Mariners Trade for Pair of Fun Relievers

The Mariners pulled off the first and second trades of the of post-non-waiver trade deadline. Both deals included Seattle shipping players to be named later in exchange for former Pirates right-hander Arquimedes Caminero and former Toronto switch-pitcher (you read that right) Pat Venditte. What this means is that the Mariners and Pirates/Blue Jays agreed to a list of players in which the latter teams can choose from to ultimately be the players traded. This gives the deciding team more time to: 1) Give them more time to figure out their own roster issues. 2) Give them extra time to scout the crap out of the players on the agreed upon list. Often times, these players turn out to be nobodies. More rarely, they turn out to be David Ortiz.

Typically, trades in which the Mariners trade for relievers turn out to be the least of my interest. In what has lately become something of a cliche, relievers are largely unpredictable and volatile. More than any other position in baseball, relievers have the largest amount of disparity and variation from extremely bad to extremely good (and vice versa). We’ve seen this plenty of times with relievers on our teams, as well on other baseball teams. Current Mariners Drew Storen and Tom Wilhelmsen are perfect examples. Once stud closers, they have both bounced around in different roles on different teams due to their struggles and inconsistency.

Luckily, these trades are different than the others. And not like how your ex told you you’re different than other guys/girls.Pat Venditte is capable of pitching with both of his arms. Some pitchers aren’t even capable of pitching with one of their arms. Arquimedes Caminero? Well, first of all, his name is Arquimedes. Second off, and more importantly, Caminero is a bad motherf*cker. He throws a fastball that averages 98.44 mph, and he’s reached as high as 103 mph on the gun. So, yeah, these guys are fun. Let’s get into it.

Since his MLB debut, Caminero has enjoyed an incremental rise in pitch velocity with every single one of his pitches. His fastball originally sat at 96 mph. Now, it’s generally in the 99-100 mph area. Caminero credits this rise in velocity to a combination of subtle mechanical changes in his delivery with the Pirates, as well as a boost in confidence in his pitches.

Caminero complements his blazing fastball with a sinker/two-seam and a cutter, as well as a splitter. He also has a slider, but it accounts for a mere 1.3% of his career pitches. He used to throw it early on in his career, but clearly felt it wasn’t a good or necessary pitch. Conversely, he used to not throw a sinker, and then almost exactly a year ago decided to mix one in, becoming one of his most used pitches.

You’ll see with pitchers such as Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, beloved Mariners (or maybe not), that they are at their best with an effective fastball. With said effective fastball, they’re able to use their changes to play off of it. (Felix throws a circle change, while Taijuan throws a changeup with more of a split-finger grip.) To batters, a circle change will look like a fastball, and then the bottom falls out of it while the hitter hopelessly swings over it, causing the hitter to look confusedly at the mound and then turn around and hang his head on his way to the dugout. This is likely one of the causes of Felix’s struggles, but that’s another article for another time. This is how Arquimedes Caminero can be his best, in his own way. (I’m never going to get tired of typing that name.) Using his splitter as his own version of Felix’s circle change, or Walker’s split-finger grip change.

But first comes fastball command. If you can’t throw a fastball for a strike, then you won’t be able to do much as a pitcher. Even as a reliever! Despite Caminero’s ridiculous velocity on his fastball, he has gotten a grotesque 8% whiff percentage on it this year. In 2013, Caminero threw his four-seam fastball 71% of the time. In 2016, he throws it just 46% of the time. Why? Because it’s been bad. In terms of slugging percentage, his four-seam fastball has been his worst pitch, always.

Caminero should be a fun reclamation project. He’s 29 years old, so he’s still youngish. If he can throw his fastball for strikes, which he has struggled with, then he can be a very dangerous pitcher. His splitter is a dangerous pitch, and his fastball should be a dangerous pitch, so there’s a disconnect somewhere. The Mariners will try to see if they can succeed where the Pirates and Marlins failed with him. Otherwise, this will just be another big arm who failed with command issues.

Pat Venditte is in many ways the anti-Arquimedes Caminero. For one, his name is Pat, and Caminero’s name is Arquimedes. Second, Caminero is a gigantic human being (6’4, 250) while Venditte is much more human-sized (6’1, 180). As stated previously, Caminero can only throw with one hand, while Venditte can throw with two. Technically, Caminero can probably throw with two, but he’s presumably very very bad with one of those hands, so the Mariners will likely elect to never ever have Caminero rhrow with his left hand in a major league game. Let’s hope that the aforementioned “very bad” hand is not his right hand, also known as his throwing hand.

It’s very common in baseball for switch-hitters to take a little longer to come up through the farm system. Similarly, switch-hitters sometimes take a little longer in the season to heat up, or shake the rust off. At least that’s what they say. With Venditte, the Yankees took their sweet, sweet time bringing him up through their system. So much time that Venditte actually never pitched in the major leagues for them, despite spending 2008-2014 with them.

In any given at-bat, Venditte theoretically has the upper hand, because he will throw right-handed to right-handed hitters, and left-handed to left-handed hitters. With this statement comes a couple caveats.

  1. Pat Venditte maxes out at 87 mph as a righty, and mid-80s as a lefty.
  2. The Pat Venditte Rule forces Venditte to indicate which hand he wants to throw with, and then the batter may choose which side he will hit from.
  3. Venditte can throw with both arms, meaning *theoretically* he could throw a reliever’s games worth with both of his arms. He’s two-in-one!

The first of those three caveats may have surprised you. Pat Venditte, if you’re wanting to make a sexist statement, throws like a girl. Or Jamie Moyer, rather, if you’re not an ass.  This means that Venditte must compensate his lack of velocity with superior command, deceptiveness, craftiness, pitch sequencing, or all of the above.

In the minor leagues, Venditte was able to do all of this. In terms of command, Venditte kept his BB/9 around 3.30 or lower and had good strikeout rates. To cause deceptiveness Venditte throws sidearm with arm action “almost parallel to the ground.” When it comes to pitch sequencing and craftiness my guess is as good as yours, but the point is he had a lot of success in the minors as the major that he is mostly is now. Venditte is a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) and a ROOGY (Righty One-Out Guy) which are really freakin’ handy when you really need to get a guy out. (Think of a young Charlie Furbush, or George Sherrill.) But what about his stuff?

What’s the most interesting thing, to me, about switch-hitters and switch-pitchers is their ability to be repeatable from either side of the plate. It may seem weird, but just being able to look the same from different sides is, well, impressive. For pitchers, it’s much more necessary. Being able to throw out of even relatively the same arm slot on both sides is tricky stuff. It looks like Venditte is able to do that.

He throws a “slurvey curveball” from both sides that clocks in in the low 70s. From the same arm angle! That’s his out pitch, and he throws it a lot (somewhere between 53-63% of the time). Otherwise, he throws his fastball. He’ll throw his changeup pretty much never. His limited pitch repertoire pretty much halts any talks of him starting a baseball game immediately.

If I had to guess, Venditte probably never becomes a great relief pitcher. With Caminero, there’s still uncertainty, but as a betting man I would put a lot more money on him. If I played baseball, I would not be a betting man. As a non-baseball player, I am yet again not a betting man. Venditte is more fun because of the novelty of him being a switch-pitcher. Caminero is fun because he throws really really hard and he has a nasty pitch to complement it.

When Venditte burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, a young Michael (yes, me) drooled at the prospect of Venditte eventually pitching for the Mariners and being the nastiest, funnest (it’s a word) pitcher ever. Now, 2016, Venditte is 31, Michael is nearing 22, and his ceiling is a lot lower, making my current-day fantasies a lot more lackluster. But here he is, a Mariner! If I could write a letter to mid-2000s Michael, I’d probably write something like hey, you there, go outside, the Mariners suck, and Pat Venditte might! – 2016 Michael.

Caminero will instantly slot into the Mariners’ pen, and Venditte will start his everlasting journey in AAA. The Mariners traded for Caminero because the fastball is sexy. The Mariners traded for Venditte because look what he can do with both hands.

Let’s have some fun guys.

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