Monday, June 13, 2011

Felipe Paulino OffTo A Surprising Start

Unless you were a fan of the Royals or Rockies, the news that the Royals had traded setup man Robinson Tejeda to the Rockies for reliever Felipe Paulino probably fell off your radar. That's reasonable given that Tejeda has spent essentially the entirety of 2011 either ineffective or on the disabled list. Still, that the Royals were willing to part with someone who provided 2.1 WAR out of the bullpen the past two seasons came as a bit of a surprise to me. That they were willing to give him up for someone with a career 5.53 ERA perhaps was more surprising still.

Paulino however, was an extremely interesting acquisition. A live arm who has averaged 95.4mph with his fastball since reaching the Majors at 24 years old back in 2007 with the Astros, he pairs that exceptional heat with a very good slider, a curve and a change. Beyond the raw stuff, he's posted solid peripherals, with a career K rate of 8.00 and a GB rate just shy of 45%. However like many power pitchers, he's struggled with his command, walking 3.73 per nine innings. In all, that's a solid package of raw stuff and strong rate metrics.

Unfortunately for Paulino, it hadn't translated to the field.

That's likely the result of some of the worst luck a pitcher with 220+ inning under his belt could experience. With a career BABIP against of .338, and a LOB rate of just 63.7%, Paulino has been massively unlucky.

In this case, the Royals were likely hoping that by acquiring Paulino, they could be adding a potential impact arm at the cost of nothing more than a struggling reliever who had long since lost his role to youngsters Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Greg Holland, and Louis Coleman.

So far, so good.

While Paulino made his first appearance for the Royals following his acquisition out of the bullpen, he's since moved to the rotation, and thrived. In his four appearances for the team he's logged 21 innings, allowing 15 hits, and 4 walks while striking out 16. That 4-1 K/BB ratio, combined with his 60.1% ground ball rate since arriving in Kansas City has earned him a 1.29 ERA since joining the tea, and turned some heads.

To be clear, I don't expect Paulino to maintain the role he's on. He's been buoyed by some good luck and ground ball/walk rates that don't mesh with his career track record. But he is a talented arm, and has the ability to miss enough bats, while getting enough ground balls to be a capable member of a Major League rotation, or potentially a dominant member of a bullpen.

For a much maligned GM like Dayton Moore, who has made some absolutely bone-headed decisions during his tenure at the helm of the team, this move looks like a potentially very good one. Not because Paulino is likely to be a dominant pitcher who can maintain his current level of success, but simply because he did precisely what any good GM is supposed to do. He found an undervalued asset, and acquired it at a bargain price.

Well played.

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