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Opening Day Countdown: Michael Blazek #54

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Today we take a look at one of the times I was definitely, completely, entirely, wholly wrong about a player. Oh, and 54 days away yada yada, Blazek wears jersey number 54.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I've been writing about baseball for a couple of years now. In that time I've had a lot of opinions that turned out to be correct. I was right when I said Yovani Gallardo's career wasn't over after his (only) bad season (if you only look at ERA) in 2013. I was right when I said the Brewers shouldn't cut Marco Estrada half-way through 2014 and that he and Gallardo still had trade value. Unfortunately I was right that Hunter Morris was not the future at first base. But I've been plenty wrong too and I can admit that. One instance that I'm happy to have been wrong about is with respect to RHP Michael Blazek.

Last year he came into spring training on the roster bubble. He had no options remaining (actually he still has one left! My bad) and a less than stellar minor league track record. He'd been with the Brewers minor league organization for just one full minor league season at that point. And while he did show some improvement while transitioning to the bullpen, I didn't see enough to suggest he'd truly overcome his command issues. Clearly the Brewers felt differently as they gave him a roster spot on opening day. I thought it was a mistake. Boy was I wrong!

He pitched in 55.2 innings for the Brewers logging a 2.43 ERA and 3.17 FIP. His 21.2 K% was slightly better than average, his 8.1 BB% slightly higher than average, his 1.29 WHIP slightly lower than average, and his .197 BAA much better than average. His 73.7% contact rate was a full 5 points better than average. Batters just had a difficult time squaring up on him.

While that walk rate was a bit higher than what you'd like to see, it was way better than I had anticipated. However Blazek did only throw 42.6% of his pitches inside the strike zone. League average is 47.8%. He had batters chasing pitches out of the zone (32.5% which is above average) and missing a lot 59% O-contact% which is 4 pts better than average). I could see this being an area of potential regression to the mean in the future.

Opponents swung at only 41% of his pitches, lg avg is 46.9%. They swung at only 52.6% of his pitches in the zone, lg avg is 64.4%. So if opponents start swinging at more pitches in the zone, and fewer outside it, Blazek could be in some trouble. But maybe this is just indicative of his good stuff.

He has a quality fastball and a quality curveball. Maybe he's just fooling batters with his pitches. Catching them off guard and then getting them to swing at bad pitches might just be part of his skill set. His 10.7% swinging strike rate is above average and that's a good indicator of future success.

I'm very interested to see how Michael Blazek fares in his second season at the major league level. With K-Rod gone, he's likely to get more high leverage innings too. I doubt he'll be used as "closer" but I could see some more intense 7th and 8th inning spots for him. I'm hopeful he can succeed. And I'm hopeful that this time, I'm right about him.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs