Royals acquired Vin Mazzaro for the stuff, not the stats

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Last night the Royals traded veteran outfielder David DeJesus to the A’s for 24-year-old starter Vin Mazzaro and pitching prospect Justin Marks.

Marks is a former third-round pick and a solid prospect, but the key to the deal from Kansas City’s point of view was clearly Mazzaro, as general manager Dayton Moore called him “a big, strong guy who our scouts feel can be a solid rotation pitcher for a number of years.”

In his article about the trade Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes that Mazzaro “generally draws raves from scouts for his stuff, particularly a sinking fastball.” Similarly, “a scout” told Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse that “Mazzaro’s stuff was second only to Trevor Cahill on the A’s.”

I could quote some other examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Mazzaro is 6-foot-2 and 24 years old, scouts love his raw stuff, and the Royals think he can be an impact starter for years to come. And here’s where it gets interesting: Mazzaro’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive at all.

First and foremost he’s 10-17 with a 4.72 ERA in 214 career innings, allowing opponents to bat .290 with a .360 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage against him. Among the 139 pitchers who’ve thrown 200 or more innings in the past two seasons, his .812 OPS against ranks 127th.

Delving a little deeper, Mazzaro has managed just 138 strikeouts in 214 innings, which works out to 5.8 whiffs per nine innings. Among those same 139 pitchers with 200-plus innings since 2009 that ranks 94th. And for all the talk about his “sinking fastball” Mazzaro has induced fewer ground balls than the average pitcher at 41.3 percent, which ranks 97th in that group of 139. His walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings ranks 115 out of 139.

So his ERA is 4.72 despite calling a pitchers’ ballpark home, he’s allowed opponents to bat .290 with an .813 OPS, he hasn’t racked up many strikeouts or induced many ground balls, and his control has been poor. In other words, Mazzaro has struggled in basically every key area of performance and even his numbers in the minors showed similar flaws.

What he has on his side is youth and the fact that at least some scouts still think his raw stuff is very good. Moore and the Royals have already established themselves as an organization that doesn’t rely on statistical analysis and in acquiring Mazzaro as the centerpiece of a trade for one of their best players they’re definitely trusting scouts and stuff rather than numbers.

How Yu Darvish tipped his pitches during the World Series

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You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.

Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.

Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.

Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.