Why The Rays Should Target Kiko Calero

via cache.daylife.com

Once upon a time Kiko Calero was a pretty good reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2003 he posted an FIP of 3.71 with a tRA of 4.45. He was even better in 2004 with a 3.14 FIP and a very good 3.32 tRA. He was traded to the Oakland A's in the Mark Mulder deal.

Over the next three seasons' in Oakland he posted FIPs of 3.58, 2.97 and 4.37 to go along with tRA of 3.89, 3.27, 4.58. After his average showing in 2007 (4.37/4.58) which might be explained by the next part of this sentence, Calero started the 2008 season on the DL with a rotator cuff injury. He pitched just five games for the A's in 08 and was DFA, released and scooped up by the Rangers. He pitched 18 games for their Triple-A affiliate, but never made it back to the big leagues.

In case you haven't noticed, Calero is back in the big leagues and back to his old ways in South Florida.

Right under our noses, Calero pitched 60 innings for the Marlins in 2009 and posted a 2.56 FIP along with a ridiculous 2.49 tRA. His strikeouts per nine were back over 10 for the first time since 2006.

 

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

HR/FB

2005

8.41

2.91

0.97

8.6

2006

10.4

3.72

0.62

6.1

2007

6.86

4.65

0.66

4.9

2009

10.35

4.5

0.15

1.4

 

*excluding 2008 due to 4.2 innings of Major League work.

Good K rates and acceptable walk rates for the amount of strikeouts. The one thing that instantly jumps out to me is the ridiculously low HR/9 and insanely low HR/FB% this past season. As a predominately flyball pitcher, (46.5% career) both are going to regress regardless of where he pitches in 2010, but the good news is if he regresses to career norms, his career HR/9 of 0.71 and HR/FB% of 6.7 are still good.

Pardon me for bringing up another Rays comparison, but Calero's career year with the Marlins immediately screams of Joe Nelson. Add in Calero's injury history that includes: the rotator cuff, elbow tendonitis and 21 days on the DL this season for shoulder inflammation, and you almost get a déjà vu feeling. However, the only surgery Calero had that I could find on record was to repair a ruptured patella tendon back in 2003 while Nelson has seen his fair share of "the knife."

Despite some similarities from their time with the Marlins and doctors visits, Calero and Nelson are different. Their fastball velocity is similar, around 89-90 mph, but Calero barely throws a change-up, and we all know about Nelson and his Vulcan. Instead, Calero goes to soup de jour of relief pitching and throws his slider more than he does his fastball (55.9% slider career). His slider has always been a plus pitch as had a wSL value of 8.9 this past year.

The plus slider has his swing strike percentage back to pre injury levels of around 12%.

 

SwStr%

K%

uBB%

2005

10.8

22.71

6.99

2006

12

27.8

8.71

2007

9.7

16.3

15

2009

12

28.87

10.88

One of the key stats to look at for any potential free agent signing is his ability to hitters regardless of what side of the plate they hit from. Over the course of his career, Calero has shown the ability to get both sides, especially right handers. However, has improved against lefties in each season presumably thanks to that slider. In 2009 he dominated both.

OPSa

vs. LHB

vs. RHB

2005

0.911

0.442

2006

0.784

0.564

2007

0.708

0.87

2009

0.587

0.475

Even though Nelson didn't work out as the Rays had hoped, his signing and subsequent contract weren't bad. The Rays took a modest $1.3 million dollar risk on a one-year deal that didn't work out. Given the number of available high leverage relievers on the market, the potential injury risk, and his modest salary of around half a million in 2009, I'd say Calero is in line for a Nelson-esque contract; or at least that's my hope.

The Rays are looking for two or three relievers who have the ability to get hitters out regardless of handiness and the game situation. Potential signings of Calero and Joaquin Benoit could give the Rays just that without putting any pressure on the current payroll structure.

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