Insider: Rays Acquire Reliever Burke Badenhop

Taking another step to sure up the 2012 bullpen, the Tampa Bay Rays have acquired right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop from the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor league catcher Jake Jefferies. Jefferies, 24, split the 2011 season between Charlotte (A) and Montgomery (AA) and combined to bat .238 (53-for-223) with two home runs and 32 RBI. He informed members of the Charlotte Stone Crabs’ front office that he intended to retire after the 2011 season, but apparently has not made that official.

For the Rays, Badenhop should be a durable, solid piece for Joe Maddon to use out of the bullpen. He comes relatively cheap – in both trade cost and salary – and has years of team control remaining. As an arbitration-eligible player, he should make right around the $1 million mark in 2012 – or what the team paid Andy Sonnanstine in 2011. The 28-year-old has pitched in parts of the last four major-league seasons, making at least 60 appearances in each of the last three. A former starting pitcher, more than 50% of his relief appearances have spanned multiple innings.

In addition to controlability and durability, Badenhop’s most marketable asset is the ability to get ground balls. He owns a career groundball rate of more than 55% and set a career-high with a 58.5% rate last season. Because of his ability to keep the ball low to the earth, he allows less extra-base hits and home runs than the average pitcher.

Badenhop does not rack up strikeouts with his high-80’s sinker; however, his secondary offerings – slider and off-speed pitch – have the ability to generate a decent amount of whiffs. His career 6.82 strikeout-per-nine innings rate is nothing to get brag about, but it is comparable to other relief pitchers with similar groundball rates. His a career 3.23 walks-per-nine inning rate is also mediore. On the other hand, if you remove intentional walks from the equation it drops down to a much more palatable 2.73.

The biggest flaw in Badenhop’s game is a noticeable platoon split. Not uncommon for relief pitchers with average stuff, he struggles against batters of the opposite hand. While holding right-handed batters to a slash line of .265/.304/.364, he allows a line of .262/.362/.397 to the left side. You may have noticed that both types of batters have similar batting averages against him, but lefties reach base at a much higher rate. Although his he shows decent control overall, he can lose the ability to throw strikes against left-handers. When they do put the ball in play against him, it is usually with more authority than righties.

A 28year-old with a career 4.34 is unlikely to be a game changer. On the other hand, a groundball machine who is effective against right-handed batters could be a cost-effect weapon for the budget conscious Rays, especially considering Joe Maddon’s usage of platoon specialists and the team’s above-average defense. With a manageable salary, additional team control, groundball ability, and average stuff, it is a little puzzling as to why the Marlins are willing to let go of Badenhop for a minor-league catcher who may or may not play in 2012. That said, we hope their loss is Tampa Bay’s gain.