Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond in 2011: 1-5, 5.08 in
Minnesota, 4-14, 55.5 in Rochester.
When: Dec. 9, 2010 and March 28, 2011
What: The Twins selected left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves system in the Rule V draft on the first date, traded right-handed pitcher Billy Bullock for his rights on the second date.
Value: Bullock spent 2011 in the minors, mostly in Double A with a one-inning taste of Triple A. Diamond spent most of 2011 in Triple A, but made seven starts for Minnesota in the second half of the season. Diamond earned one win share and 0.1 WAR.
Twins motivation: Discerning that is pretty much the point of this post.

The acquisition of Scott Diamond doesn't currently fit my criteria as a major deal. Yet it's getting the full treatment here because:

  • It was complex;
  • It involves a second-round draft pick (Bullock);
  • It could become significant, if Diamond emerges as a member of the starting rotation or Bullock becomes a standout reliever;
  • It says something about the scarcity of left-handed pitching;
  • I like Diamond for non-objective reasons; and
  • It's my blog and you can't stop me.

Diamond appeared a highly sensible Rule V pick when the Twins plucked him. But he got only limited exposure in exhibition play and didn't display the command his scouting reports said he had. He didn't force his way onto the 25-man roster, and Rule V guys have to be on the active roster or returned whence they came.

The Twins didn't want to give him up, and they surrendered 2009 second-rounder Bullock to get Diamond's unfettered rights and then sent the lefty to Triple A.

This deal was not well-received in the Twins blog community. And considering the rate in subsequent months with which the Twins collecting potential power arms for relief work (Lester Oliveros, Jeff Gray, Esmerling Vasquez ...) since dealing the hard-throwing Bullock, it remains a curious decision.

A good part of what happened here, I have become convinced, is that the Twins found themselves bereft of left-handed starters in the upper minors. Left-handed pitching is inherently valuable -- it's why you so often hear the phrase "left-handed and breathing" used to explain why marginal hurlers get so many chances -- and the Twins were willing to risk overpaying for a southpaw for the Rochester rotation who might also serve as a Plan C for the major league rotation.

And besides, hard-throwing bullpen prospects aren't all that hard to come by. Hard-throwers with command, that's another thing.

Bullock didn't have a particularly great season in the Atlanta organization. He did pile up the strikeouts (more than 12 Ks per nine innings), but he also piled up the walks (more than six walks per nine innings). Diamond didn't shine in 2011 either, and in the majors displayed a Kevin Slowey-like tendency to pitch acceptably well for four or five innings before crumbling.

But judging a starter on his first seven major league starts is a fool's game. Greg Maddux had an ERA above 5 in his first full season in a big league rotation.

I don't expect either Bullock or Diamond to open 2012 with their respective parent club. I don't know that either is all that likely to grow into a key performer in the majors. Bullock is too wild; Diamond's stuff is marginal.

1 comment:

  1. Bullock's K/9 is highly misleading if you treat it as a measure of how often a pitcher strikes batters out. K/9 measures the proportion of outs a pitcher gets from strikeouts. In Bullock's case, he does strike out a lot of batters, but part of what elevates his K/9 is that he doesn't get many batters out any other way. If he fails to walk or strike out a batter, he often gives up a hit.