The Giants, as a team with minimal offense, is the type of club that needs every bit of help that it can get. Pitching and defense are two areas that the Giants will need to excel in if they want to have a chance to contend for a playoff spot this season. I’m not going to repeat myself on the horrors of making conclusions from small sample sizes, but the Giants bullpen has a few spots where the team should look to improve. Brandon Medders has been a nice story, but he’s one of the larger replaceable pitching parts this team has. Mota is another. Waldis Joaquin has toiled in super-low leveraged situations and can be sent back to the minors if need be.
Yesterday, the Royals cut loose right-handed reliever Juan Cruz.
The Royals, by releasing Cruz, will be responsible for the rest of his $3.25 million salary for this year as well as the $500,000 buyout on the club option for his 2011 contract. He was signed to a two-year deal in Spring Training 2009 after a brilliant year in relief (4-0, 2.61 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings) for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
So, whichever team decides to pick up Cruz, can do so at the league minimum while the Royals pick up the rest. Cruz has been up and down at times in his career, but over 570 career innings logged, he owns a 4.19 FIP, 9.15 K/9, and 4.72 BB/9. He’s primarily a slider and fastball pitcher, but he also works in a changeup. He’s a bullpen option as long as he’s posting K/9 rates near his career average, but in 2009 with the Royals, he struck out a career low 6.79 batters per 9 innings. He’ll have to do better if he wants work.
This FanGraphs article by RJ Anderson, made a brief mention of velocity. Cruz’s velocity has been slightly lower in recent times, but what does his fastball look like over the long run since 2008? Here’s a PitchF/X plot of every fastball that Cruz has throw since 2008.
The dashed lines indicate each year segment. The solid horizontal black lines are the average fastball velocity for that year. By first look, it appears that Cruz has lost some zip on his fastball. In ’08, he was throwing it at an average of 94.5 mph. In ’09, 93.9 mph, and so far this year 93.09 mph. Cruz’s fastball is about 1.5 mph slower in ’10 than it was in ’08. But, a word of warning, is it significant? I lean towards no because the data above is pulled from every appearance that Cruz has made, regardless of park. In the past there’s been some noted parks that differ on velocity readings. I’d feel much more comfortable with velo readings if you removed away parks, but Cruz has played for 2 teams in the past 3 years and as a reliever, his data set is pretty small — thus, I counted all appearances.
Let’s assume that the above data is correct: then, does it matter that Cruz is only throwing 93 mph these days? It’s way too early in the season to conclude that his velocity will stay down — pitchers have the tendency to heat up as the year goes on. It’s possible that Cruz can still succeed with a 93 mph fastball. He’s probably better than Medders, maybe even Mota. Cruz will be able to help someone’s bullpen, it might even be the Giants. He’s good enough to take a flyer on and the Giants might want to consider him as depth.