As the saying goes, you need clay if you’re going to make bricks. With pitchers, the clay is usually velocity. Every pitcher this side of Jamie Moyer needs velocity in order to stay alive in the league.
The Pirates love relievers that have a lot of velocity and then attempt to refine their command/control. When the Pirates picked up live-armed Arquimedes Caminero in the 2014 offseason, he seemed a typical Ray Searage reclamation project. After all, the Marlins released the then-27-year old Caminero after he posted a 10.80 ERA in just 6 innings at the major league level.
He averaged 95.5 mph on his fastball in 2014 with the Marlins, but the Pirates unlocked something in Caminero in 2015 as he humped it up to an average speed of 97.9 mph, nearly 2.5 mph of increase. The Pirates swapped out his split-finger fastball with their quasi-patented cut fastball and Caminero saw his ground ball rate soar from 36.8% in 2014 to 47.6% in 2015. He became a good 6th/7th inning option for Hurdle, typically in lower impact when the Pirates were tied or trailing.
With five seasons of control entering the 2016 season (and two them at or near the league minimum $507,000), it was hoped that Caminero could develop into a low cost setup man or, if everything broke right, a future closer once Melancon and Watson were gone.
Unfortunately, though, the other element of a successful pitcher besides velocity is movement on his pitches, an area where Caminero is sorely lacking. Last Wednesday against the Tigers, the full spectrum of Caminero was on display in the 6th inning, when he entered with a 2-1 lead. Caminero quickly got Ian Kinsler to fly out on two pitches, then he struck out Justin Upton on five pitches. The first three pitches were fastballs at 99-100-101 mph before he got Upton swinging on a 93 mph cutter.
Then with two outs, the Tigers proceeded to score four runs off Caminero. Miguel Cabrera doubled (after a couple of 100+ fastballs), J.D. Martinez walked on seven pitches (half of which were 98+ mph), and Nick Castellanos singled on the first pitch he saw (a 99 mph fastball). Jarrod Saltalamacchia went yard for a grand slam on the first pitch he saw, a 95 mph cutter, and just like that a promising inning turned into a 5-2 deficit that the Pirates never recovered from.
Caminero’s lack of movement is wonderfully illustrated by Brooks Baseball’s card on him and shown below:
His main pitch, the four seam blazing fastball, is moving just a shade over 5 inches. His second pitch, the cutter, is flat as a heart attack at just about 2 inches. Let’s contrast this against setup man Tony Watson’s horizontal movement:
Watson’s three main pitches are all moving 10 to 12 inches horizontally, causing the batter to have to adjust to the movement, something that is not the case with Caminero. With Caminero, they can hone in on a much smaller zone and essentially tunnel vision themselves to success.
I would be willing to have Caminero sacrifice a few miles per hour off his two main pitches in order to generate more movement and spin on them. Caminero can still be quite effective sitting 95-96, but with more movement than a 100 mph straight arrow fastball. If Caminero never develops further, he’s still a useful asset for the next few years, but I wouldn’t go past arbitration-1 with him and pay an escalated salary for a guy confined to the 6th/7th inning in low leverage situations.