The Milwaukee Brewers reportedly added another name to their bullpen mix yesterday, inking a hurler with a good bit of MLB experience under his belt. According to Adam McCalvy, right-hander Deolis Guerra has agreed to a minor league pact that includes an invitation to come and compete in big league camp next spring:
Brewers have signed RHP Deolis Guerra to a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league camp. He’s the Brewers’ third non-roster invitee so far, with C Tuffy Gosewisch and LHP Angel Perdomo.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) December 8, 2018
Guerra, 29, has become quite the well-traveled arm since signing his first pro contract with the Mets as an international free agent back in 2005. He was part of the 2008 blockbuster that brought Johan Santana to New York, but never found his way to the big leagues after parts of seven seasons in Minnesota’s system. He signed with the Pirates in 2015 and made his big league debut that year, was outrighted the following offseason and selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft, pitched with them for parts of 2016 and 2017 before becoming a free agent, and last year he pitched in the minors for the Rangers.
Guerra hasn’t pitched regularly as a starter since 2011 but has been used in a swingman/multi-inning relief capacity regularly throughout his career. He’s made 328 appearances (128 starts) and pitched 948.0 innings during thirteen minor league seasons, working to a 4.48 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. In parts of three years at the Major League level, Guerra has made 73 appearances and tossed 95.0 innings with a 4.17 ERA, 7.11 K/9, and 2.08 BB/9.
At first glance, it’s easy to think of Guerra solely as a camp arm after not appearing in the big leagues at all in 2018. Digging in a little deeper, though, may help one find the Guerra signing a bit more compelling. First, Deserved Run Average (DRA) is a fan of his work in at the game’s highest level, valuing his work in 95.0 innings as 12% better than league average according to DRA-. Guerra has held batters to a below-average rate of hard contact as a big leaguer and, in general, has done quite well at limiting walks.
Guerra also recently made an interesting change to his pitch mix. He’s always been a predominantly fastball/changeup pitcher in his career, mixing in a curveball and, at times, a cutter. But in 2017, he incorporated a new slider into his arsenal in an effort to fight back against his wicked reverse-platoon split. He selected the new offering nearly 19% of the time that year, throwing it solely against right-handers (who have torched him for a .384 wOBA in the big leagues, versus a .260 wOBA against lefties). Batters did record four hits in nine at-bats against Guerra’s slider in 2017, but he also induced a 23.26% whiff rate and 48.78% whiff/swing with it, the best of any of his pitches. His overall 14.9% swinging strike rate during his 25.0 MLB innings in 2017 was nearly five percent higher than his other two big league seasons. Deolis also picked up a mile-and-a-half on his fastball, averaging a career-high 91.7 MPH in 2017 and ranking in the top 20% of all pitchers in terms of spin rate with 2,362 RPM.
Guerra battled his control while working to harness his new slider, issuing 4.32 BB/9 in 2017 after posting marks of 1.62 and 1.18 BB/9 during his MLB stints in 2015 and 2016. But he seemed like he was able to put everything together during his 2018 season in the Rangers system for AAA Round Rock. Guerra found work in 40 games (4 starts) for the Express, pitching 59.1 innings during those outings with a 3.79 ERA. But, he also walked only 2.4 batters per nine innings and started translating all those swinging strikes into actual punchouts. Guerra’s 10.77 K/9 and 30% strikeout rate were both the highest totals that he’s ever recorded during a full season in the majors or minors. Right-handed batters were still more effective against him than lefties, but using his new slider Guerra was able to limit the split to a much more palatable .681 OPS/.560 OPS. His AAA competition hit only .216 on the year against Guerra, and Deserved Run Average graded him as one of the top relievers on the circuit - his 2.43 DRA and 52 DRA- checked in at 58% more effective than the league average.
Guerra will have to earn his way back to the big leagues with Milwaukee next spring, but he’s certainly a name to consider when pondering what minor league free agent could turn in a breakout campaign in 2019. Guerra is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League for Magallanes, and through 21 appearances and 21.1 innings he’s compiled a 2.11 ERA with a sparkling 23:4 K/BB ratio.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs