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2012 Season Preview: Burke Badenhop - Rays Designated Worm Burner

March 7, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Burke Badenhop (31) throws a pitch in the third inning against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
March 7, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Burke Badenhop (31) throws a pitch in the third inning against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Burke Badenhop grew up a Braves fan in North Carolina and moved to Perrysburg, Ohio in 1997. After his high school graduation he chose to stay close to home and attended Bowling Green State University. During his senior year at Bowling Green he was offered a job with GlaxcoSmithKline but elected to wait to see if he was drafted before joining the private sector. In the spring of 2005 he graduated magna cum laude with an economics degree and that summer was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round.

He immediately signed with the Tigers and began his professional career with the Tigers low A affiliate Oneonta Tigers of the New York Penn League where he made 14 starts going 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA. He spent the 2006 season in A ball with the Western Michigan Whitecaps where he went 14-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 27 starts. It was in Western Michigan that he discovered the sinker and adding it to his arsenal resulted in his being named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He continued to have success in 2007 going 12-6 with a 2.92 ERA while making 26 starts between the Tigers High A Affiliate Lakeland Flying Tigers and the AA Erie Sea Wolves.

Daylnn and Sharon Badenhop were excited about the prospect of watching their son continue his progression in the Tigers system and eventually pitch near home with the Toledo Mud Hens and later make it to the majors with the Tigers where they'd only have about an hours drive north in order to watch him take the mound. But Badenhop's to the majors took a detour through South Florida. On December 4, 2007 he was dealt to the Florida Marlins along with Dallas Traher, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew MIller, and Mike Rabelo in exchange for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.

In 2008 the Marlins invited him to Spring Training where he posted a 1.88 ERA in 7 appearances. At the end of spring training he was sent to the Marlins AA affiliate Carolina Mudcats and made only one start before being called up to the Marlins. He appeared in 13 games for the Marlins (8 starts) and went 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA before being placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis which shelved him for the remainder of the 2008 season.

He began the 2009 season with the Marlins AAA affiliate New Orleans Zephyrs but was quickly recalled to the Marlins on April 21st. He appeared in 35 games (2 starts) and went 7-4 with a 3.75 ERA but he was unable to avoid the injury bug and missed most of August with a right trapezious muscle strain. He also missed time due to a 3 game suspension after he hit Orlando Hudson (it was the first batter he had hit all year in 52 innings) of the Dodgers after Jeff Weaver had thrown at and subsequently hit teammate Hanley Ramirez with the Dodgers trailing 8-0.

In 2010, for the first time in his career he made the club out of spring training. He got off to a dismal start of the season and at the end of May he had pitched in 15 games, all in relief, had a 6.43 ERA and the opposition had hit .293 against him. He was sent down to New Orleans and returned to Miami on July 7th and was very effective for the remainder of the season. He made 38 relief appearances with an ERA of 2.89 and he held the opposition to a batting average against of .224.

Despite a strong finish to the 2010 season the Marlins elected to start him off in AAA. Possibly because two other right handed pitchers (Edward Mujica and Brian Sanches) were out of options and possibly since he was a Super 2 player and the Marlins wanted to recoup service time. He was called up to the Marlins on May 7 and over the remainder of the season made 50 relief appearances finishing with a record of 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA..

On December 12, 2011 the Marlins sent him to the Rays for minor league catcher Jake Jefferies On January 17, 2012 the Ray signed him to a 1-year contract worth $1.075 million dollars and he has one more option left. He comes to the Rays with 3 years and 116 days of service time and he is under team control through the 2014 season.

The 29 year old Badenhop owns a lifetime record of 13-15 with 2 saves, an ERA of 4.34 and a FIP of 3.69. The Marlins used him as primarily a long reliever as 50.7% of his relief appearances (72 out of 142) were greater than 1 inning. He owns a lifetime K/9 rate of 6.73 and a BB/9 of 3.23 but as Tommy Rancel points out, if we strip out the intentional walks his BB/9 is a more respectable 2.73.

His biggest limitation may be his platoon splits. in his career he has faced 585 right handed batters and has held them to a slash line of .265/.304/.364 while striking out 121 and only issuing 25 walks (4 intentional). In 493 plate appearances versus left handed batters he has held them to a slash line of .262/.362/.397 while striking out only 69 and walking 65 (10 intentional). His FIP against RHB is 2.87 and his FIP against LHP is 4.75.

His strength his the ability to induce the groundballs and he has a career groundball rate of 55.9% including a career best groundball rate of 58.5% in 2011 which ranked the 11th best groundball rate for relief pitchers in major league baseball. He also keeps the ball in the park as has a lifetime HR/9 of 0.6 and in 2011 he only surrendered 1 home run in 63.2 inning of work.

According to his Pitch F/X Player Card at he throws his sinker 61% of the time at an average velocity of 89.4 mph, his slider 19%/79.6 mph, his changeup 13%/83.06 mph, and his four seam fastball 7%/88.8 mph.

There is a noticeable difference how he has tackled left-handed hitters versus right handed hitters.

In his career against right handed hitters he has thrown the sinker 66%, the slider 28%, the 4-seam fastball 4%, and the changeup 3% while against left handed hitters he has thrown the sinker 56% of the time, the changeup 26%, the four seam fastball 10%, and the slider 8%.

The biggest problem he seems to have is throwing strikes versus left handed hitters as he has a career non-intentional K/BB rate of 1.25. The most notable problem is locating his changeup for strikes. As noted above against right handed hitters he'll throw the changeup 3% and the slider 28% of the time but against left handed hitters he'll all but abandons the slider (only 8%) and is heavy with the changeup (26%). Unfortunately, against left handed hitters the changeup is a ball 43.4% and his sinker is a ball 41% (31.4% against right handed hitters).

Joe Maddon is known as a manager that puts his players in a position to succeed and it is unlikely that Badenhop will fill the role of long man in the Rays bullpen. In his career 94% of his pitches against right handed batters have been sinkers and sliders. His sinker has generated a groundball on balls in play rate of 67.7% and his slider has produced an impressive whiff per swing rate of 36%. It is most likely that the Rays will focus on his strength against right handed hitters and will use him in situations where a ground ball is needed. Finally, Badenhop will also benefit from the defense playing behind him. According to Bill James the Rays had a Runs Saved of 74 last year while the Marlins had a -10 Runs Saved and according to Baseball Prospectus the Rays had a Major League leading defensive efficiency of .735 while the Marlins ranked 17th with a .708.