Finding the Silver Lining in the Neshek Injury

Pat Neshek first appeared in the majors in 2006, when he appeared essentially out of nowhere to provide some of the late-inning lift the Twins were missing. Here, just for a look, are his stats for his three years in the majors:*

ERA

K/9

K-BB

IP

WHIP

HR

ERA+

#higLev

2006

2.19

12.89

53-6

37

.784

6

204

15

2007

2.84

9.48

74-27

70.1

1.009

7

147

20

2008

4.73

10.20

15-4

13.1

1.200

2

86

10 (!)

*Note: These are some of what I consider to be relevant stats for relievers. I can debate with anyone for days as to how valuable ERA, or K/9, or any other stat is, but this is my judgment call, as I just plain don’t know enough about stats to make anything more than a quick and dirty determination as to what is a good stat for a given player.

**ERA+ is the pitcher’s ERA, adjusted for factors including home ball park and the average ERA of the pitcher’s league. Average is set at 100.

***#higlev is the number of high leverage games the pitcher was called upon to pitch in. I have no idea how this is figured, but what I gather is that a high leverage situation is about 20% of plays, and tends to be in late and close situations, where the player has a significant impact.

So, with some stats on the board, lets pause and look at Neshek’s 2006 season with awe and wonder. Go ahead, say it. Ooooooooooh. It was absolutely amazing what Neshek was able to do in a short time in the majors. In 37 games, Neshek had one of the year’s highest ERA+ adjusted factors of all pitchers (for a contrast, the league leader that had enough innings to qualify was Johan Santana, with an ERA+ of 161). Johan Santana had a K/9 average of 9.44. He was phenominal, but he wasn’t used in all that many high-leverage situations (at least for a set-up guy). His WHIP was well below 1, and his strike-out to walk ration was almost 8.3-1.

But then, no one had really seen a delivery like Pat Neshek’s before 2006.

In 2007, it wasn’t apparent that many players had figured him out until July or so. His numbers were great until then. For most of the season, he flirted with an ERA of 1 or lower. However, that began to change around the All-Star Break (for a game he was almost selected for). At that point, he had been overused to such an extent that his velocity was letting up, which allowed players to see his pitches much better. Several hitters are on the record as saying that they “figured out” his motion much more than they had been able to. The overuse finally reached a head, and Neshek was shelved for the rest of the season to save his shoulder and elbow. However, no one ever talked about him getting hurt. (Perspective check: Neshek was still phenominal. I would have taken one of his worst days over Brian Bass’ best. However, it is a decline from a pheonominal and surprising first partial season.)

Last year, Neshek did his best to carry the Twins through the late innings at the beginning of the season, but sharp-eyed viewers noticed that hitters weren’t taking such completely wild swings at pitches anymore; when they missed, they missed by just a little bit. I personally noticed that Neshek was hardly using his slider, and when he did, it didn’t have much break. Not only that, it seemed Neshek was really trying to change from being a power pitcher to a control pitcher, as he spent a lot more time nibbling the edges than in prior years (possibly to attempt to avoid getting hurt). Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and he went on the 60-day disabled list on May 8.

What would have happened had Neshek not been injured so early in the season? Would he have held up through the stretch run to provide the arm the Twins so desperately needed in the ‘pen through August and September as they limped to the finish? In all honesty, probably not. Neshek was used for 70.1 innings in 2007, and he faced a noticeable decline after about inning number 45 or 50. When Neshek was injured, he had pitched 13.1 innings. In 2007, the Twins cut Neshek off on game 149, which projects that he would have pitched 76 1/3 innings in the season. Using the same metric, he would have thrown 65 innings or so in 2008. However, I suspect he would have been used significantly more, given the depth of the bullpen collapse. Could Neshek have gotten through the season without an injury or a decline as in ’07? Possibly, but I would say it would have been unlikely.

This brings me to the point of this whole article: trying to make some good come out of this eminently crappy situation. I think the most important thing that will come out of this injury and year off for Pat (well, essentially two years off) is that hitters won’t have seen him for years. Do I expect the Neshek of ’06 to appear in ’10 to open the new ballpark? No, not even close. However, his motion is weird enough (and cool enough to watch) that he should have a bit of a grace period to get the control back, particularly if the Twins use him sparingly. Two years of not hitting off of Pat Neshek might be a good thing for the rest of the Central, but watch out in ’10.

…and Pat? If you’re reading this, get better soon. Godspeed and all, because we miss you!

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One Response

  1. [...] I broke down how the Neshek injury might actually help his dominance. Well, hopefully we’ll get the chance [...]

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