I was fully expecting Andy Sonnanstine to get non-tendered last night, but for some reason, the news still hit me hard. Not quite like a ton of bricks or a train -- there's no need to get dramatic here -- but but it was kind of like that feeling you get when you realize your kids* are so friggin' old now and how did that happen. A deep temporary emptiness, an "Oh sh*t" sort of sensation, and then a pang of melancholy that slowly fades over time. Luckily for me, this wasn't all that serious so I was back to normal within five minutes.
I'm going to miss Andy. He hasn't been an effective major league pitcher since moving to the bullpen, but I still have a soft spot for him. He's one of the few players that had been around the organization since before the club was good -- now only Upton and Shields remain for full-time players, although Howell and Zobrist also technically count -- and he seemed to harken back to the ol' Devil Rays days more so than any other player on the team.
Because let's face it: Sonny wasn't a good pitcher. He was an effective starter back in 2007 and 2008 (5.6 WAR in 324 IP), and he seemed to survive more by guile than by skill. His fastball barely topped 90 MPH, but he could locate it like Jamie Moyer and get by just fine. The epic Edwin Jackson vs. Andy Sonnanstine debates will forever live in DRaysBay lore, and they are a prime example on why you can't rely on just stats or scouting alone. Jackson returned much more in a trade than Sonny every would have, but that's also because Sonny's career had such limited upside and tanked hard in 2009.
Most pitchers see improvements in their skills when they move to the bullpen, but for Sonny, the opposite was true. His fastball didn't seem to get any extra life, and instead, his pinpoint control deserted him. There's nothing mysterious or secret about having excellent pitch control; if anything, it's somewhat boring. Control is a product of perfect repetition, requiring that pitchers are able to replicate their mechanics exactly time after time after time. You can't rush your windup one time only to slow it down the next; you can't alter your release point or change even the slightest thing. Control is about consistency and perfection...and without his five day schedule, that perfection deserted Sonny.
His walk rate spiked and he started allowing home runs at a Yieldsian rate. In 2009, he allowed 19 homeruns in only 99 innings in his first year in the 'pen, and things only continued to go downhill over the next two seasons. This past season was the worst yet. He couldn't strike anyone out, he walked more hitters than ever before, and he had a 22% HR/FB rate. He became our modern-day Casey Fossum -- the soft-tossing, tiny-looking pitcher that simply couldn't get anyone out.
But there were also lots of good times, most of them having to do with Sonny's off the field eccentricity. He took to plastering the outfield wall with his own artwork, and his ping-pong skills were a thing of legend. He filmed a YouTube video of Tropicana Field, wrote his own book on Rays' trivia, and he forever earned my fandom with his ironic antlers during the 2010 ALDS against the Rangers.
Good luck, Andy. Here's hoping some team gives him a chance to rediscover his control and success. It's been a fun, long ride, and as much as I may have called for his head this past season, this team won't be quite the same next season. The bullpen will probably be better, but we'll be giving up something as well: a connection with our history, and a really fun guy to follow. For better and worse, he was one of the last true Devil Rays.
*Not that I have kids, but I've worked with them a lot and I've seen a couple grow up over the years.