Zack Greinke is currently starring in ‘The Peripheral Disconnect,’ but Felipe Paulino has been a worthy leading man for the role during most of his career. The 27-year-old righty, long a scouting favorite for his mid-90s gas and upper-80s slider, has nearly a run-and-a-half difference between his xFIP (4.06) and ERA (5.50).
Yet Paulino, now in his third different organization within the past year, appears poised to get off baseball’s D-list by matching process and results with the Royals. Given a chance to start in K.C before another wave of upper-echelon pitching prospects arrives, the former Astro and Rockie is making Dayton Moore look like a smart man.
Since the Royals acquired the 6-foot-2, 270 pound power arm from the Rockies for cash in late May, Paulino has made six starts and one relief appearance. In 42 frames, Paulino has 7.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, a ground ball rate around 48 percent and a 3.34 xFIP that matches up quite nicely with his actual ERA (3.21). Stuff-wise, Paulino is still sitting around 95 MPH with his fastball. But it’s the rest of his repertoire that provides hope for sustained success.
During his career, Paulino has predominantly been a fastball/slider pitcher with a large platoon split (1.8 K/BB ratio and a 4.56 xFIP versus lefty hitters, 2.8 K/BB and a 3.71 xFIP versus righties). With the Royals, he’s showing a more diverse arsenal. Paulino has thrown his fastball about 48 percent with K.C., while going to his slider 33-34 percent, his curve 10 percent and his changeup nine percent.
So far, more secondary stuff has led to better results against left-handed hitters. Overall in 2011, Paulino has a 3.13 K/BB ratio and a 3.47 xFIP when taking on opposite-handed batters. It’s generally not a good idea to make much out of a platoon split that consists of 25-26 combined innings, but Paulino could fare better against lefties over the long haul if he can spot his curveball and changeup.
The curveball doesn’t have much a platoon split, and the changeup has a reverse platoon split (meaning opposite-handed hitters perform worse against the pitch). Pitch F/X data from TexasLeaguers shows that Paulino has shown lefties his curve about 14 percent of the time, and his changeup 10 percent. He might want to go to those pitches even more and cut the slider usage to left-handers (currently at 27 percent), considering that offering tends to get hammered by opposite-handed batters. A pitching approach that relies more on curves and changeups is more conducive to getting lefties out.
Felipe Paulino has frustrated fantasy owners for years, posting intriguing fielding-independent numbers while ending up with a ghastly ERA. And his durability is a question mark, as he missed most of 2008 with a pinched nerve in his shoulder, hit the DL in 2009 with a groin strain and lost three months last season due to a rotator cuff strain. But even so, he has ample talent and opportunity to show it with the Royals.
If Paulino keeps working in his curveball and changeup while quelling lefty bats, he could end up being a waiver wire steal. Considering his minuscule ownership rates — 0.2 percent in ESPN leagues, and one percent in Yahoo formats — there’s still time to pick up Paulino before your buddies take notice of his progress.