I'm not gonna lie, Pat Neshek holds a special place in our hearts here at TheBatShatters. Quite some time back when he was rehabbing from TJ surgery, he was kind enough to give us an e-interview in which he described Ron Gardenhire as "santa claus." He's a class guy, he grew up in my hometown and he's a fellow memorabilia collector. All that said, I think this could be the year that he's truly valuable for the Twins, if he can be effective once again.
In 2007 Neshek had a fantastic season giving the Twins 70+ solid innings out of the bullpen pitching to a 2.94ERA and 1.00WHIP. In early 2008, he went down with a torn ligament in his elbow which the Twins medical staff COMPLETELY mishandled. At first they said that surgery was unnecessary and that he would try to rehab it over time. Then after the conclusion of the 2008 season, they decided he needed Tommy John surgery, a full 6-months after he originally went on the DL with the injury. Because of that delay in making the decision to have surgery, Neshek ended up missing almost 2 full seasons rehabbing.
Neshek started the 2010 season with the big-league ball club, but was put on the DL with a hand-injury on April 15th. There was initially a lot of anger from the Neshek camp as he felt he had, once again, been mishandled by the Twins medical staff. He angered Gardy when he publicly criticized the Twins which was the most likely reason he was not called back up until September. Bottom-line, Neshek didn't pitch very well in 2010, but was showing signs of improvement in 30 games at Triple-A. In the minors, he pitched to a 4.35ERA in 32 games, and had a 5.00ERA in 9 innings with the Major League club.
I guess my reasons for having optimism about Neshek this year are completely speculative in nature. The main reason I think he will be effective is because it's been 2+ full years since his surgery and he was showing good signs towards the end of the year last year, particularly in Triple-A. If you look at Francisco Liriano as an example, he struggled for a couple of seasons following TJ surgery until finally settling back into a groove in 2010. The pitch speed numbers on Neshek aren't nearly as encouraging however. He barely used his fastball last year and it wasn't even close to the 94-96 he was hitting pre-surgery. In fact, his fastball last year was closer in speed to his slider (86-89 mph). Unless he can regain some of that speed, he's going to be a) hittable and b) wild (walked 8 in 9.0 innings in Sept. 2010). This is evidenced by his O-Swing% and Z-Swing% as shown in the chart below.
|Many Thanks, once again, to FanGraphs.com|
Prior to surgery, batters were only making contact with pitches out of the zone about 50% of the time; post-surgery, that percentage went up to 70%. On pitches in the strike-zone, batters were making contact about 77-78% of the time, and post surgery they were making contact over 90% of the time. Neshek had a much easier time fooling batters pre-surgery and because of that drop in velocity, he's having (or was having) a much more difficult time.
At 30 years old, Neshek is creeping up there in age, but when he was going good a few years ago, he was nearly unhittable. His slider, which is good in and of itself, it made more deadly by a wicked sidearm delivery that must look very odd when you're the hitter. I think if he has gained even 1-2mph on that fastball, he can return to being an effective pitcher. If he can be effective, he could be an integral part of the Twins this year as they will be struggling to fill bullpen slots right out of the gate.