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Community Projection: Miguel Batista

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The thirteenth in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the left-hand sidebar, below the Rotoworld stuff and the interviews.)

LL/USSM Community: 196 IP, 4.89 RA, 4.58 FIP (n=78)
Actual Line: 193 IP, 4.71 RA, 4.48 FIP

Closest Projection: willkris, 4.69 RA, 4.51 FIP

Once again, not too bad of a projection. Run-wise, at least; the community kind of whiffed on the strikeouts (4.8 K/9 projected, 6.2 K/9 actual), but overall, it came together pretty well. We only missed by one or two home runs.

Something I've been tossing around in my head from time to time over the past few days is the idea of a simple transaction classification system. At its most basic, a move is given both a number and letter score in the form of, say, 3B or 1D. A free agent signing, such as Batista, would be scored according to the following:

Numbers:

  1. great player
  2. good player
  3. decent player
  4. weak player
  5. horrible player
Letters:

A: way underpaid
B: somewhat underpaid
C: fair
D: somewhat overpaid
E: way overpaid

(Ed. note: stupid auto-formatting)

The system wouldn't tell us anything new, but its appeal is its simplicity - you could state your point in two characters, rather than a few sentences or paragraphs. America has a short attention span. Why not pander to it?

Anyway, the point of all this is that the Batista signing would've earned a 3D score last winter. I'd always liked him as a useful innings-eater who could make 30 starts and keep the ball on the ground, and while I wasn't wild about giving that kind of guy a $25m contract at the age of 36, the Mariners could've done a lot worse. I was happy to add a stable arm to an unstable rotation.

And, sure enough, Batista didn't disappoint. It took him a little while to get going, as his ERA stood at 6.98 in the middle of May, but from that point on he turned things around and became the most dependable starter of the bunch for the duration of the Mariners' playoff chase. Perhaps no effort of his was better than the seven shutout innings he turned in against the Angels on July 30th in a win that pulled the M's to within three games of the lead. Batista was picking up the slack for an underachieving ace, and for the first time in what seemed like ages, we had a pitcher we felt we could actually rely on.

Then Batista crapped the bed in back-to-back poor showings against the Twins and Angels, losses that dropped our postseason odds by a combined 17.1%. We probably deserved that for having to depend on Miguel flipping Batista to keep us in the hunt.

Ups and downs aside, when it was all said and done, Batista gave the Mariners everything they could've reasonable hoped for - 30+ starts, decent run prevention, and the kind of leadership that compels a guy to take Felix under his wing and make an eighth inning setup appearance out of the bullpen on his throw day. He was a success, in that he came exactly as advertised.

Sort of. But dig a little deeper than RA and FIP and you see this:

2006: 4.8 K/9, 1.84 GB/FB
2007: 6.2 K/9, 1.12 GB/FB

At the age of 36, after moving from the Mark-McGwire's-Biceps-At-25 National League to the Mark-McGwire's-Biceps-At-35 American League, Batista re-invented himself as a neutral pitcher capable of missing some bats. The end result was the same, but the path that got him there was radically different. More fly balls, more walks, fewer balls in play - this isn't normal for a guy with that much experience.

I don't think you can call it a "fluke", either. This kind of thing isn't some statistical accident; it indicates a change in approach. And I think it speaks to Batista's intellect that, by changing things up (however he did), he was able to find success in a much tougher league. It's an impressive accomplishment that I don't think the majority of pitchers could pull off, and it's one of the reasons I'm glad that Felix apparently considers him a bit of a teacher.

I can't tell you specifically what Batista was doing differently on the mound. I can speculate that, where he was trying to keep the ball out of the air in Chase Field, he was more comfortable with fly balls in Safeco, but that doesn't necessarily explain the huge jump in strikeout rate, so I'm not sure. Maybe Batista's preferred put-away pitch is a high fastball that he didn't like to throw in Arizona. I'm just guessing here.

What I can tell you is that, assuming Batista really was throwing differently in Seattle, that style isn't going to go anywhere. He's found success and he's presumably going to stick with it for as long as he can. While he may not offer the same profile as he did a year ago, he's still the same durable #4 that the Mariners can count on for ~190 innings of competent pitching. And that definitely has value.

I don't know that Batista strikes out 130 batters again next year, and he'll probably allow a few more homers, as his HR/FB was a little too low. But he should be able to find his way to a Safeco-aided ERA somewhere in the 4.4-4.7 range, which makes him a perfectly useful part for any team looking to make a run at the playoffs. Remember, the Mariners' problem isn't that they don't have good back-of-the-rotation starters; it's that they have good back-of-the-rotation starters trying to get by in the front. Batista looks a hell of a lot better on a staff with an actual #2. It's just up to Bavasi to find him.