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Royals acquired Vin Mazzaro for the stuff, not the stats

Nov 11, 2010, 10:15 AM EDT

vin-mazzaro-as Getty Images

Last night the Royals traded veteran outfielder David DeJesus to the A’s for 24-year-old starter Vin Mazzaro and pitching prospect Justin Marks.

Marks is a former third-round pick and a solid prospect, but the key to the deal from Kansas City’s point of view was clearly Mazzaro, as general manager Dayton Moore called him “a big, strong guy who our scouts feel can be a solid rotation pitcher for a number of years.”

In his article about the trade Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes that Mazzaro “generally draws raves from scouts for his stuff, particularly a sinking fastball.” Similarly, “a scout” told Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse that “Mazzaro’s stuff was second only to Trevor Cahill on the A’s.”

I could quote some other examples, but hopefully you get the idea. Mazzaro is 6-foot-2 and 24 years old, scouts love his raw stuff, and the Royals think he can be an impact starter for years to come. And here’s where it gets interesting: Mazzaro’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive at all.

First and foremost he’s 10-17 with a 4.72 ERA in 214 career innings, allowing opponents to bat .290 with a .360 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage against him. Among the 139 pitchers who’ve thrown 200 or more innings in the past two seasons, his .812 OPS against ranks 127th.

Delving a little deeper, Mazzaro has managed just 138 strikeouts in 214 innings, which works out to 5.8 whiffs per nine innings. Among those same 139 pitchers with 200-plus innings since 2009 that ranks 94th. And for all the talk about his “sinking fastball” Mazzaro has induced fewer ground balls than the average pitcher at 41.3 percent, which ranks 97th in that group of 139. His walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings ranks 115 out of 139.

So his ERA is 4.72 despite calling a pitchers’ ballpark home, he’s allowed opponents to bat .290 with an .813 OPS, he hasn’t racked up many strikeouts or induced many ground balls, and his control has been poor. In other words, Mazzaro has struggled in basically every key area of performance and even his numbers in the minors showed similar flaws.

What he has on his side is youth and the fact that at least some scouts still think his raw stuff is very good. Moore and the Royals have already established themselves as an organization that doesn’t rely on statistical analysis and in acquiring Mazzaro as the centerpiece of a trade for one of their best players they’re definitely trusting scouts and stuff rather than numbers.

  1. yuazda - Nov 11, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    “They’re definitely trusting scouts and stuff rather than numbers.”

    Bill James projects him at a 4.05 ERA (4.13 FIP), 6.53 K/9, 3.30 BB/9. That is solidly #3 starter material.

    “Looking at numbers” doesn’t mean looking at a sample size of 213 major league innings as an indicator of future success…

  2. Aaron Gleeman - Nov 11, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    Fair enough, but Bill James’ protections–which aren’t actually done by Bill James, but are instead simply in a book that carries his name–are consistently the most optimistic for both hitters and pitchers, to the point that no one can figure out the “run environment” they use and very few people take them seriously.

  3. apbaguy - Nov 11, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Keith Law has no great love for Mazzaro, and says so on his ESPN Insider review of the trade. I have tremendous respect for Keith’s opinions, and despite my solid pro-A’s sentiments, I am forced to agree that Mazzaro’s issue are significant, numerous, and long-standing.

    He has great movement and plus velocity. But his pitching pattern is death for a starter: fall behind, walk a guy, fall behind, have to groove a pitch. He seems incapable of getting ahead in the count.

    It is possible that at his age he can gain command. But after watching him make no progress in parts of the last 3 seasons, the A’s moved on to other options.

    As far as the A’s outfield goes, I see a 4 player rotation of DeJesus, Sweeney, Crisp, and Davis, with an occasional Carter in left when he doesn’t DH. With the A’s injury issues they’ll also keep a couple of guys at AAA ready to hop the shuttle from Sacramento to Oakland. Not much power, but great defense and good OBP. The power will have to come form DH and some maturation around the corner infield. That still won’t be much.

    • tomemos - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:59 PM

      Thanks to the trade, your solid pro-A’s sentiments don’t conflict with a negative assessment of Mazzaro at all.

  4. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    A’s won this one easily. I think Kansas City sold low on DeJesus, without letting him rebuild his value. Kansas saves money with this one, but they lost the talent battle here.

    DeJesus for Garza would have made more sense.

  5. Charles Gates - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Past results can be a good predictors of future performance unless there’s a significant change to the underlying product. If Royals scouts/coaches see something that they think they can harness and spin to a positive, this might work out well for them.
    Numbers help us understand the game better. But it’s still coaches that are responsible for taking those learnings and producing a better on the field product.
    I’ve yet to see a computer that can diagnose a pitcher’s mechanics problem. And I’ve seen plenty of humans make tactical errors on the diamond. An organization’s goal should find the happy mix, not shun one for the sake of the other.
    /End tangent.

  6. Tim's Neighbor - Nov 11, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    I’m not that down on Mazzaro. While he doesn’t strike so many people out, that sinker should help him get some ground balls. And if you look as his minor league numbers, it’s taken him some time to get used to each league (unless I’m mistaken). He has been hit or miss, but he’s only 24. I feel like while he might be a limited ceiling guy, his floor won’t be too low. If he’s a #3-5 pitcher for the next 4-7 years or so, that would make for a nice career.

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