maybe he did not jibe well with the Twins' manager or pitching coach. But he was not sent to the minors to figure things out. He was jettisoned. The Twins waived him. The A's swept him up in a heartbeat.

That's what smart teams do. Breslow pitched two very good seasons for the A's and one so-so season. Since I followed him every day, it seemed that whatever problems he had with the A's were because he was so good, they went to the well too often with him.

Left-handed relievers are like gold. You can never have too many of them. And when those left-handed relievers can also get right-handed batters out, then they more like platinum. Breslow is one of those guys. His career splits against either side batter are within points of each other (both under a .650 OPS against). The strikeout to walk ratio is much higher against lefty batters (naturally), but the results are pretty much the same. That raises Breslow above the situational lefty that just comes in for one or two lefty batters. He proved that again last night against the Rays with a brilliant inning and two thirds of relief with four strikeouts.

If you look at Breslow's overall numbers, you are not blown away. He still walks 2.7 batters per nine. He doesn't blow away a lot of hitters. In fact, his 2013 K/9 rate was way down to five. Despite all of this, his strand rate is excellent (over 80% this season) and he does not give up a lot of runs. And in 97 games for the Red Sox so far, he has only allowed three homers.

Breslow does not throw gas. He is a 90 MPH guy. But he still throws mostly fastballs and they score highly. He is throwing much more two-seam fastballs now than he used to. He has a pitch that PitchF/X calls a cutter and Fangraphs calls a slider. He throws a curve and a change-up. But his fastballs are his most effective pitches despite the lack of velocity.

He is a big cog in the Red Sox bullpen and to think they got him from Arizona (not a smart team) for fungible Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik, that was pretty brilliant. The transaction looks even more brilliant since the Red Sox have a team option on him for 2014.

Craig Breslow is a really smart guy who has made the most of his ability and has pitched for two really smart teams. I do not think that is a coincidence.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

analysis is fun, isn't it? you should go read some sometime.