23 January 2013

Mark Hendrickson, Sidearm Lefty Specialist? Maybe.

As I talked about yesterday, Dan Duquette is all about under-the-radar signings. If there's any chance whatsoever of something working, he'll give it a shot, or at least consider it. He even helped bring back Miguel Tejada last May, even though the move didn't make much sense and Tejada didn't progress past the minors. It didn't work, but there was no harm done. Another stone was turned, if you will.

There's been more than just Tejada, though. Jamie Moyer. Joel Pineiro. Bill Hall. Lew Ford. Nick Johnson. J.C. Romero. Dontrelle Willis. Nate McLouth, of course. Yes, there's obviously more, but you get the point.

So it's no surprise that the Orioles are close to offering Mark Hendrickson a minor-league deal. Hendrickson was both a starter and reliever with the O's from 2009-2011, which also happens to be the last time he pitched in the majors. Now 38, he's trying to make his way back, and the O's will likely give him a shot.

However, there is a catch:
In December, the 6-foot-9 Hendrickson began to reinvent himself as a sidearm pitcher. Orioles manager Buck Showalter suggested that Hendrickson consider lowering his arm slot back in 2011, believing that Hendrickson’s tall frame and athleticism – Hendrickson is a former NBA player – could create some unparalleled deception in his delivery.
A sidearm lefty that tall/lanky would certainly be something to watch. Hendrickson would have to get by on mostly deception, though, because there's a reason he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011. He only pitched 11.0 innings in his last season, posting a 5.73 ERA. He certainly wasn't effective in those few innings, and the O's didn't want him back. But in the season before, despite a 5.26 ERA, his peripheral numbers weren't terrible in 75.1 innings. His strikeouts were up (6.57 K/9) and his walks were down (2.39 BB/9) compared to his career numbers (5.13 K/9; 2.66 BB/9). But he was pretty unlucky (.349 BABIP). Regardless, he's an OK pitcher who can be useful in certain circumstances, so the O's seemingly want to see what he has left in the tank.

Unsurprisingly, Hendrickson has done a much better job against lefties throughout his career:

vs. L: 311.0 IP, .259/.318/.381 (.308 wOBA)
vs. R: 858.0 IP, .295/.348/.478 (.355 wOBA)

He rarely allowed home runs vs. lefties (0.69 HR/9) and fittingly was much better at getting them to hit the ball on the ground (49.6 GB%). For a pitcher with an average fastball velocity of less than 88 mph, that's pretty good. It's not shutdown lefty-type stuff, but it's decent.

Hendrickson's new sidearm delivery could also help, but just being able to get major-league lefties out at a similar clip would be useful. Still, the O's already have a couple of guys who excel in that area. Troy Patton, with a .242 wOBA against in 48.2 innings vs. lefties, is outstanding. Lefties only have a .286 wOBA in 94.0 innings when facing Brian Matusz. After those two, the O's also have 24-year-old Mike Belfiore (acquired from Arizona) in the Josh Bell trade and Tsuyoshi Wada (aka "Dr. K of Tokyo"), who has yet to make his Orioles debut after missing all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The O's also have a solid group of right-handed relievers who can retire lefties pretty effectively.

But Patton could always be traded, and Matusz has had his share of inconsistency (plus, he could return to the rotation if he makes strides as a starter). And Belfiore and Wada have yet to pitch a single inning in the majors. So Hendrickson, considering how unlikely it is that he'll make the team out of spring training, could be an average-ish fallback plan at Norfolk (if he'd be willing to accept that role).

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