Burke Badenhop and The Rays’ Infield Defense

The Rays have been building bullpens on the cheap for years now, not necessarily because they want to but because they don’t have any other choice. They added to their stable of low cost relievers earlier this week by acquiring right-hander Burke Badenhop from the Marlins for catcher prospect Jake Jefferies. In his work for MLB Trade Rumors, our own Matt Swartz projects Badenhop to earn $1.1 million in 2012, his second time through arbitration. The Marlins have been spending like crazy this winter, but I guess they had to trim the fat somewhere.

Badenhop, 29 in February, was the last remaining player the Marlins had to show for the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal from a few offseason ago. He’s given them 250.2 pretty good innings over the last four years, pitching to a 4.34 ERA and 3.69 FIP in mostly medium-leverage spots (career 1.02 gmLI with only one single-season higher than that). Badenhop works mostly with a high-80’s sinker, a frisbee-like high-70’s slider, and the occasional low-80’s splitter. He’s a tall drink of water (listed at 6-foot-5, 220 lbs.) with this kinda funky low arm slot that isn’t sidearm, but is lower than I anything I can remember seeing from a guy that tall who remains that upright in his delivery. Here’s some video if you’ve never seen him pitch before…

As you might expect with that arm slot and repertoire, Badenhop does have a bit of a platoon split. He’s held righties to a .264/.304/.364 batting line with 20.8 K% and 5.3 BB% to go along with a 57.4% ground ball rate in his career. Lefties, meanwhile, have gotten to him for a .262/.362/.397 batting line with 13.9 K% and 13.1 BB%. His 54.1% ground ball rate against hitters of the opposite hand is basically the same as his overall rate (55.9%).

The one thing Badenhop didn’t have going for him with the Marlins was infield defense. Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez were hardly Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel up the middle, and a revolving door of third baseman (mostly Jorge Cantu, sadly) didn’t help either. Since Badenhop broke into the league in 2008, Florida’s infielders have combined for a -69.7 UZR and -135 DRS, the third and second worst in baseball, respectively. It’s not a big surprise then that he had a .252 BABIP on ground balls during that time, well above the .237 league average.

The Rays, on the other hand, saw their infielders post a +68.8 UZR and +101 DRS during that time, both the fourth highest in all of baseball. Evan Longoria is a stud at the hot corner, and the middle infield has always featured some fine defenders like Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez. That explains why Tampa’s pitchers have enjoyed a .228 BABIP on ground balls over the last four seasons (.224 over the last three seasons), which plays right into Badenhop’s ground ball happy ways going forward.

Joe Maddon has proven himself to be pretty adept at deploying his relievers in matchup situations, and Badenhop has ground ball generating righty specialist written all over him. That skill set also suggests that he’d be valuable in a fireman role so to speak, someone who can come in and wiggle out of a mid-inning jam if there’s a righty or two due up. Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth figure to lock down the eighth and ninth innings again, but Maddon now has a nice little toy to play with against righties in the middle innings. Considering that Jefferies is barely a blip on the prospect radar, the Rays did a fine job of landing a potentially useful piece for next to nothing with this trade.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

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