08 March 2012

Finding Goose Gossage in Wei-Yin Chen

I was listening to Kevin Goldstein's and Jason Parks' podcast (episode 84: This Show is a Disaster).  They discuss how there was a Major League team that saw Tim Lincecum as a relief ace in the mold of Goose Gossage.  That is, a relief pitcher who could rack up a 150 IP.  It requires a pitcher who is capable of bouncing back rather quickly between outings.  A player with a rubber arm.  There has not truly been a player fitting this mold in 25 years with Toronto's Mark Eichorn.  Eichhorn threw 157 IP, but they were high leverage innings and he managed a 6.4 WAR.  Before him, the seventies and eighties had several relief aces like the aforementioned Goose Gossage, but also Mike Marshall and Bob Stanley.

I think what ended the era of the relief ace was free agency.  Teams used to be more willing to be aggressive with their pitchers.  There were no rigid pitch counts and pitchers would throw several bullpen sessions working on pitches.  Some pitchers were able were able handle this workload.  Others could not.  With the increasing cost of free agent pitchers and pitching prospects, it made financial sense to be more protective of prospects.  However, because the teams could not figure out who had a rubber arm and who did not, approaches were developed to be protective of all pitchers.  The end effect is that the rubber arm pitchers do not have the opportunity to emerge. 

Even more rebellious systems, like the Texas Rangers, do not have a system in place to find this kind of play.  However, there is a system that does: Japanese baseball.  One of the ways in which baseball differs in Japan is the way in which pitchers train.  Daisuke Matsuzaka's training regimen was described in Men's Health.  Between starts, Dice-K would throw three 150 pitch sessions.  He would rarely lift weights, but would do a great deal of cardio and sprints.  Some of Dice-K's more amazing feats include a 249 pitch, 17 inning effort and his four day, 38 IP, and 500 pitch effort in a high school tournament.  Michael Street also wrote a couple of excellent articles on how pitching is regarded in Japan and mentioned how pitchers are often taught to go deep into pitch counts.

The result is that there are starting pitchers that become available as international free agents usually around the ages of 30-35.  Wei-Yin Chen, 26, signed on with the Orioles for roughly 12MM spread over three years.  I am unaware of his throwing regimen, but will assume it is similar to the majority of NPB pitchers.  For a mid or upper tier revenue team, this cost would be fine to try a solid pitcher with a training background similar to many who have gone throw the NPB system.  Chen could be used for high leverage situations every other day and pull in 30-50 pitches in the bullpen and another 30-50 pitches in the game.  The Orioles could target Chen for meaningful innings in close games, maximize his performance by having him throw threw the lineup once, and slide him in where his left-handedness may provide him a better opportunity to be successful.

This will not happen though.  Chen is slated as a starter.  Although I have thought differently, it appears Tsuyoshi Wada does not have a handshake agreement to start.  His 86 mph fastball and his fringe breaking balls and change up may have the opportunity to provide a great deal of innings.  His marginal offerings suggest that he would not fit the mold of relief ace.  Wada could serve as an inning eater in games that have gotten away from the team which would save them from having to use Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, and others in games that are unlikely to matter.


Ampontan said...


Wada had exceptional success as a starter in Japan -- the second best baseball league in the world -- for 10 years, but you think he's a bullpen mop-up guy with secondary fringe offerings based on a few videos, without ever having seen him pitch, much less go through a lineup.

Have you ever thought about starting a baseball version of The Onion?

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, he does have the numbers in Japan on his side, but it is probably good to think about the NPB as a pseudo-AAA league. Of course, the main difference is that the talent level ranges greatly within a team. In that respect, it differs quite a bit from AAA. It is not surprising to have on a single team in Japan talent that ranges from MLB quality to D1 bench player.

With that perspective, it should be easy to tell why someone with his repertoire, negative reports from scouts, relatively small contract in comparison to top NPB talent that crosses the Pacific, and the Orioles own open discussion about whether he is a 5th starter or a middle relief guy...that Wada simply is not a great talent with respect to what is available in the Majors.

That said, maybe a guy with an 86 mph fastball that had trouble getting pitches by righties in the NPB will be incredibly successful. It may be that Duquette was able to find a great pitcher for 4MM a year when no one else bothered to offer him anything beyond that.

Eh, the evidence available to us kind of points us in one direction, doesn't it?