The Underrated Brad Bergesen

The Orioles have a lot of good young pitchers. David Hernandez made his major league debut earlier this season, and top prospects Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz aren’t too terribly far behind. Toss in Jake Arrieta and Brandon Erbe, and Baltimore has as good a crop of pitching prospects as any organization in baseball.

But, for all the big time velocity arms that are on their way to Camden Yards, Brad Bergesen and his 89 MPH fastball has snuck into the team photo and is threatening to stick around. I’m going to go so far as to say he’s the best pitcher that most people have never heard of.

Bergesen is the classic kind of pitching prospect that slips through the cracks. A fourth round pick back in 2004, he worked his way through the minors with average stuff and no out pitch, leading to rather boring looking strikeout numbers, which is the main way pitching prospects get recognized. His minor league K/9, by year/level:

2005: Short-Season A: 6.8
2006: Low-A: 5.1
2007: Low-A: 7.0, High-A: 5.6
2008: High-A: 7.8, Double-A: 4.4
2009: Triple-A: 7.4, Majors: 4.1

Usually, a pitching prospect isn’t going to get much respect if he’s punching out less than a batter per inning, especially in the lower levels. Pitching to contact in low-A is usually a sign that your stuff isn’t major league quality, and when your fastball tops out at 92, the suspicion is confirmed.

However, the strikeout obsession has led to a lot of missed evaluations on groundball specialists, and Bergesen is proving to be exactly that. Pitch F/x shows that his fastball has similar amounts of vertical movement to some guy named Roy Halladay, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised that Bergesen has a 54% groundball rate through his first twelve major league starts.

When you can command a sinking fastball and have an off-speed pitch to keep opposite handed hitters at bay, you can be an effective major league starter. Bergesen doesn’t have the same potential as some of the more hyped arms in the Orioles system, but don’t discount his strengths and write him off as a no-stuff guy who belongs in the bullpen. Command, sinker, and change-up – it’s the recipe for a solid back-end starting pitcher.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

13 Responses to “The Underrated Brad Bergesen”

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  1. Choo says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching Bergesen dismantle the Mariners twice in one week’s span, and I’m a Mariner fan. The sink he gets on his fastball is late and sharp, and while his slider doesn’t jump off the F/x page, he throws it with varying tilt and break and does a good job of keeping his arm speed synchronized to his fastball.

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  2. Jon says:

    Out of curiosity, how is a 4/5 starter underrated? I don’t mean for that to sound snarky, honestly. It just seems that a back-end starter doesn’t get much fanfare because they’re somewhat fungible, and anyways a fifth starter typically isn’t something fans and sportswriters get excited about.

    And watching Bergesen pitch, he seems to have a problem getting same-handed batters out. When he gets two strikes on a righty he throws a slider low and away without fail. If the batter chases he can miss a few bats but the pitch is never close to the strike zone; hitters that lay off the pitch force him to throw his sinker, since the change doesn’t work well against same-handed hitters.

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    • JH says:

      I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at. The point of the article is that Bergeson’s valuable and nobody’s likely to pay much attention to him. A valuable player that fans and sportswriters won’t get excited about is kind of the definition of underrated, no?

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      • Jon says:

        My assertion was that he wasn’t getting much attention because he didn’t really deserve it. The 3.76 ERA and 4.32 FIP are both noteworthy, but he’s got a real problem missing bats (K/9 under 5 in 83 MLB innings this year and 150 AA innings last year) and he’s been somewhat BABIP-lucky (.274 this year). This works if you don’t walk anyone and limit your home runs but it’s a tough way to be a successful pitcher.

        Given that he’s a guy so reliant on factors outside of his control (defense behind him, ballpark he’s pitching in), he seems like someone who should be toiling in relative anonymity.

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  3. TROY PATTON says:

    What’s going on with Troy Patton? Is he in the mix this year? He’s back from labrum surgery, pitched really well in AA and just got called up in AAA. Is he a future back-end rotation guy for the O’s or will he wind up in the pen? He’s still pretty young.


    Thoughts on Patton?

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  4. Will says:

    Appropriately timed article. Bergesen just dismantled the Nats tonight.

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  5. eric says:

    And another good game from bergy tonight

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  6. OsandRoayals says:

    I suspect that Brad Bergenson will probably end up close to a number 3 pitcher. The most important thing to remember about him is that he is a rookie on an AL East team which means he’s facing some tough offenses. As a rookie he’s lasting an average of 6.433 innings a start.

    He has a solid WHIP at the moment at 1.24 so not elite but very good. His BABIP at .276 is lower than average for an MLBer but except for his half-season at high-A is right in line with his minor league averages whose teams tend to play worse defense than MLB teams.

    As a pitch to contact pitcher Bergy should outpitch his FIP most years and if he figures out how to go deeper into games he should become an inning-eating workhorse in Cardinals starter mold.
    Word of warning though is that he’s currently outpitching his FIP by half a run although I don’t know why its such a stark difference

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  7. JamesDaBear says:

    I’m underwhelmed. If you take out the two games against the Mariners and his latest effort against the Nationals, and pitchers should dominate those offenses, he’s looked very ordinary at best, with the exception of his games against Detroit and Atlanta, who are really in the Nationals/Mariners category. I’m not going to write him off completely because obviously there are enough bad offenses out there he could dominate, but I won’t expect that from him unless he’s facing one of them.

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    • Chris says:

      Both the Nationals and Tigers offenses are better than what you’re giving them credit for. I’m not saying they’re two of the best in the league, but they certainly aren’t on the same level as the A’s or Giants.

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      • JH says:


        The Nationals suck at pitching and defense, but their offense has the 6th-best wOBA in the National League (ranking teams out of 30 is unfair since pitchers hit in the NL). The Tigers are 9th in the AL, and their wOBA is .331. That’s not a shabby number. Slightly below average, but 20 points higher than the Mariners.

        Instead of trying to throw away several of Bergeson’s starts against poor teams (some of which are actually right around league average), why not actually look at numbers that reflect this? Every pitcher faces good teams and bad teams. BP, for all it’s slipped in the analytical community, still keeps track of a nice stat called Pitchers’ Quality of Batters Faced. Bergeson’s batters this season have hit a cumulative .260/.335/.420. That’s a .755 OPS. The league average AL OPS is .762. The difference in runs over a full season between those two numbers is pretty negligible.

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  8. Dave H. says:

    one thing people who are trying to tear him down have to remember is his first few starts (his poorer ones) were with Zaun behind the plate. When he got Wieters back there he became a different pitcher and by his own admission said that Wieters was a huge part of his settling down into what he’s been now. If you want to throw games away (which I never understood and is usually just a tactic to “prove’ a point when no better facts are available) then maybe you should be throwing those out. Then you’ll find he’s even better then the numbers have shown. I dont project him as more than a 4 guy once the big guns start moving up, but thats still a valuable commodity.

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  9. Jeff says:

    For JamesDaBear, how about Boston’s offense?

    Bradley just threw up a 8.0 IP, 4 H 1 ER 0 BB 6 K line.

    Shame the bullpen coughed it up.

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