2013 Phillies Report Card: Jake Diekman
One of the interesting things about the draft is how quickly returns diminish. You hope to get a major league regular in the first round or two, but once you get around to, say, picking guys from Nebraska junior colleges in the 30th round, any positive major league contribution counts as shooting the moon.
Some years ago, I described Chad Durbin as being like a Manhattanite without a car or a bus pass–walks everywhere. As a rookie, Diekman walked 6.6 men per 9 innings. That that’s a terrible walk rate. If, like Diekman, you’re left-handed, tall and throw a mid-to-upper 90s from a low arm slot, you can get away with walking a few guys. J.C. Romero, remember, was pretty darn good for a while, and he couldn’t find the strike zone with a bloodhound and a map.
Anyway, Diekman had the makings of an unhittable lefty specialist last year–the fastball looking like it’s coming from behind the batter, plus a hard slider–and indeed, he post a K/9 of 11.5. But even a LOOGY is less useful if you can’t bring him in for fear of him walking, say, Bryce Harper with the game on the line. The question for Diekman going into 2013 was whether he could keep his walks under control.
And he did. Setting aside the caveat that 38 1/3 major league innings isn’t much better than zero major league innings when drawing significant conclusions about a pitcher, Diekman had as much of a breakout season as a lefty specialist can have, with marginal increases in whiff percentage, strike percentage, swing percentage and fastball velocity turning him into a reliable late-inning option. For comparison: in 2013, Diekman had a K% of 25.0 and a BB% of 9.8. Antonio Bastardo, by comparison: 26.3% and 11.7%. Not too shabby.
What’s more, Diekman did his part against same-handed batters (more on this in a second), but he wasn’t too bad against righties either. In the salad days of J.C. Romero, the three best right-handed hitters in the game were Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and whoever was facing Romero. Not so with Diekman this year. Righties hit .298/.372/.393 against Diekman, which means they hit very well, but didn’t have that much power. That’s not a good line, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not so bad that they couldn’t leave him in to face a Braves 3-4-5 of Heyward, Upton and Freeman.
Now, to answer the immortal question–what’s his ERA against lefties? In 69 PA this year (so caveats, caveats, caveats), left-handed hitters hit .148/.221/.148 against Diekman. That’s right, 69 PA, 54 outs (actually, 56 if you count the two double plays induced), zero extra-base hits. That’s enough to make a good man chuckle maniacally. You have to be pleased with what Diekman’s done, and you have to assume he’ll be in contention for high-leverage bullpen innings next season.
My Grade: A