Biddle Me This

Jesse Biddle was ranked the #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2013 season and he certainly looked the part in April when I wrote this. As the year progressed, Biddle did not.

You’d need a harem of interns to keep track of the times I’ve had people in the business utter this sentence:

“If you’ve seen it, it’s in there.”

With Biddle, I’ve seen plus fastball velocity with plus command and great downhill plane, a plus curveball and a fringe average changeup. If the changeup comes along a little bit and the secondary, less sexy parts of the game mature then you’re looking at a #3 starter. That’s been his ceiling and continues to be his ceiling and you should read the report I filed on Biddle in May because just about all of it still holds true. There are, however, things we saw this season in regards to Biddle that suppress my optimism about him getting to that aforementioned ceiling.

As the season wore on Biddle’s control/command came and went. Mostly, it went. Both his fastball and curveball were suddenly wild mustangs instead of the well-trained colts they’d been early in the year. Pitch after pitch from Biddle was up at the throat, well out of the zone. He’d have games where he’d walk half a dozen batters in just a few innings of work before he was mercifully removed. By mid-summer people in the game were asking me if I knew why Biddle kept sweating so much and wanted to know if I’d heard anything about him drinking to excess. I had not heard that and have not heard that. He looked haggard, weak and beaten on the mound. It surfaced that Biddle was diagnosed with whooping cough in late April and pitched through it the rest of the year. By the end of the season things had gotten marginally better. The curveball was back to being a consistently plus pitch and was being thrown for strikes while the fastball control was still poor. He was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis toward the end of the season and, after walking seven batters over three innings in front of me and most of the Phillies front office on August 28th, did not make his final start of the 2013 campaign.

It was a tremendously difficult year for Biddle who is as charismatic and gregarious a young man as I’ve encountered in the minors. I have sympathy for him and what he’s had to deal with this year but I have to evaluate what I saw on the field. And, while plantar fasciitis, which is extraordinarily painful, presents a valid explanation for Biddle’s athletic struggles, I just don’t know how whooping cough can impact one’s control/command to such a degree. I’m not saying it didn’t cause problems, nor am I dismissing the idea that it hampered his effectiveness. Rather, it’s a foreign affliction whose impacts on athletic machinations are unbeknownst to me.

The reality of Biddle’s struggles as it pertains to his development are this: He was constantly falling behind in the count and failing to get himself into counts where he could work on his changeup, the pitch he really needed to work on coming into this year to take that next developmental step. He also wasn’t able to polish up things like his pitch sequencing and his pacing and everything else hurlers need to grasp before they’re ready for the Majors because he had no choice but to whittle things down to the absolute basics and try to get his fastball over, pitch after pitch.

But I have seen it. I’ve seen Biddle pump fastballs at the knees to both corners with impunity. I’ve seen hitters flail at curveballs they knew were coming and I’ve seen weak groundballs induced by a decent changeup that had fastball-sitting hitters out on their front foot. I just saw it in April and haven’t since. So the ceiling is still that of a #3 and I still think he falls a tad short of that, as I did in May, and becomes a workhorse #4 starter. I just think that, after a season of essentially treading water, the latter outcome is more likely than it was before. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, an innings-eating fourth starter is a terrific asset to have. But I worry that common misconceptions and assumptions about the “#1 Prospect” label will negatively impact the way the media and fanbase interact with a young man who is likely to fall short of unrealistic expectations.

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23 comments

  1. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 09, 2013 09:25 AM

    Amen to your last sentence.

  2. JM

    October 09, 2013 09:34 AM

    I saw him pitch in the fall and thought he was very much a #1. no, I’m lieing, I have never seen him, or any of the others you scout. Thanks for the posts that you write, otherwise this poor Phillies fan in Texas would never know what was coming up from the farm!!

  3. bubba0101

    October 09, 2013 10:54 AM

    Is it out of the realm of possibility that he improves his change up, pacing, and pitch sequencing and moves back up to that #3? If so, what are these chances? How can a good catcher like chooch improve pacing and pitch sequencing also?

  4. Eric Longenhagen

    October 09, 2013 11:02 AM

    The two big things that need to come are the command and the changeup. All of the other stuff is likely to come with age and experience.

    What are the chances he becomes a #3 starter or better?

    15.657%

  5. LTG

    October 09, 2013 11:23 AM

    That number looks oddly precise… ;)

  6. Eric Longenhagen

    October 09, 2013 11:27 AM

    Yeah, it’s just hard to figure this stuff out. There’s a small chance everything clicks and he’s a 3, there’s a non-zero chance he exceeds his perceived ceiling by some miracle of coaching or otherwise, there’s a chance he breaks and is never heard from again. My assessment of the most likely outcome is: Fourth Starter.

  7. bubba0101

    October 09, 2013 11:49 AM

    What’s the standard error of that number?

  8. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 09, 2013 11:50 AM

    Although there’s a small chance that everything clicks for any given prospect, weird things happen all the time with prospect projections. Look at Trevor Bauer and Patrick Corbin. Bauer was the blue chip prospect in the D-backs system, and he’s struggled. Corbin had a projection very similar to Biddle’s and he came out of nowhere to make the All Star team this year. Again, I’m not saying that lightning will strike Biddle, just that lightning exists, and it has to strike somewhere. It also helps to be left handed, and Biddle has that in his favor!

  9. joecatz

    October 09, 2013 12:11 PM

    Eric,

    You’re a scout for the phillies. ruben calls you and says theres a deal on the table for a high end RH OF bat, but they want Biddle in the deal.

    What do you say to him?

  10. joecatz

    October 09, 2013 12:15 PM

    maybe a better way to ask the question is this:

    Do you think Biddle, based on his pedigree as a number one pick, and prospect ranking has more percieved value to another team than actual future on field value to the Phillies this offseason?

  11. Eric Longenhagen

    October 09, 2013 12:56 PM

    After a full season in the minors, draft pick status is almost meaningless. Teams know what Jesse Biddle is, just like they all knew what Mike Trout was after the first 3 months of his pro career even though they were both drafted in the 20s.

    His value is might vary some from org to org based on the reports they get from their scouts, but where he was drafted and where Klaw, Jason or I rank someone in the organization has no bearing on their opinion on the player.

  12. nik

    October 09, 2013 02:12 PM

    I would disagree that draft status has no bearing. Lots of guys get extra rope that their lower drafted counterparts don’t due strictly to their draft status. Its part of a player’s ‘pedigree’ tends to stick with prospects for a while.

  13. pedro3131

    October 09, 2013 04:01 PM

    Whooping cough? Did he try to navigate the perils of the Oregon trail or something?

  14. Eric Longenhagen

    October 09, 2013 04:12 PM

    Technically it’s called “pertussis” for which there’s a vaccine. In fact, in the last five years or so the pertussis vaccine has just been added into your standard, once a decade tetanus shot. I know because my doctor told me to “come in and get your tetanus shot with the pertussis update, you pussy.” And I did, despite my extreme distate for needles.

  15. MattWinks

    October 09, 2013 07:50 PM

    So in general we only inoculate our children against pertussis, but that vaccine is only protection for about 10 years. We used to stop giving adults the booster because if all the children are free of it, it won’t spread. For many of us we do get a booster if we go to college or interact with children but many do not.

    The rise in idiots refusing to vaccinate their children because of bogus claims have let these diseases rise up again. This has led to adults getting these formerly rare diseases and having these vaccine booster added back into the adult vaccine cycle (the reason you wouldn’t vaccinate your adult population is because the vaccines aren’t free and you want to make sure you can protect the vulnerable)

  16. LTG

    October 09, 2013 08:55 PM

    Forced inoculations!

    (I’m only half kidding.)

  17. Chris

    October 09, 2013 10:13 PM

    Excellent Article Eric! Hope he figures it out. Would sure be nice to have him contribute at the Major League Level.

  18. Matt

    October 10, 2013 02:04 AM

    I think it is the job of this website to undervalue every person in the Philly organization not named Chase Utley. It keeps us grounded and from having our over-eager hopes from getting squashed. To save all the time and effort, here is a summary of every future post on this site about minor leaguers: X prospect is not as good as we hope they will be. X is at best a ________ (fill in blank with “Servicable starter” or “bench/role player”).
    And that includes Maikel Franco.
    Now we can all sleep at night without worrying that we might be over-hyping anybody.

  19. hk

    October 10, 2013 06:08 AM

    Eric L,

    Matt’s right. Please tell us what we want to hear about how great the Phillies’ prospects are, not your real opinions.

  20. Bill Baer

    October 10, 2013 07:36 AM

    FWIW I don’t think you’ll find anyone who knows even the bare minimum about the Phillies’ Minor League system saying Biddle is anything better than a mid-rotation starter. So it’s not even that Eric is being more pessimistic than another Phillies-centric or a prospect-focused writer might be.

  21. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 10, 2013 08:06 AM

    I think part of the reaction is the lack of clear definition as to what he means by “ceiling of a #3 starter”. The quality of a #3 starter varies according the the quality of the rotation. So someone like Randy Wolf, who seems like a prototypical #3 to me, was a #1 or #2 starter for some not-very-good Phillies teams circa 2001-2004.

    The way I look at it is: would I be happy if Jesse Biddle turned out to have a Randy Wolf-type career: a reliable 200 innings a season, an ERA below 4 in his best years, maybe one season where he runs up a bunch of wins and makes an All Star team? I’d say that would be a terrific outcome. And if the Phillies can get the best of those seasons at a bargain rate, so much the better.

  22. MattWinks

    October 10, 2013 08:25 AM

    I have to agree with Bill here, I actually read Eric’s piece as more optimistic that many things out there on Biddle.

    Adding on to the #3 starter discussion, most teams “#1 starter” is a #3 starter. A #3 starter is an above average major league starter. Guys who you would call #3 starters include CJ Wilson, Lance Lynn, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Samardzija, Justin Masterson, Ervin Santana, Kyle Lohse, and John Lackey. On the open market that guys is worth probably 12-15 million a year depending on his past track record. That is incredibly valuable and should be lauded.

  23. Tim

    October 10, 2013 09:39 PM

    I had whooping cough a few years back, and, as you might expect, it affects you the most when you’re exerting yourself. I could see how it might affect the command of a pitcher, and even linger longer than you think it might. I can only guess what my ceiling as a major leaguer might have been if I had never contracted it.

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