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Unsung Mound HeroesPosted on September 12, 2012 at 05:33 AM.
The 162 game schedule that Major League Baseball is the ultimate test of an organization. No team survives a season with just their original 25 man roster. Few teams need just five starters for an entire season. The Major League Baseball season makes General Managers prepare their entire organization in way that the Minor League system can feed into the Major League roster when injuries or poor performances arise. While everyone knew that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were going to be great players, they both weren’t on their respective team’s 25 man roster when the first pitch was thrown in the 2012 season. Yet, they are two of the most important players in the sport.
Most often, winning teams are buoyed by a player who isn’t really counted on when the season began. Trout and Harper were going to come up and play important roles at some point this season. Everyone was just waiting. Some players, even players on the opening day roster, don’t figure to be a prominent player during the season.
With pitching injuries at an all-time high, organizations are more dependent on their pitching depth more than ever. Successful teams have depth or make wise decisions when it comes to tailoring a pitching staff.
Pitchers like Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves, Fernando Rodney of the Tampa Bay Rays, Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox, Ross Detwiler of the Washington Nationals, and Miguel Gonzalez of the Baltimore Orioles have all played key roles on their teams. Without them, their teams would not be faring as well as they are so late in the season.
Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves Starter, 3.1 WAR
Kris Medlen had Tommy John surgery during the middle of the 2010 season. He came back last to make two relief appearances before the end of the season. He went into the 2012 season as a member of the Braves’ bullpen, a role he was familiar with as he has been developed mainly as a reliever and spot starter in the Braves’ system. The Braves liked what they saw in Medlen as a starter, but in an effort to limit his innings, they put him the bullpen.
Kris Medlen, the reliever, was solid. In 54.1 innings out of the bullpen, he allowed just 46 hits, 13 walks, while striking out 36 batters to go along with his 2.48 ERA. He held opposing batters to a slash line of .232/.280/.318. Evidently, the Braves had planned all along to put Medlen in the rotation as they sent him to the Minor Leagues for three starts to stretch out. Since coming back, Medlen has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Check that---since coming back, Medlen has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
In 8 starts, Medlen is 7-0 with an incredible 0.81 ERA. In 55.2 innings, he’s allowed just 40 hits, 7 walks, while striking out 53 batters. Opposing hitters are hitting just .203/.230/.249. Because of the Braves handling of Medlen’s innings, they now have the hottest pitcher in the game pitching for them during the final month of the season and into the playoffs. Their six and a half game Wild Card lead seems insurmountable, especially with a dominant pitcher leading the way.
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays 2.1 WAR
It seems like the Tampa Bay Rays find a reliever to lead their revamped bullpen every year. In fact, the Rays have had a different saves leader in each of the last eight seasons. Fernando Rodney is just the latest. Rodney has been a closer before; he saved 37 games in 2009 for the Detroit Tigers. For the most part, Rodney has been a league average reliever who, like most relievers, was a roller coaster. In 419 appearances for the Tigers and Angels, Rodney posted a 4.28 ERA, saved 87 games, and posted rates of 8.3 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 4.9 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9. He threw hard, but control was always an issue for the veteran reliever. He’s been an average reliever who could get a strikeout, but ran into trouble with his control. At 35 years old, he looked to be a disappointment, given his velocity.
In typical Rays’ fashion, they signed Rodney to a $2.5 million deal to be one of the setup men for Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth was hurt in Spring Training so Manager Joe Maddon anointed Rodney as the closer. Rodney has rewarded Maddon with his performance as he is the best closer in the American League this season.
In 66 appearances, the 35 year old is 2-2 with a miniscule 0.69 ERA in 65.1 innings. He has allowed just 39 hits, 12 walks, and has struck out 56 batters. And, he is 42 for 44 in save opportunities.
To put how remarkable Rodney’s season is, consider that he never compiled a WAR over 0.7 in any season. Last season, his WAR value was negative 0.2. This season, he is a 2.1 WAR pitcher. The Rays have a knack for getting premium seasons from their relievers. Rodney’s season has been spectacular.
Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox 1.9 WAR
Jose Quintana was actually allowed to be a Minor League free agent by the New York Yankees after posting a solid season at their high A-ball affiliate last season. The White Sox signed the 23 year old southpaw and started him at the double-A level. After 9 starts, the White Sox called up the left hander to be a long man out of the pen. He pitched 5.2 scoreless innings in relief in his debut. In a very short time, Quintana was inserted into the rotation.
In 19 starts, he has compiled a 6-4 record along with a 3.71 ERA in 116.1 innings. He’s allowed 122 hits, 30 walks, and has struck out 69 batters. While he has worn down over his last eight starts, Quintana filled a void in the rotation that lost John Danks and received close to nothing from Philip Humber.
Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals 1.9 WAR
Of course, the talk of the Nationals has been all about Stephen Strasburg. But, lost in all of the debate is the fact that their number five starter has quietly put together an above average season. With Strasburg now shut down, Ross Detwiler will get at least one start in a playoff series. After being booted from the rotation after a poor May (5.34 in 6 appearances), Detwiler reclaimed his rotation spot at the end of June. Since then, he has been yet another reliable starter for the Nationals.
Since rejoining the rotation on June 24th, the 26 year old southpaw has made 14 starts. He’s posted a 5-3 record (Nationals are 10-4 in his starts) along with a 3.14 ERA in 83 innings. He’s allowed 76 hits, 29 walks, and has struck out 46 batters. He has held opponents to a .243/.297/.351 batting line.
Detwiler doesn’t strike out many hitters and he won’t be mistaken for a number one starter, but he is a quality backend of the rotation starter. Few teams have someone who can match Detwiler at the four or five spot. His emergence is important as the Nationals have used their bullpen quite often in an effort to take care of their starting pitcher’s innings. With fifth starters typically worse than league average starters, the Nationals benefit from Detwiler’s above average performance.
Miguel Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles 0.7 WAR
A look at 28 year old right hander Miguel Gonzalez’s Minor League career showed a profile of someone who looked to be a journeyman, career Minor Leaguer. He made 157 appearances, including 50 starts. In six years, he posted a 3.68 ERA with solid rates of 8.2 H/9, 2.5 BB/9, and 7.2 K/9.
With the Orioles rotation in shambles, organization Pitching Coordinator Rick Peterson suggested that the Orioles try Gonzalez as a starter. Gonzalez was viewed largely as a reliever by the team, but Peterson made some tweaks and suggested that Gonzalez deserved a chance.
In 11 starts, Gonzalez is 6-4 with a 3.84 ERA. In 68 innings, he has allowed 62 hits, 21 walks, and has struck out 50 batters. While the Orioles’ rotation has stabilized a bit, it was Gonzalez who gave them five August starts to the tune of a 1.91 ERA. If the Orioles are able to win a playoff berth, Miguel Gonzalez will have been one of the biggest, yet unknown reasons why.
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BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 211 days ago)
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