20 April 2013

Josh Stinson -- Good Enough to Want, Not Good Enough to Keep

In his book The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam described NBA journeyman Kevin Kunnert as "just [good] enough for other teams to covet, and never quite good enough for his own team to keep." Baseball has similar players who are repeatedly waived and claimed on waivers within a short time period. Their team will try to sneak them through waivers to outright them to the minor leagues; another team will claim them; and then their new team will try the same ploy, often with the same result. At the end of spring training the Orioles claimed one such player, pitcher Josh Stinson. They added him so near the end that he didn't pitch in a single major- or minor-league spring-training game for the Orioles.

Stinson was originally drafted and signed by the Mets, and he spent his first six professional seasons in their organization. He moved between starting and relieving, and in 2011- his sixth season - made 13 starts at AAA Buffalo, going 3-7 with a 7.44 ERA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mets didn't keep him on their 40-man roster and he became a minor-league free agent, signing with the Brewers. He pitched very well at AA Huntsville and earned a promotion to Milwaukee, where he gave up one run in 9 1/3 innings. However, at the end of spring training 2013, the Brewers needed 40-man roster spot and waived Stinson. The Athletics claimed him, but found themselves in the same situation five days later and waived him again. This time, the Orioles claimed him and optioned him to Norfolk. He's made two starts so far with the Tides, and I've happened to have seen them both. Based on those starts, I don't see that Stinson is good enough for the Orioles to worry about losing.

In Stinson's first start against Charlotte, he pitched five innings, giving up three runs (one earned) on seven hits and one walk, with seven strikeouts. (One of the unearned runs was a solo home run; so the earned run count probably overstates his effectiveness a little.) He threw 78 pitches in those five innings, 48 strikes; he faced twenty batters. In this game, Stinson was helped by questionable Charlotte baserunning. In the third inning, after the leadoff batter scored after reaching on an error, a baserunner was thrown out trying to steal third base. The third out of the fourth inning was recorded when the batter was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. In the fifth inning, the leadoff batter reached on a bunt single and was thrown out trying to steal second; the next batter singled and was picked off first base by catcher Chris Robinson (the third runner Robinson threw out, if you're counting.)

In his second start, Stinson pitched 6 2/3 innings, giving up one unearned run on three hits and three walks, with three strikeouts. He threw 88 pitches, 58 for strikes; he faced twenty-five batters. In this game, Stinson had trouble putting away batters. Of the 25 batters Stinson faced, he got two strikes on ten. To those ten batters, he threw 23 pitches after he had gotten two strikes. To the fifteen batters who were dispensed without getting to two strikes, Stinson threw 28 pitches. To emphasize -- Stinson needed 23 pitches to dispense with ten batters after he had gotten two strikes on them; he needed 28 total pitches to dispense with fifteen batters before he had gotten two strikes.

In his career, Stinson has allowed more than one hit per inning pitched and has averaged only six strikeouts per nine innings. He was successful in his two starts with Norfolk but his limitations were nevertheless revealed. When he's consistently around the strike zone, he'll get strikeouts but give up base hits. When he tries to be less hittable with his pitches he gives up fewer base hits, but strikes out fewer and walks more.

It's easy to see why other teams want him. He's never been seriously injured in his professional career. He will be very useful as an insurance policy in AAA, ready to complete the AAA team's rotation, to be promoted in an emergency, or to serve as a middle relief pitcher. It's also easy to see why his current team doesn't feel the need to keep him. He doesn't have great stuff and consequently very little upside.

He reminds me of Rick VandenHurk; a fifth starter, swingman, middle reliever type. There are dozens of guys like him pitching in AAA or independent leagues, or free agents. If the team needs a forty-man roster spot, he's a guy that the parent team is willing to take the risk of losing. There's another guy just like him readily available. If the Orioles are able to avoid losing Stinson, either on waivers or as an in-season minor-league free agent*, he'll likely be a workhorse in the Norfolk rotation.

*Technical detail -- Stinson spent some time with the Mets in 2011, and was removed from their 40-man roster before the Brewers signed him. If he clears waivers and the Orioles try to outright him to the minor leagues a second time, he has the option to declare himself a free agent.

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