April Scouting Notes

I just wanted to jot down a few observations while I had some time.  I'm covering the Orioles homestand from Friday through Tuesday and I haven't had much time to organize anything significant.  By the way, if you're in Baltimore and taking in a game at Camden, stop by the pressbox and say "hi."  I'm the guy sitting just behind the Orioles' PR folks.  Anyway, there are a couple of recent developments that might be useful for fantasy baseball owners.

Nate Robertson
I wrote earlier that I thought he had a chance to be Mike Hampton-lite this season, but that his strikeouts probably wouldn't continue.  After seeing him pitch a couple of times, I'm not sure either is true.

First, I didn't realize how hard he is throwing.  He throws a fastball with lateral movement from 89-92 mph.  He can crank it up to 94, but it's very straight.  He also throws a sweeping slider he likes use to backdoor hitters with, but can also sweep it across the front corner.  I didn't see an effective offspeed pitch.  He wouldn't be the first starter to succeed with just two pitches, but it's unlikely he will get a lot of wins that way.  Throwing just two pitches means he has to nibble a lot and that in turn means going deep in counts and throwing lots of pitches.  The result is that he can only work around 5 or 6 innings which means he has to rely on the Tiger bullpen to get him the lead.  It also means he's gonna have a fairly high number of walks.

It's a tough tightrope to walk for a full season but it has been done before. 

Erik Bedard and Joaquin Benoit
Even though his overall numbers look pretty bad, this might be a great time to get Erik Bedard.  Here are two pitching lines from Saturday that have a strange similarity:

Pitcher       IP     H     ER    BB     K
Pitcher A     5.0    8      4     3     1
Pitcher B     3.2    3      2     4     5

What is interesting is that both pitchers threw exactly the same number of strikes through 88 pitches - 51.  The difference was that Pitcher A (Pat Hentgen), who ended up throwing 5 more pitches before being pulled, nibbled throughout his stay in the game and when he made a mistake it got hammered.  When Pitcher B (Bedard) pitched aggressively, he got hitters out, throwing a no-hitter through 3 innings with 4 strikeouts.  But when he tried to be too fine with his pitches, he ended up missing the strikezone and walking hitters.  Looking at his pitch-by-pitch, twice he had hitters down 0-2, but tried so hard to make the perfect pitch that he ended up walking the guy 5 pitches later.  And only one of the hits he surrendered was hit hard (the fourth-inning single by Delgado).  The other two were half-hearted swings that made contact and dumped the ball out of reach of an infielder.

What was clear watching the game is that he has the talent to be a very good pitcher.  He throws a fastball that runs up to 93-mph with late life, a nice change-up and a pitch that has a large break like a curve, but the velocity and lateral movement of a slider.  Almost 40% of all strikes thrown in the majors are foul balls, but the Blue Jays were only able to foul off 27% of Bedard's offerings.  They made no contact at all with almost half the strikes he threw (49%).  Anyone who has the ability to either fool hitters and/or make them miss that much has a strong chance to be a good pitcher.

Joaquin Benoit is the same way.  He showed exactly how good he can be Saturday against a decent Mariner's offense, pitching 6 innings, allowing 5 hits, one walk, no runs and striking out five.  Once these two start believing their stuff is consistently good enough to get major league hitters out and stop trying to be too fine with their location, they are going to become very good pitchers in a hurry.  The only question is when. 

Val Pascucci
The Expos are having terrible trouble scoring runs, a problem made worse by Nick Johnson's complete inability to stay healthy for more than a month at a time.  The Expos have a solution in AAA: Val Pascucci.

Pascucci has similar defensive skills in the outfield as Juan Rivera - decent ball-catcher, strong arm - and is off to a strong start at the plate in Edmonton, hitting .317 with 4 homers and 17 RBI already.  He's not completely averse to taking a walk - 7 so far this year and averaged 97 a season the last two years - so there's a good chance that once they call him up, he'll contribute enough to stay.  He's average 21 homers a season the last 3 years, so it would not be an upset if he became the everyday right fielder by the end of May. 

Justin Miller
The Blue Jays' rotation is desperate for some quality starts and Justin Miller may be just the tonic they need.  He's had three starts in Syracuse so far, striking out 21 hitters in 16.2 innings.  His ERA was 2.16 and dating back to 2002, he's allowed just 14 homers in 169 innings, and that includes 102 innings in the majors.  His fastball reaches 96 mph and he features both a sinker and a splitter so groundballs are his specialty.  If he has come up with an offspeed pitch, he won't have too much trouble becoming Toronto's second best starter.