Sunday, March 20, 2011

Padres Claim Neshek

Rarely has there been a player easier for Twins fans to like than Pat Neshek. The Brooklyn Park, MN native was drafted out of Butler University by his hometown team in the sixth round in 2002. He possesses a well established level of humility and a reputation as a player whose interaction with the fans is unrivaled.

These are all traits that have worked in Neshek's favor, but I think his most endearing characteristic is his uniqueness. Never before have we seen a delivery quite like his, and when he arrived on the major-league scene in 2006 none of us knew quite what to make of it. Neither did big-league hitters, apparently, as Neshek flat-out dominated, debuting in July and posting a 2.19 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and astounding 53-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 37 innings despite working with a fastball that barely edged 90 mph.

For the first half of the next season, Neshek continued to baffle AL hitters with his quirky arm action, delivering pitches from a side-arm slot and following through by hopping toward home plate on his toes (a style he'd adapted after suffering an arm injury in high school).

From his MLB debut on July 7, 2006 through July 7, 2007, Neshek accumulated one full season of pure relief dominance, hurling 79 innings with a 1.94 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 104-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It doesn't get much better than that, and it was startling to see from Neshek, a likable hometown kid who lacked the bulldog mentality, standout velocity or gravity-bending stuff that typifies elite late-inning relievers.

Unfortunately, whatever magic the right-hander was employing for that first year quickly dissipated. Neshek faded in the second half of the '07 season and has never really recaptured his electricity. Since the one-year anniversary of his first outing in the bigs, Neshek has a 4.79 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 47-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 50 2/3 innings.

As spectacular as he was that first year, Neshek walked a fine line with his lack of overpowering stuff and his reliance on a unique release. Eventually, the novelty of his delivery would wear off and big-league hitters would start to adapt; moreover, he needed every last tick of velocity for his approach to work and since suffering a torn ligament in 2008 that required Tommy John surgery, that consistent 90-mph heat simply hasn't been there.

As someone who greatly admires Neshek as a person and loves watching him pitch when he's on top of his game, I was fiercely hoping to see shades of his spellbinding rookie form this spring. Unfortunately, when I had the opportunity to watch him pitch an inning in Ft. Myers, I just didn't see it. His velocity remained stuck in the mid-80s; his once frisbee-like slider continued to lack its previous bite.

Apparently the Twins saw the same thing as they watched Neshek pitch this spring. They placed the righty on waivers on Friday, and this afternoon he was claimed by the Padres. Considering the Twins' huge questions in the bullpen and Neshek's minimal $625,000 salary this year, the move says a lot about the organization's feelings about the side-armer. If they don't make a move to fill his open spot on the 40-man roster (Bill Smith said in the article linked above that it could remain open for "two weeks or six months"), waiving Neshek would really signal a complete and total lack of confidence.

I'll miss Neshek, but it's important to note that despite his amazing performance in the year after he made his major-league debut, he simply hasn't been the same pitcher since. I hope he can resurrect his career in the National League, where fewer hitters have been exposed to his delivery and he'll move further and further away from surgery, but for the time being I'm going to have to trust the front office's evaluation that Neshek was not ready to contribute as a quality member of the Twins' bullpen this season.

The question is, where are those guys going to come from? Neshek, one of the players Bill Smith labeled a "wild card" for a rebuilt bullpen during the offseason, is now gone, and a number of other relief candidates have failed to impress this spring.

While I can't find it in myself to criticize the Twins' brass over letting go of a 30-year-old pitcher who hasn't gotten results in the majors for over three years, Neshek's release does nothing to alleviate my concerns about an increasingly dire bullpen situation that seems to have been completely ignored during the offseason.


TT said...

The Twins have two closers in Capps and Nathan and a top quality lefty in Mijares. Its tough too get too worried about the bullpen unless Nathan melts down. So far he hasn't. In addition either Slowey or Baker will be in the bullpen. They are both quality pitchers.

For the three remaining spots, essential long and middle relief, they have eight alternatives in Perkins, Hughes, Manship,James, Hoey, Waldrop, Diamond, Gutierriz and Dumatrait. The first four have all had some past major league success. I don't think the bullpen is in dire straights at all.

Anonymous said...

Where is the optimism of spring? This blog is getting more negative with each passing day. Relax, wait20 games beyond opening day, and then start with the negative if warranted.

Nick N. said...

My reaction to the Neshek release has been less "negative" than almost anything else I've read on the subject.

Anonymous said...

"top quality lefty in Mijares"

Mijares had 4.54 xfip last year and wasnt good against lefties. His velocity has dipped 2 years in a row. I think mijares will be all right but lets not take his dominance as a given even as a loogy.

Twins Baseball Love said...

I'm okay with letting Neshek go. I've always liked him and wish him the best, but I think it's best for both parties.

also, I just started a Twins website devoted to talking Twins. the site is

I'm trying to get it going so you should check it out!

Scruffy Rube said...

I don't think this is negative, it seems pretty rational, in fact the whole debate about Neshek on Twins blogs has been rational. (Unlike, seemingly, every other public debate in the country right now)

Some (like me) really dislike it because they personally love Neshek. Others really like the statistical logic of the move. Still more people are confused because of the bullpen situation, and conflicted because Neshek's in decline, but is still a great guy. But nobody tells anybody else to shove their stats or their emotions.

I've been looking for reasoned discourse on the internet...and right when I gave up searching, I found it (like all good things) on Twins blogs.