Arizona Chooses Benson Over Buckner

With the Diamondbacks early season schedule, tomorrow will be the first game which requires the fifth starter. After giving two starts each to Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Rodrigo Lopez, Arizona will hand the ball to Kris Benson for their 9th game of the season.

Benson threw 22.1 innings of below-replacement level baseball in 2009, his first major league action since 2006, with Baltimore. His minor league performance wasn’t terribly encouraging either, as between 2008 and 2009, he pitched 129 innings in Triple-A, giving up an FIP above 4.00 and and ERA above 5.00. The last time Benson was truly productive was in 2004, when he allowed a career low 6.2% HR/FB rate and posted 200 innings of a 3.75 FIP, good for 3.8 wins.

Due to his poor performance in the minors and lack of performance in the majors in recent years, projections are not kind to Benson. The 5.37 and 5.31 FIPs projected by CHONE and Marcel, respectively, seem optimistic when compared to the 6.03 projected by ZiPS. Simply put, the projection systems do not believe that Benson is a major league pitcher.

The other option is Billy Buckner, a 26-year-old righthander. Buckner was impressive in Triple-A in 2009, striking out 8.4 batters per 9 innings in 103 innings of 3.31 FIP baseball. On the surface, Buckner looked bad in 77 major league innings (6.40 ERA), but a 63.2% strand rate, 16.7% HR/FB rate, and .347 BABIP suggest poor luck. Buckner still carried a respectable 3.07 K-BB differential and induced a high rate of ground balls at 48.8%.

Buckner’s solid performance in both leagues results in all the projection systems favoring him over Benson, with projections ranging from 4.46-4.63 in FIP. That makes Buckner a slightly below average starter in the NL – worth nearly 2 wins in 200 innings. Buckner had a rough spring, allowing 21 earned runs in 18 innings, but his peripheral line of 18 Ks, 8 BB, and 4 HR doesn’t suggest that he’s nearly that bad of a pitcher, even ignoring the obvious issues with spring training numbers. Still, a 5 IP, 10 H, 7 ER performance in his first minor league start doesn’t exactly instill the front office with optimism.

It’s likely that Buckner’s poor spring and first start is what has deterred the front office from Buckner and towards Benson, whose first minor league start was a five inning scoreless outing. However, it doesn’t appear, based on their recent performance, that Benson is likely to outperform Buckner this season. Billy Buckner should be taking the mound for Arizona today.



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Greg
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Greg
6 years 2 months ago

Let’s remember that DIPS theory rests on the idea that all MLB-quality pitchers have roughly the same ability to prevent hits on balls in play and to prevent home runs on fly balls. The fact that Buckner has failed to establish himself in the big leagues as he enters his age-26 season indicates that he might not be a MLB-quality pitcher. The facts that he has had consistently high BABIPs in the minors and majors and consistently high home run per fly ball rates in the majors further support this notion. Buckner may not be a major-league pitcher and DIPS may not apply to him. He might just not be very good.

NTC
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NTC
6 years 2 months ago

Haren is scheduled to pitch today. Benson will probably pitch Saturday.

As a D-backs fan, I’m pretty upset about this. It’s bad enough watching Rodrigo Lopez throw BP. It’s a shame we won’t get to see Jarrod Parker anytime soon.

qudjy1
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qudjy1
6 years 2 months ago

Do you have a link for this, or is this speculation?

Jack Moore
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6 years 2 months ago

First saw it in ESPN’s Rumor Central, confirmed here: http://www.kolotv.com/sports/headlines/90897744.html.

Jim McLennan
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6 years 2 months ago

“Confirmed”? Hardly. No decision had been made public as of last night, and the link posted seemed to be pure speculation.

It may well *be* Benson, of course, but it is far from certain. Likely ahead of Buckner is Kevin Mulvey, who was not mentioned at all in the article, but was pulled after 40 pitches in a start on Wednesday for Reno. Could be so he is able to start Saturday on short rest.

Believe we should hear today.

Jim McLennan
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6 years 2 months ago

And NOW it’s confirmed, by Nick Piecoro, beat writer for the Arizona Republic:

http://twitter.com/nickpiecoro/status/12240853550

Jason B
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Jason B
6 years 2 months ago

I always thought SOAP was criminally underrated; Benson was a key cog there.

WY
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WY
6 years 2 months ago

You had me until the last sentence:

“Billy Buckner should be taking the mound for Arizona today.”

It’s one thing to give arguments pro and con, but you can’t possibly have enough information to make this statement so definitively. Arizona has scouts, coaches (pro and minor league), managers (ditto), a front office, etc.

Projections are just that
Guest
Projections are just that
6 years 2 months ago

I was just going to say what you said. The author is basing all this off of theoretical projections.

OF COURSE Benson’s projections are going to be poor. But what if he’s better than he’s been in years? Seems like the Diamondbacks feel that way.

Mitchell
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Mitchell
6 years 2 months ago

Agreed. I’m sure Cliff Lee had poor projections heading into 2008 and I know he was battling for a rotation spot. But obviously the Indians saw something in him that the projections didn’t. I’m sure the Diamondbacks know what the projections say. They must see Benson as a different player than he was last year. I recall reading an article about this type of thing on Fangraphs about Albert Pujols in 2001. His projections would have suggested he start the year in AA, but the coaches saw he was a different player than he was at the end of 2000.

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