I have always found it odd that there is such a division between ‘statistical minds’ and ‘baseball minds’ in the modern game. No game has so faithfully tracked statistics for longer than baseball. In fact, I don’t think it would be possible to develop a team sport that lends itself more easily to record keeping and statistical innovation than baseball.
Yet, here we are in 2012 where you seemingly either ‘a nerd’ or a ‘baseball man’. For those of you who believe you simply must be one or the other or have uttered the phrase ‘I don’t care what your numbers say, I know what I see’ or used this beauty in an argument ‘You are seeing what you want to, the numbers don’t lie’, may I present Felipe Paulino.
While many of us have jabbed the Royals about their apparent disdain for modern statistics, the acquisition of Paulino early last season is an example that, at least once in a while, they do listen to the ‘nerds in the corner’. Sure, Jin Wong did not print off Paulino’s page on Fangraphs, slap it down on Dayton Moore’s desk and see Moore immediately pick up the phone to acquire Felipe, but it did get the big right hander on the Royals’ radar.
The Rockies designated Paulino for assignment on May 22nd and the Royals acquired him for cash (and not very much of it) on May 27th. They were getting a pitcher who had fashioned a 7.36 earned run average in 14 innings of bullpen work for Colorado. Prior to going to Colorado, Paulino had gone 1-9 with a 5.11 ERA for Houston in 2010 and 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 2009. Frankly, the back of Felipe Paulino’s baseball card is hideous.
What the Royals’ saw, however, was a pitcher whose strikeout rate was consistently near one per inning (career 8.3/9) and one who had the ability to limit the home run ball when working as a starter (0.8/9). Felipe’s fastball velocity had remained consistently at 95 mph through good and bad and despite unsightly traditional numbers, Paulino had posted xFIPs of 4.04 and 4.36 in 2009 and 2010. The numbers said that Felipe Paulino should be better than he was.
Immediately, Paulino was better.
He came out of the bullpen in his first Royals’ appearance, throwing 4.1 shutout innings against Texas. Five days later, Paulino started against the Angels and threw five more shutout innings, striking out four and walking no one.
From that point on, Felipe made 19 starts for Kansas City. He threw six innings or more in 13 of those starts and only once did Paulino not finish the fifth inning. Twelve times, he allowed three earned runs or less. As a starter for Kansas City, Paulino struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and posted a strikeout to wal ratio of 2.42. His xFIP was a solid 3.73 and Paulino posted an fWAR of 2.6: tying for the team lead among Royals hurlers last season.
Paulino is predominately a fastball/slider pitcher who mixes in a changeup and a curve. As a Royal, he used his change more often (10% of the time) and the curve less. Simply put, Felipe Paulino is a power righthander who regularly threw 100+ pitches per start and generally held his stuff through the game. At 6’2″ and 270 pounds, there might be some room for improved conditioning (and he did miss one start with some back issues), but one does not want to mess too much with a guy who throws 95 mph as a starter and does so for six innings.
Going into 2012, Paulino is not considered a lock for the starting rotation, but I have to believe he is close. One wonders if the Royals wanted to ensure that Paulino was not ‘too comfortable’ with his 2011 campaign during the off-season and hence have not assured him a spot on the roster. Past history suggests that Paulino simply does not take well to a relief role, but it also shows us that he might well become a solid number three/four starter.
Felipe Paulino, whose acquisition was a perfect marriage of sabremetrics and scouting, was a great find for the Royals last season. The 28 year old was a perfect stopgap in a year when the organization’s pitching prospects marked time. He is likely to be Kansas City’s number four starter in April and, as a guy you hand the ball to and pretty much know will give you six innings and keep you in the game, it is not unreasonable to see him as a number four starter on future contending teams.