What Are The Twins Getting In Tim Stauffer?
Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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