Tagged: starter

A Tiny Transaction

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OK, here’s another post about a minor transaction
most people completely looked over. 
Even I looked over it at first, but one thing led to another (I started
with researching the Orioles starting rotation) and I started extensive
research on one specific player: Kurt Birkins. 
Who?  You should know if you have
been an Orioles fan for over two years. 
He was an “average” left hander that made appearances from the bullpen
in 2006 and 2007.

 

Well, to make this story short: the Orioles placed
him on waivers this off-season and the Rays picked him up.  Birkins was in AAA this year, playing with
the Durham Bulls, before he was flat out released.  What did he do in AAA? 
Two wins, three losses and a 7.52 ERA in 36 games, all but one in
relief.  And that’s the
problem.  No, not his high ERA, I’m
talking about the fact he was exclusively used a reliever.

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In the game of baseball, managers and pitching
coaches have the tough job of deciding if a pitcher should be a starter of reliever.  There is a very thin line between the two,
but usually by the time a player reaches AA, the organization knows what the
future of that pitcher will be as.  If
you solely look at the ERA of pitchers, you would assume that almost every
pitcher is better suited for the bullpen. 
It really does make sense. 
Relievers put all of their strength into one or two innings, while
starters have to split their energy up into six innings or more.

 

It makes sense that if a pitcher is moved from the
rotation to the bullpen, his ERA will go down, unless that pitcher is of the
type that gets better the more times they see a certain hitter, although
usually, the case is the opposite for the pitcher.  Therefore it is difficult to judge whether a pitcher is more
valuable in the pen or rotation. 

 

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However, all of this discussion doesn’t apply to
Birkins.  That’s what makes him so
unusual.  He is one of the few pitchers
that pitches extremely better as a starter then a reliever.  Two years ago, Fausto Carmona
was a fine example, although some of his struggles may have come from the fact
that he was used as the team’s closer.

 

Obviously, Carmona is a starter now, but for some
reason, Birkins is still considered a reliever.  Maybe it’s because he is short. 
Maybe it’s because he is a left-hander. 
For whatever the reason, the only organizations Birkins has ever been
with have treated him as a reliever when he gets to the high levels.

 

The
Orioles drafted Birkins in 2000 in the 33rd
round
.  All the way through AAA,
they used him as a starter.  But when he
got called up to the majors in 2006, he was put in the bullpen, and never got a
chance to start. 

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Heading into 2007,
Birkins was again assigned to AAA Norfolk as a reliever.  Despite having made all but one of his
appearances in Norfolk last year, as a starter. 

 

I
just don’t get it.  Birkins made 19
starts in Norfolk the year before, and had a 3.05 ERA.  And then, he gets transferred to a reliever,
after he made 35 relief appearances with the O’s the year before and had a 4.94
ERA.  So, after struggling again with
the Orioles (as a reliever) the next year, Birkins was put on waivers, and
Tampa Bay claimed him.  In an instant, I
knew that desperately needing pitching Baltimore had lost a real legitimate,
young starter.  When claimed, Birkins
was only 27 years old.  I was really
hoping that the Rays would realize just how good of a starting pitcher Kurt
Birkins was.  But no, when the Rays again
assigned Birkins to AAA they also used him as a reliever.  You already know what he did this year.  I’m 90% sure if the Rays decided on using
him as a starter, his ERA would have vastly gone down.  That’s the type of pitcher Birkins has
proved himself to be over his career. 
More innings and a better ERA? 
What more could you want?

 

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From
the Rays point of view, it would have been hard to imagine someone being so
drastically better as a starter than a reliever, but if any pitcher can prove
it’s possible, it’s definitely Kurt Birkins.

 

On
August 29th, the Rays released Birkins.  Amazingly, no team has taken notice of what he did with Norfolk
in 2006, and he’s still unsigned.  If I
were a GM of a pitching deprived team, I would without a doubt, sign him to be
a starter.  Since Birkins still is still
looking for a place to play, the Orioles have a chance of redemption if they
bring Birkins back.

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Here is
Birkins’ statistics throughout his professional career.  Take note on the number of starts and relief
appearances each year.  See a pattern?  The higher percentage of his games that were
starts, a noticeably lower ERA.

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