Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Meet Wil Ledezma

Wil Ledezma is a National after signing a minor league deal. I think you can expect to see him at minimum throw 45-50 low-leverage innings. Here's what you need to know.
  • A tall, lanky lefty who was a rule 5 pick of the Tigers back in the day, Ledezma was traded twice in 2007 and then claimed off waivers from San Diego last year by Arizona. The D'Backs non-tendered him. I would guess that they would have liked to have him back, but didn't want to pay for the raise he'd have gotten in arbitration. Like Odalis Perez and Tim Redding, Ledezma is a guy who is choosing to come here because we give him the best chance to pitch. It's like the flipside of Teixeia taking less money to play for a winner. Guys like Ledezma will take less money to play for a loser. Happy day!
  • He's got pretty good stuff. He throws a 92-93 mph fastball. His off-speed pitches are a slider and a change. He used to throw a curve, but not anymore. The change is used against righties only but is a good pitch, producing 37.1% swings-and-misses last season. He had a 29.1% whiff rate with the slider last year, which isn't great, but he hit the strike zone with that pitch 39.4% of the time, which is good for a slider. All that allowed him to K 8.18 per 9 in '08 and 7.13 per 9 in '07. Sounds good so far, right?
  • Except he can't throw strikes with the heater. He hit the strike zone just 47.8% of the time with that pitch last year, which resulted in a gaudy 6.33 BB/9 rate. And his command is getting worse--he walked 5.76 per 9 in 2007 and 3.43 per 9 in '06.
  • Bottom line, his tRA* has usually floated around 4.50 and 5, and you can expect an ERA in that neighborhood.
  • He's definitely not a starter. His starter ERAs the last three seasons are 6.57, 11.57, and 4.29. His reliever ERAs those years were 2.41, 5.37, and 2.55. Statistical analysis shows that all else equal the same pitcher will perform better as a reliever than as a starter, but the difference is usually like half a run in ERA.
  • He's definitely not a starter, part 2. He holds the all-time MLB record for the most consecutive starts of six or fewer innings (31).
  • He's not really a LOOGY. Sometimes, when you say a guy isn't a LOOGY, it's a compliment, like "Scott Downs isn't a LOOGY; he's murder on everyone!" That's not what I mean. He's equally below-average with both. His caree OPS vs. righties is .793 and against lefties it's .789.
  • He's a slow worker on the mound. Like, Colome slow. I know most people hate that, but I kinda like it. Hey people, baseball is a pastoral pleasure! Put away the Blackberry, relax, and enjoy the vacation from the pace of modernity!
  • If you want to read even more (what are the chances you want to read even more about Wil Ledezma??), you can look at all the fancy pitch f/x graphics from Harry Pavlidis on Cubs F/X.
OK so where does this leave us in the bullpen overall? I would guess something like this on opening day:
CL: Joel Hanrahan
RHSU: Saul Rivera
LHSU: Mike Hinckley
RHP: Jorge Sosa
Steven Shell
LHP: Wil Ledezma
RHP: Terrell Young

Also in the mix: Tyler Clippard, Jason Bergmann, Marco Estrada, J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock, Shairon Martis, and probably a few other minor league relievers we haven't seen yet.

Feeling confident? Didn't think so. It's usually a mistake to overpay for relievers, and I realize that it's generally not as hard to find competent middle relief than other positions on the field, so the conventional wisdom is to never get too worked up over the 'pen. But this is a team that until last season was spoiled with one of the better bullpens in baseball. It helped hide the rotation, protect young pitchers, and was a huge reason why the Nationals were competitive in '05. If we intend to test the notion that "relievers are fungible commodities," we could see just how badly a terrible bullpen can hurt a team.

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