By and large, the switch-pitching Pat Venditte is a feel-good story. He's the kind of player you adopt as a fan favorite and act like you want him on the team, until you start worrying about the standings and admit that "No, he's probably not one of the best 25 choices -- it's just that he's soooooo cool!"
I have never seen Venditte pitch, so all I have to go on at the moment are his pedigree (meh, a 29 year old 20th round pick yet to pitch above AAA) and his minor league stats (pretty darn good, actually), and when I actually watch him throw to hitters I will have a better sense of how often I think he can get big leaguers out.
What I have seen, however, is the changing landscape of the A's roster and depth chart, and as I sit here on January 25th I have to say that I think Venditte could be a great fit for the team that breaks camp to lose on Opening Night (it's just what we do) April 6th.
Still to be determined, of course, is whether or not Oakland adds an infielder, such as the recently showcased Hector Olivera, or an outfielder, such as one of the many Red Sox outfielders with nowhere to play. Recently determined, unfortunately, is that closer Sean Doolittle will open the season on the DL. Enter Venditte, not as a closer but as a perfect piece at the back of the revamped bullpen.
As far as who he could emerge to be, as an unheralded, unwanted trick pitcher his ceiling is probably Chad Bradford -- this wouldn't be the first time the A's struck gold in this way. His floor? Pick any terrible pitcher who throws with either hand. Quite a range.
Statistically, Venditte has earned a chance to prove himself one way or the other. At AAA last season, in 56+ IP he struck out 53 and walked only 17. For his 7 year minor league career, in 385 IP Venditte has struck out 431 against 103 walks, surrendering just 21 HRs. "Gimmicky" and "good" are not mutually exclusive and just based on the numbers it is not a stretch to think that Venditte could have some success in the big leagues if given an opportunity.
Now let's look at the A's roster. Currently Oakland's options are hamstrung by players who don't have one. Sam Fuld cannot be sent to AAA, nor can Rule 5 pick Mark Canha. Wouldn't it be great if the A's could get by with a 6-man bullpen? How about a 6-man bullpen with 7 arms?
The reality is this: The relievers who slot in behind your best 5 relievers is going to pitch largely in low leverage situations. That doesn't mean you are indifferent to putting your best choice out there; it does mean that the stakes for gambling and guessing wrong are not exceptionally high.
With Doolittle out, the A's will be relying heavily on Tyler Clippard, Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, Eric O'Flaherty, and Fernando Abad. R. J. Alvarez has options and can begin the season at AAA if he does not beat one of those 5 out for a spot and all 5 are healthy. Add Venditte to the mix as a long reliever -- make that really two long relievers -- and you have a bullpen that has a lot of quality as well as the quantity needed to eat up innings when needed.
Venditte could literally throw 4 innings right-handed in long relief and still serve as a LOOGY the next day. It's a 7-arm bullpen no matter how you slice it. And with 5 good relievers in front of him on the depth chart, there is minimal risk of disaster should Venditte prove to be an ineffective pitcher. It's a pretty free trial to see what you might have in this intriguing pitcher.
Moreover, in consolidating your 7 arms into 6 roster spots you have opened up an extra spot for a position player. That could allow the A's to keep both Fuld and Canha even if the A's add another OFer. Or it could enable Oakland to add a third catcher to the roster along with Fuld and Canha, giving Bob Melvin much more flexibility to pinch-hit or pinch-run for Josh Phegley, to hit Phegley for Vogt against a LHP reliever, and so on.
In general I'm not a fan of 6-man bullpens because they usually mean going without a long reliever, which can exhaust a bullpen for days each time a SP goes short. But a 6-man bullpen that has 7 arms? Count me in. Especially when it allows the A's so much more flexibility via a 14th position player on a platoon-heavy roster.
That 14th player -- Fuld, Canha, a third catcher -- is very likely to impact the team more than "How good is Oakland's 7th best reliever?" The quality of your 7th best relief arm, against the quality of your other options for your 7th relief arm? it's not going to be that different. So when in doubt, take the extra hand! It comes with a whole extra body that is out of options and might be worth keeping.