Why The Rays Should Target Joaquin Benoit

via cache.daylife.com

Stopping short of just inviting every free agent reliever who possesses a fastball and a slider to spring training, I decided to look into a few individual cases that I think might fit the Rays' plans in 2010. The first name is Joaquin Benoit. The name has been mentioned in passing on the site for the past few weeks, but now it's time to actually take a look at him.

Benoit, 32, is one of those fastball/slider combo relievers that we see having success all over the league. While he isn't the extreme slider pitcher that Michael Wuertz is (over 60% last two seasons), he throws his fair share. He also isn't as fastball conscious as Grant Balfour or David Aardsma thanks to a nice little change up in his arsenal. Despite the lack of a plus plus heater, a person with knowledge of the Rangers system and Benoit described his slider as a "true slider" that has enhanced his K rate as a reliever. They also mentioned he has "good stuff to keep you interested, but can frustrate you." Sounds a lot like the aforementioned Balfour, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball the past two seasons.

Drawing even more comparisons to Balfour in a different way, Benoit fits the mold of an injured reliever who could be a steal for the next team that takes a chance on him being healthy. He missed the entire 2009 season after having shoulder surgery in 2008. Sources that I've reached out to say he started throwing in August and is a likely candidate to pitch in a winter league to showcase his arm for Major League suitors. Until he proves he's fully recovered the injury will remain a concern; however, Benoit was a pretty effective reliever before the shoulder gave way.

 

IP

ERA

FIP

tRA

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

2005*

87

3.72

3.95

4.54

8.07

3.93

0.93

2006

79.2

4.86

3.37

3.76

9.6

4.29

0.56

2007

82

2.85

3.17

4.05

9.55

3.07

0.66

2008

45

5

5.29

5.62

8.6

7

1.2

*45 innings came as a starting pitcher.

Benoit put up a lot of innings in 2006 and 2007, but also put up very good numbers. It seems that the workload took its toll on his arm, and as you can see his abbreviated 2008 wasn't particularly good. Of course, the hope is he can get back to those three years of sub 4 FIPs and continue to decrease his walks.

I hit on his stuff briefly at the top, but here's a little bit more.

FB% SL% CH%
2005 61.5 20 13.4
2006 62.9 20.3 13.1
2007 58.6 19.7 20.7
2008 64.6 13.2 21.8

Interesting to see the decrease in sliders coinciding with the injury. Thoughts of Scott Kazmir pop up even though Kazmir's problems were elbow related. As a former starter, Benoit has multiple pitches including a curveball and a cutter, but sticks to these three as his main pitches.

 

LD%

FB%

GB%

HR/FB%

2005

19

48.4

32.7

7.5

2006

18.6

44.1

37.3

5.2

2007

23.5

39.2

37.3

7.1

2008

17.3

55.9

26.8

8.5

Benoit went from a predominately flyball pitcher to a near neutral pitcher over the course of three seasons.  In 2008, however, the flyballs increased over 15%. I'm guessing this was once again because of the injury.

Swstr% K% uBB% O-Swing%
2005 12.1 26.09 10.56 23
2006 12.4 24.5 9.8 26.4
2007 15.1 25.89 7.74 29.9
2008 13 20.57 15.79 30.7

If you look at the first category and aren't impressed then you should probably just stop reading. Benoit has been fantastic at getting swinging strikes which is a great sign for any pitcher. When Balfour was busy telling people to STFD in 2008, his swstr 11.2%. That would be low for Benoit.

Despite the nice numbers and the good stuff there is a fair amount of risk in signing Benoit. Of course, without this risk he would be at the top of every teams shopping list. The situation is far from ideal, and after the past few seasons we as Rays fans should be weary of any relief pitchers with injury histories: Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson, just to name a few.

However, without the payroll flexibility to sign an elite relief pitcher, gambling on the Benoits of the worlds is going to be a risk we must take. One scout recently told us "bullpen guys are fluky to begin with, but especially slider guys. You can get lucky and catch them in that special year where the slider is unhittable; always wise to try those guys."

And that's all I'm saying here. Benoit is not the answer if you're looking for an opening day closer, but over the course of the season he could be an above-average piece with experience in the back-end of games that would mesh well with the nucleus of J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier and even Dan Wheeler, if he's around. After talking to some other people around the Rangers, some feel there is a chance he can even be brought in as a non-roster invitee. If the Rays could swing that, I would be ecstatic. Speaking with a person with front office experience, he said "Bullpens are crazy. It's a crap shoot; see what sticks." Tell me about it.

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