Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Myth of Eddie Kunz

When Eddie Kunz was drafted by the Mets in June of 2007, the story was already written.

Aaron Heilman, despite his good statistics, blew it in 2006 and was not a reliable big-inning pitcher. Chad Bradford had departed for Baltimore. Pedro Feliciano was a lefty specialist. And most importantly, Duaner Sanchez had been lost in that ridiculous cab accident.

With Billy Wagner's contract set to expire in 2009, Kunz would be ready to inherit the role just as Wagner left. So when the Mets drafted Kunz, it was convenient - it was perfect - to anoint him as the closer of the future.

However, reality did not (and never will) bend to fit within some preconcieved storyline. Marty Noble over at recently took a look at Kunz and discussed his lack of progress:
But since Kunz became a professional, games beyond the season's first have been challenging in the same way, as the movement that should be his ally becomes an enemy. Walks have become too much a constant. He pitched 61 innings in 40 appearances with the Mets' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate last season. He struck out 38 batters, about what would be expected from a ground-ball pitcher. But he also walked 31, a total that would be expected from Nolan Ryan as a high school freshman.

* * *

The Mets patiently wait for Kunz. They know what they saw in 2008, when he saved 27 games for their Double-A Binghamton team. They saw enough then to summon him to the big leagues for an under-fire test after their bullpen had disintegrated. Kunz might have taken the eighth-inning job then had he distinguished himself. But his four appearances (2 2/3 innings) produced a 13.50 ERA that stains his numerical resume.

* * *

"It hasn't come as quick as I would have liked," he said Wednesday. "But I'm learning. I'm getting better. Each year I get more comfortable and more confident."

The article ends optimistically, but truth be told, there is not much reason to believe that Kunz can ever develop into an impact player.

According to fangraphs, his fastball, which he throws over 90% of the time, rings in at almost 93 miles per hour. That's about it for the good, however.

In addition to being a one pitch pitcher, he just hasn't been successful in the minor leagues. After a decent season in AA back in 2008, when he posted a 2.79 ERA despite a 1.32 WHIP and mediocre peripherals, he was beat up in AAA last year[1].

Last year's performance in AAA was disheartening to say the least. He put up a 5.02 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, striking out 38 batters and walking 31 in only 61 innings. A deeper look into the numbers provides more of the same.

He posted a good but not great ground ball rate in AAA, inducing ground balls 60.8% of the time[2]. He may have a been a little unlucky in that he allowed a home run on 21% of his fly balls, but was aided by a very low .258 BABIP. His FIP was 5.28, but once again, the far most disconcerting statistic is his 4.48 walks per nine innings.

If there is any silver lining to the Kunz situation, it might be his performance against right handed batters. In 162 plate appearances last season, Kunz held righties to a .191 batting average against and induced 11 double plays.

I don't want to seem all doom and gloom on this, or make it sound like I don't think there is no chance of Kunz becoming a productive member of the Mets bullpen - but the odds are stacked heavily against it.

The fact of the matter is that the Mets selected a college reliever in the first round of the MLB draft because they NEEDED a reliever and they thought that with his heavy ground ball, that he might be ready to contribute sooner rather than later. College relievers are generally bad bets, and ones with mediocre college walk and strikeout rates are even worse[3].

I hope that Kunz can either a) add a second pitch or b) lower the walk rate, because without either one (or perhaps both) he'll never make it in the major leagues. He was never as bright a prospect as he was made out to be, but hopefully one day he can shine in Queens nonetheless[4].

[1] I realize that a groundballer will get by with a higher WHIP than a strikeout pitcher.

[2] Thanks as always to

[3] To contrast, Drew Storen, selected in the first round by the Nationals last year, is an excellent prospect. In his age 21 season at Stanford, he posted a BB-K ratio of 8-66, with a WHIP of 0.98. This in contrast to Kunz, who posted a BB-K of 18-37 and a WHIP of 1.06. Storen is undoubtedly the better prospect and was drafted earlier in the first round, but he is the rare kind of college reliever that a team might want.

[4] And let's also hope that his unfair hype isn't held against him. To get a productive reliever who can induce ground balls is useful - even with a draft pick at the end of the first round. He will be what he will be, regardless of what the hype machine has to say about it.

1 comment:

James Esatto said...

The few times I've had the opportunity to see Kunz pitch there were two things that struck me almost instantly.

1. His fastball had no life on it. Sure it had some velocity but lacked movement and just seemed to drift toward the plate. It is hard to describe, but it just almost seemed slower than it actually was.

2. He almost never hits the catcher's glove. He doesn't always miss outside the zone either, he leaves a lot of pitches right over the heart of the plate.

These are both big problems and I wouldn't be optimistic about him fixing either at this point.