Beware of any eyeball scout who literally has defective eyeballs. Did you know that you can get an ulcer in your eyeball? Who knew that watching the A's bullpen was so stressful? Apparently bacteria can sneak under a contact lens, an infection can lead to an ulcer, and voila: antibiotic eyedrops and no contact lenses for two weeks.
Here's the problem. When you don't wear your glasses except first thing in the morning, you tend to get a bit lazy about keeping the prescription updated. Having last gotten a new pair just in time to go vote for Thomas Jefferson, last week I pretty much flunked my eye exam while wearing my glasses.
"What's the lowest line you can read on the chart?"
"There's a chart?"
However, just as Angel Hernandez can rule on check swings by carefully monitoring the sound of the bat, the Eyeball Scout can analyze a blurry Chris Bassitt, two Fernando Rodrigui, and a general sense of Billy Butler.
No doubt, Bassitt acquitted himself well in two spot starts, giving the A's a chance to win each time (as well as apparently a chance to lose, since they did). He also impressed by hitting 95-97MPH on the gun a few times. On the surface, his fastball -- lacking neither velocity nor movement -- big curve, sneaky slider, and changeup seem like a winning arsenal.
The Eyeball Scout was not quite as sanguine, however. Bassitt is truly all over the place with his fastball, so much so that he often misses location so badly that he accidentally throws a good pitch, which may obscure the fact that he missed his spot by two feet.
An example was yesterday when he got ahead of Nelson Cruz 0-2 and Josh Phegley set up low and away. Bassitt's fastball drifted so far up and in that Cruz jammed himself with the swing, hitting a routine fly ball to LF. Missing location so much that you back into a good pitch is a tough way to make a living, and some of the times Bassitt missed his spots did not end so happily -- such as Seth Smith's two-run single that decided the game.
As for Bassitt's curve, it is impressive when it is down but when left up at all it becomes a pitch batters can time and can mash. Charlie Blackmon can tell you more about that, but the bottom line is that Bassitt has not shown the ability to consistently locate his curve and as a result it is not a safe pitch for him. It is very similar to the problem Evan Scribner has had: a big curve that appears to be a good pitch until it lands belt high and the batter hits it into the gap.
Bassitt's changeup is nothing special, and because his curve betrays him so often he is relegated to relying heavily on two pitches: an excellent fastball he cannot consistently command and a quality slider. When he becomes a two-pitch pitcher with command that comes and goes, Bassitt is in fact a lot like Drew Pomeranz. And like Pomeranz, I tend to think Bassitt can be an ok starting pitcher or an impact reliever.
I understand the A's not giving up on Bassitt as a SP, because if he can gain consistency with the curve and improve his changeup just a little, then he has a chance to be a good SP. I still find myself more keen on the idea of Doolittle, in 2016, being flanked by Pomeranz and Bassitt as "anywhere from one out to 2 IP" power relievers, and if any organization will have the depth and quality to put not one but two possible SPs in the bullpen it's the A's.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and laud what Bassitt accomplished this week, especially his first start when he flew across the county on a moment's notice and pitched well on 3-days rest. I just think the results may have exceeded the process, and that the lack of consistent location with the fastball and curve could prove to be his undoing over time. Plenty still to work on at Nashville.
I am really liking what I'm seeing from Rodriguez. When he first came up, he was a "high fastball, period" pitcher who had remarkable success considering he threw basically one pitch in one location. That was never going to last, but it's worth noting that batters seem to have an awfully tough time seeing the fastball out of his hand.
Some pitchers, like our own Sean Doolittle and the Mariners' Chris Young, have deliveries or arm slots that hide or deliver the ball in a deceptive way. Rodriguez appears to have some of that going, as if from the batter's point of view the fastball disappears, then reappears already in on them.
What has me encouraged, though, is the development of a curve and changeup that have been more than serviceable. They may not be consistently great, but each has had moments of being truly impressive and Rodriguez is mixing up his pitches more and more to where he is no longer a pitcher with whom batters can "sit dead red".
Most of the A's relievers have in common that the best season they will ever have in the big leagues is one they already had. This is true of Eric O'Flaherty, Fernando Abad, Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, Edward Mujica...Rodriguez, though, might be getting better. If there were one reliever I would not give up on and let go, it's Rodriguez, as I could see him being in the "high leverage mix of a good bullpen" in 2016.
As nightmarish as the 2015 bullpen has been, ponder this for a moment: Doolittle, Bassitt, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, Venditte, perhaps R.J. Alvarez (please don't be broken) and maybe a restored Otero or a seasoned Leon. You might have something there.
He is everybody's favorite whipping boy and for some good reason: Butler has disappointed with his .365 slugging percentage, his .302 OBP against RHPs, and his 73 (remember I'm watching with my glasses, your mileage may vary) DPs.
Thing is, I do see some potential in Butler's swing. It is lightning quick through the zone and he "stays inside the ball" exceptionally well. This means he can let the ball get in deep and still spray the ball hard with a cobra-like quick-strike attack through the zone.
So then what has gone wrong for Butler? To me it's two things. One is that he has had a remarkable numbers of balls he "just missed driving" -- those are the balls he fouls back and then looks both surprised and disgusted right after. Turn half of those foul balls into balls in play and the numbers will start to look a whole lot better.
The other problem is pitch selection, as Butler will often take a hittable strike and then swing at a slider down or a fastball running in -- precisely the pitches pitchers are hoping Butler will swing at, particularly in DP situations. This is yielding a lot of the ground balls to the left side, which for one Billy (Burns) is gold but for the other (Butler) is kryptonite.
Here's the approach I would like to see from Butler: concentrate on getting a pitch that is both up and not all the way in on the hands, and when you see a pitch that is both up and "out over the plate" think "alley to alley" and just try to drive it hard. Offspeed pitches will sometimes get pulled, so it's not as if you are giving up on pulling the ball to think "alley to alley". But Butler's best swing is from left-center to right-center, so long as he stays away from pitches down at the knees or busting in on the hands.
When he stays inside the ball, hits pitches that are up and out over the plate, and drives the ball alley to alley, you know who he reminds me of? None other than the great Edgar Martinez. Because his bat is so quick and he stays inside the ball so well, Butler does not have to commit to pitches so early which should allow him to lay off bad balls and draw walks.
If he embraced the approach I'm suggesting, as hard as he hits the ball when he squares it up think I Butler could put up a second half line of around .270/.340/.420, with a truckload of doubles and some HRs scattered both to LF and CF; he certainly still has the raw power to hit the ball out to straightaway CF. So Billy, Eyeball Scouts says: Embrace your inner-Edgar and you can be a quality DH rather than a frustrated, and frustrating, DP-machine.
The next time an optometrist puts an eye chart in front of me, I am going to say, "Recite the chart? Anyone can do that. Let's see if I can pronounce it: "Is it by any chance effpatoz-elped?"