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Brad Bergesen: Servicable or Bust?

Brad Bergesen’s player profile here at FanGraphs has been playing mind games with me for a few days. Simply put, it’s tough to get a good handle on what to expect from this guy. I really do enjoy writing with conviction and drawing strong conclusions based on the data that is available here and at many other great baseball sites online. I believe in what I write and for many reasons.

But Bergesen is different. Rather than picking a side and determining if he can be successful or unsuccessful because of reasons X, Y, and Z there are good reasons on both sides of the ledger when it comes to Brad Bergesen. The former fourth round pick is coming off of a nice rookie year where he posted a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts before succumbing to a leg injury after taking a line drive off his shin on July 30. His peripherals tell another story…he had a 4.10 FIP and 4.42 xFIP.

xFIP is likely selling him short because his home run rate is being normalized. I personally don’t think that’s fair because Bergesen’s a sinker ball pitcher and has always prevented the long ball at each level of professional baseball save for a 17 inning High-A stint in 2008.

Bergesen is not a strikeout pitcher by any means but his minor league numbers may suggest that we could see a small uptick in strikeouts next season from his meager 4.74 strikeout rate. He’s always had plus-control and showed that skill last year in the big leagues. And then there’s his impressive 50% ground ball rate in 2009 which agrees with his minor league rates. Steady defenders Cesar Izturis, Brian Roberts, and Adam Jones up the middle of the diamond figure to assist Bergesen and his ground ball tendencies. His BABIP and left-on-base rates also check out quite normally.

There’s reason to believe that Bergesen could be a serviceable contributor towards the back end of your fantasy team’s rotation due to his plus-control, sinking fastball, home run suppression, and strong defense surrounding him. He has the makings to become a better version of beltway foe and Washington National, John Lannan. That’s all the good stuff.

When we shift to the other side of the ledger we see Bergesen’s very low and alarming strikeout rate in the big leagues accompanied with his fringey fastball velocity. And one has to wonder whether he can maintain a home run rate around 0.80. Even if that rate creeps up closer to the league average of 1.05 his numbers are going to suffer (as xFIP shows).

His plate discipline stats here show that he wasn’t fooling many major league hitters last year. Batters made contact with his pitches at a very above-average clip last season.

It’s going to be awfully interesting to see what Bergesen does this season and pitching in the AL East against superior opponents will not make his job any easier. As I’ve combed through above…he has his own set of pros and cons. After recovering from the freak leg injury he suffered a strange and funny injury over the winter but looks to be on schedule and should be a part of the Orioles rotation come opening day.

Perhaps we’ll be able to say a lot more about Bergesen next winter if he completes his first full season in the majors this year. This could all have boiled down to simply needing more data but for fantasy purposes we should be focusing most on what he can bring to the table this season. If Bergesen takes a few chinks in the armor this season (HR/9 or worse batted ball stats) then he will likely become a negligible pitcher in fantasy baseball.

But if he maintains a similar profile to last year then he’s certainly a serviceable pitcher (and much more valuable in real-life) at the back of your rotation and even more valuable in deeper leagues. I think the ball could fall on either side and it’ll be interesting to check back on The Bergesen Case next year. Nonetheless Bergesen is quite a fascinating pitcher and he’s likely to be found loitering on the waiver wire.