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What Are The Twins Getting In Tim Stauffer?

Shortly before Christmas break, the Minnesota Twins signed free agent pitcher Tim Stauffer to one-year, $2.2 million.

If you happened to check Fangraphs.com on the 32-year-old righthander, gazing upon his average velocity may have been as exciting as unwrapping another pair of socks. Low 90s? Again? While the trend for pitching staffs has been to stockpile power arms, Stauffer’s flexibility as a starter and a reliever provides the team with various options.

Beyond the low velocity, over his career Stauffer has combated an endless war against injuries that would have made Orwell proud. What exactly do the Twins see in him?
Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports

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When Stauffer was drafted out of the University of Richmond in 2003, Baseball America quoted one scout as saying Stauffer is “Brad Radke with a better fastball and breaking ball.” In his senior year Stauffer had thrown 146 innings while walking just 19 batters -- a Radke-ian feat by any measure. Still, insiders were concerned over the workload Stauffer shouldered in his final two years in college: He had amassed 250 innings with 28 complete games to boot.

The Padres did not show much concern over the mileage nor the fact that he came from the University of Richmond -- a school that touts Sean Casey and Brian Jordan as themajor league contributors they had produced. The Padres saw a pitcher who not only dominated hitters in a less competitive conference but had also witnessed him doing the same to the nation’s best collegiate hitters in the Cape Cod League as well. Convinced, San Diego used their fourth overall pick in 2003 on Stauffer.

According to Baseball America, the Padres noted that Stauffer’s superior character was one of the reasons he was selected at that point. That character was tested right away after being selected. In his last collegiate start against UC Riverside, Stauffer said he finished the game with some discomfort in his throwing shoulder. A “little more stiffness or soreness than usual” as he put it. An MRI revealed his shoulder joint was weakened from taxing the labrum and rotator cuff.

Stauffer could have accepted the $2.6 million bonus from the team and not said anything but instead, he and his agent came clean. Rather than being a multi-millionaire, Stauffer agreed to $750,000.

****


Baseball analysts like to try to find root causes of arms issues (such as shoulder blowouts or UCL tears) and assign various explanations (such as pitch counts, innings totals or mechanics). While all, some or none may be responsible, there may simply be genetics as an influential factor.

Prior to being draft, Stauffer’s father Rick spoke to The Daily Gazette in New York about his son’s success and noted that he too played in college for a while and had professional teams inquiring about him as well. The elder Stauffer, however, ran headlong into shoulder problems in college that derailed his career.

“I threw a little like Timmy does…I could throw in the low-90-mph range,” Rick Stauffer told the newspaper. “But, I decided to go to college at St. Joseph’s and hurt my shoulder during my freshman year. Rotator cuff injuries weren’t diagnosed back then. They sent me to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, where they worked with me for more than a year.”

Like for his father, the weak shoulder would eventually falter for Tim.

Attempting to win a spot in the Padres’ 2008 rotation during spring training, Stauffer said something did not feel right. He had pitched through pain and soreness before but this felt different. Tests revealed a partial labrum tear -- his weakened shoulder joint.

“It happened over time," Stauffer told the Saratogan as he attempted to rehab his arm at his high school gymnasium in 2009. "It's not something that happened with one pitch or one game. Rehab wasn't doing it, so I decided to have it fixed and go from there."

The shoulder surgery and recovery erased the 2008 season for him. 2009 was limited. In 2010, the injury bug bit again in the form of appendicitis that Stauffer diagnosed himself using an WebMD app on his phone in the middle of the night. That cost him 47 games. Most recently, in 2012 while recovering from more shoulder soreness Stauffer’s elbow began barking as well. More surgery. More rehab. More people calling him a bust.

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Stauffer had missed two of the past five seasons for the Padres. He was now on the other side of 30 and had a future shrouded in doubt.

In October 2012 San Diego designated him for assignment. He cleared waivers when no other team was willing to claim him and elected free agency. Stauffer would remain a free agent until late January 2013 when the Padres -- perhaps out of respect for his character-- signed him to a minor league deal and offered him a major league tryout.

Rather than return as a starter, Stauffer was converted to a reliever. After a run in Triple-A, Stauffer was recalled in May 2013 and completed his first season in the Padres’ bullpen. The results were solid. As a long reliever Stauffer worked in 43 outings but threw 69.2 innings while striking out 64 and walking just 20, leading to a healthy 3.55 ERA. Still arbitration-eligible because of his lack of major league service time, the Padres brought him back again in 2014. Again he worked lower leverage situations in the sixth and seventh innings and provided multi-inning support in blowouts. Like the Twins’ Anthony Swarzak, Stauffer was asked to make a few spot starts in the season as well (to mixed results). In all, Stauffer pitched 64.2 innings over 44 games, including three starts. Like in the season before, his numbers were respectable. He struck out 67, walked 23 and carried a 3.50 ERA. Not great, but respectable.

Other than finally having a healthy arm, the biggest difference in his performance between the rotation and the bullpen was his use of the changeup.

Attached Image: Stauffer_ChangeupUsage.png


Stauffer said he was working on his changeup in 2011 but it did not seem to take hold until he reached the bullpen full time. Maybe it was feel or confidence but Stauffer threw his changeup more often and much more frequently in two-strike counts as his knuckle-curve gave way to a circle change.


Attached Image: USATSI_7981390.jpg


Over the past two seasons, among relievers who have thrown the pitch at least 150 times, Stauffer’s 22.4% swinging strike rate ranks ahead of Seattle’s Fernando Rodney (22.0%) and the Twins’ Jared Burton (20.3%), two of the more devastating changeups in the game, and 14th overall.

Posted Image

It is because of this pitch that he is such a Jared Burton-like clone. They both had relied on changeups -- Burton called his a splangeup as it was a split between his middle and ring finger instead of a circle change like Stauffer’s (as seen above). What makes it effective is the arm action and movement coupled with the deviation in velocity from his fastball. Although his fastball barely reaches 90, his change sits at 80.

Having an above average secondary or out-pitch is good for a reliever when asking him to retire just three hitters a night. However, Stauffer’s primary pitch -- his fastball -- lacks zip and is often bombarded. His slider is above average but the fastball can be a liability at times.

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What the 2015 season holds for Stauffer is uncertain.

Born and bred as a starting pitcher through his career, the Twins have said they will give Stauffer an opportunity to make the rotation. “He’s had some success as a starter, so we’ve told him we will give him that opportunity and see where it lands,” General Manager Terry Ryan told the Star Tribune after Stauffer’s signing was announced.

Unless injuries appear or several of the younger arms appear ineffective in the spring, Stauffer’s immediate future with the Twins is likely as a reliever. Without Burton or Swarzak, the Twins need someone who can handle both short and long outings. Moreover, Stauffer’s experience as a starter provides the Twins with some additional insurance throughout the season rather than having to summon pitchers like Yohan Pino or Kris Johnson to fill starts.

Of course, when talking about potential injury Stauffer is as likely as any to have arm issues. Likewise, his ability to retire American League hitters remains in question. That said, Stauffer appears to be someone with the drive and history to provide the Twins with multiple options.

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19 Comments

1 rotation spot and Meyer, May, Milone, Pelfrey & now Stauffer have an opportunity to fill it.If 2 or more of them a have good spring training, I wonder which ones get the priority ?

    • glunn likes this

We basically have an older replacement for Swarzak. Of course, Trevor May could be a younger replacement for Swarzak.

    • jorgenswest, glunn and Mike Sixel like this

I am excited about May. Its ok if he starts by replacing Swarzak. I will be disappointed if that is where he ends up.

    • glunn likes this

Will be kind of interesting to see how we feel at the end of the year about Hughes, Santana, Nolasco and Gibson vs. Meyer, May, Milone and Staufer. One would think the 5 best could make a good rotation but it always seems such a long drawn out process to find the right 5.

    • glunn, Mike Sixel and Platoon like this

With the Padres being my local team, I have seen Stauffer a fair amount over the years. I like him--he always seems to be a steady pitcher, not unhittable but not prone to nasty hiccups either. Since the Padres always seem to have 16-inning games once a month, his long relief stints proved important. The Padres have had great late-inning relievers, so he didn't see a lot of other high-leverage situations. More than anything, though, he seemed like a super guy. The Padres have a thing where the serve breakfast on the warning track before every Sunday home game. 2 of the 4 times I partook, Tim was out mingling with the dining fans and posing for picts. [If any of you are in San Diego for a weekend game, I highly recommend the Breakfast On the Field. $14 for made-to-order omlets (and the like) plus drinks. (Excellent Bloody Mary's cost extra though.) The only downside is that STHs are seated first, so the rest of us have to wait or eat elsewhere.]

    • Willihammer likes this
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ShouldaCouldaWoulda
Dec 30 2014 01:47 AM

1 rotation spot and Meyer, May, Milone, Pelfrey & now Stauffer have an opportunity to fill it.If 2 or more of them a have good spring training, I wonder which ones get the priority ?

 

 

I kinda feel like May and Meyer do not have a chance, regardless of how they pitching spring training. They will find a narrative to keep them in the minors, and somehow bring them up May/June. 

 

I think the approach of keeping hitters in the minors to save money might make some sense, but I do not agree with it for pitchers. I would rather draft power arms, move them up quickly before they lose velocity and become damaged goods, use them up while they are young, and then sell high while they are still young, but haven't broken down yet. Seems to what the A's have done often. 

The league average reliever ERA for the NL was 3.50.So Stauffer's was not "solid", "good" or anything like that.It was dead smack average. I am looking at him and seeing a Swarzak replacement, and that would be ok, but the Twins could have done better with what they had within the organization and their pen (that was 29th in the majors as far as FIP goes) needs more than replacing Swarzak with Stauffer and Burton with a rookie, for this team to be competitive. 

 

And if they don't plan to be competitive, let's play the kids.

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Willihammer
Dec 30 2014 08:22 AM

Looks like Stauffer has a slight reverse platoon split - .260/.331/.406 vs RHB and .255/.317/.395 vs LHB. The changeup I assume, although it looks like he's not afraid to throw that pitch to same-handed batters (14% against RHB in 2014 were changeups). Maybe he was a guy Neil Allen liked?

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Parker Hageman
Dec 30 2014 08:26 AM
The league average reliever ERA for the NL was 3.50.So Stauffer's was not "solid", "good" or anything like that.It was dead smack average.

 

 

Heh. "ERA". 

 

Twins could have done better with what they had within the organization and their pen (that was 29th in the majors as far as FIP goes) needs more than replacing Swarzak with Stauffer and Burton with a rookie, for this team to be competitive.

 

 

FIP 2013-2014:

 

Stauffer -- 3.30

Swarzak -- 3.51

Burton -- 3.91

    • PseudoSABR likes this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 30 2014 08:31 AM
Looks like Stauffer has a slight reverse platoon split - .260/.331/.406 vs RHB and .255/.317/.395 vs LHB.

 

 

Yup, he throws his changeup to both sides regularly. Over the past two years in the 'pen the reverse split has been even more pronounced: .237/.291/.314 vs LHB and .267/.342/.420 vs RHB.

Heh. "ERA". 

 

 

 

FIP 2013-2014:

 

Stauffer -- 3.30

Swarzak -- 3.51

Burton -- 3.91

Parker, just a word of caution that FIP is not park or league adjusted.

 

FIP- (lower is better, 100 is average) at Fangraphs is what you want to use here.

 

FIP- 2013-2014:

 

Swarzak 90

Stauffer 94

Burton 100

 

So even in terms of FIP, Stauffer basically split the difference between Swarzak and Burton the past two seasons.

Stauffer could have accepted the $2.6 million bonus from the team and not said anything but instead, he and his agent came clean. Rather than being a multi-millionaire, Stauffer agreed to $750,000.

I read that at Baseball America too, but it seemed weird.  Isn't a post-draft, pre-signing physical (including an MRI for pitchers) pretty much standard?  Was it not back in 2003?

Born and bred as a starting pitcher through his career, the Twins have said they will give Stauffer an opportunity to make the rotation. “He’s had some success as a starter, so we’ve told him we will give him that opportunity and see where it lands,” General Manager Terry Ryan told the Star Tribune after Stauffer’s signing was announced.

This is the part that worries me.

 

Even if he doesn't make the rotation out of the gate, presumably he will receive long looks in spring training over better long-term starting options.

 

And does this assurance mean that as soon as another starter is injured or falters, the Twins will be obligated to use Stauffer as the first replacement?  The temptation will be strong to do so, as he will already be on the roster and the AAA rotation may not be lined up properly at that moment.

 

Also, this suggests we didn't target Stauffer as a potential bargain dominant bullpen arm.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 30 2014 10:23 AM
Parker, just a word of caution that FIP is not park or league adjusted.

 

 

Well aware. Just playing his game when he cited FIP. 

 

As for the adjusted FIP, I'm not a huge proponent when gauging relievers. It clearly attempts to factor in the park (which is good) but in terms of the league adjustments with the pitcher batting in the National League, you rarely face a pitcher as a reliever (Stauffer faced a pitcher nine times last year which I would be would have been in his starts). Thus, he receives a demerit in FIP- while never really facing a pitcher. To me, this stat is better reserved for starters when gauging across leagues.  

    • ashbury likes this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 30 2014 10:30 AM
I read that at Baseball America too, but it seemed weird.Isn't a post-draft, pre-signing physical (including an MRI for pitchers) pretty much standard?Was it not back in 2003?

 

 

Good question. I would have assumed so too. I wish we had a JACK GOIN bat signal to have him comment on that. 

Well aware. Just playing his game when he cited FIP. 

 

As for the adjusted FIP, I'm not a huge proponent when gauging relievers. It clearly attempts to factor in the park (which is good) but in terms of the league adjustments with the pitcher batting in the National League, you rarely face a pitcher as a reliever (Stauffer faced a pitcher nine times last year which I would be would have been in his starts). Thus, he receives a demerit in FIP- while never really facing a pitcher. To me, this stat is better reserved for starters when gauging across leagues.  

Stauffer actually only faced a pitcher 2 times in his 3 starts last season, thanks to some very early exits and a pinch hitter.  He faced pitchers in 9 PA while in relief.  He faced even more pitchers batting in 2013 (16 PA) when he was used exclusively in relief.

 

Good to be mindful of, but I would guess the effect to be pretty minimal, especially for a low-leverage reliever.

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Parker Hageman
Dec 30 2014 01:45 PM
Stauffer actually only faced a pitcher 2 times in his 3 starts last season, thanks to some very early exits and a pinch hitter.He faced pitchers in 9 PA while in relief.He faced even more pitchers batting in 2013 (16 PA) when he was used exclusively in relief.

 

 

Yep. Sorry -- 11 pitchers faced. Nine official at-bats. 

 

(In 2013, he was a long reliever so he wound up in the game early a lot. Was called upon in the first inning twice and the second inning once.) 

I cringed when he was compared to Jared "Gas Can" Burton.Better alert the Fire Marshall NOW!!!!

    • Paul Pleiss likes this

I have low expectations of Stauffer but I enjoyed the book he was part of. 


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