From A Land Down Under

Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals
(John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals bullpen gave up their first run in over 41 innings(41.2 innings to be exact) and unfortunately the man who gave up that run is a veteran who has had a nice season in Kansas City, Peter Moylan (although if you want to pin some of it on catcher Drew Butera, you probably wouldn’t get an argument from me). Moylan, in his age 37 season, has thrown 31 innings for the Royals, striking out 7.76 per 9 innings, posting an ERA of 3.73, a FIP of 3.69 and continuing to induce ground balls at a high rate, 62.2% so far in 2016(61.7% average over his career). Those numbers might not jump out at you, but when you consider what all he has been through in his career, it is a major achievement that he is currently pitching in the big leagues. In fact, Peter Moylan’s story might be one of my favorite baseball stories ever.

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Moylan’s baseball journey began back in 1996, when he was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. Moylan struggled for a few years in Minnesota’s farm system(Low A Ball) before they released him in 1998. Moylan left baseball, returning to Australia and becoming a pharmaceutical salesman. Yes, you read that correctly. Two back surgeries later, he was back in baseball, coaching in Australia and playing the occasional first base. The team eventually was short on pitching and threw Moylan on the mound. Back in the 90’s, Moylan threw the ball over the top. He decided to try something different:

“We were getting short on pitching and I started messing around with a sidearm delivery out in the outfield one day,” Moylan said. “When I threw sidearm, it didn’t hurt my back. Next thing I know, our pitching coach tells me I’m throwing 94 on the gun.”

Moylan was given the chance to pitch on the Australian team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He struck out major leaguers Bobby Abreu, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Magglio Ordonez. A pitcher throwing sidearm in the mid-90’s caught many a team’s attention:

“Next thing I know, teams are all over me. Three made really good offers: the Braves, the Red Sox and the Royals,” Moylan said. “I signed with the Braves so I could go to Disney World.”

Moylan made the fast track to the majors and was on Atlanta’s 25 man roster by April 11 of that year. He shuttled back and forth between the majors and AAA in his rookie campaign, throwing 14 innings, striking out 8. 40 per 9 and a FIP of 3.15 in the big leagues. Moylan was 27 years old.

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Moylan became a big part of the Braves bullpen in 2007, and over the next two seasons would post some great numbers: 1.79 ERA, 244 ERA+, 4.02 FIP and a WHIP of 1.066 in 95 innings. Unfortunately, Moylan would land on the disabled list in May of 2008, and would have the first of two dreaded Tommy John surgeries. He would return in 2009 and re-assert himself into Atlanta’s pen, and would put up some good numbers over the next four seasons: 2.88 ERA, 140 ERA+, striking out 7.5 per 9 over 150 innings. Moylan continued to induce ground balls (his lowest ground ball % was 56.3 in 2012) but also dealt with a number of injuries. 2011 alone saw him deal with more back issues and near the end of the year he was back on the DL with a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. He would sign with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, but didn’t look like his old self; he would only appear in 14 games for Los Angeles and posted a career low ground ball rate of 28.1%. Moylan would become a free agent at the end of the season and would try to latch on with Houston, before they released him near the end of Spring Training 2014. It appeared that another Tommy John surgery was in Moylan’s future and he would have the procedure done in March of that year. At age 35, Moylan’s career seemed to be on the ropes.

Astros Royals Baseball
(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

The Braves would come knocking again in March of 2015, only this time with a bit of a twist. The team wanted to bring Moylan back into the fold, but as a player/coach in their minor league system. This appeared to be a great opportunity for Moylan to be back in the game without any pressure:

“If I signed with a team, I’m obviously going to try to prove myself immediately,” Moylan said. “I risk getting hurt again. I risk having horrible numbers. Then all of a sudden, they could say, ‘He’s not doing anything, let’s get rid of him’ and my career might be over. This way, I can take my time. The Braves are going to be patient and I’m going to be patient, which is not my strong point. When it’s right, it will be right.”

The fact it was the Braves made it even better for him:

“The Braves have always been kind of like that ex-girlfriend that you always think about,” Moylan said. “I’d always check the Braves’ results and hope that they were doing well. But I can do it for real now and not have to hide it.”

Moylan would put up good numbers in the Braves Triple A affiliate, Gwinnett, posting a 3.14 ERA in 28 innings,  but the best part was that his velocity appeared to be back:

“We’re all pulling for him to get another shot,” pitching coach Marty Reed said. “He’s done everything you could ask of him here. The encouraging thing for me is the last month or so I’ve seen his velocity jump up a little bit. At the beginning of the year he was mostly 88, 89 (mph), sitting right in that area, and he’d pop a 90, 91 here and there on a good night. All of a sudden you go ‘Wow,’ you look at a 91. Now he’s sitting 90, 91 and he’s popping a 93 here and there.”

The hard work paid off and Moylan was back in Atlanta by August. Moylan would only throw 10 innings for the Braves last year, but he had his ground ball rate back up to 69% and in that short span was able to accumulate 0.2 fWAR.

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The Royals would sign Moylan to a minor league contract in January of 2016 with an invite to Spring Training. Thanks to former teammate and current Royals Kris Medlen, Moylan was interested in coming to Kansas City:

“A lot of it had to do with reports from Sir Kris Medlen, in regards to the training staff and how they take care of their guys — the strength guys,” the 37-year-old Moylan says. “Another part of it, for me, was I had a history with (Royals general manager) Dayton Moore. He signed me in Atlanta, and when it came time to make my decision, my agent had spoken to everyone from all the interested clubs, and Dayton was the one who was not just saying, ‘We’ll give you a job,’ but ‘We’d really like you to come here.’ It was nice to feel wanted again. I know it’s an uphill battle to make this ‘pen, let’s be honest, but to feel like you’re going to get a chance to come in and prove you can offer something, was huge for me.”

Moylan struggled to find his release point this spring and wasn’t near a big league job yet, so after opting out of his contract, he re-signed with Kansas City and went to Triple A Omaha. Moylan get the call back to the majors on May 12 and really felt like he had found his groove during that first month of the season:

“I found a comfortable release point for those last few outings of spring,” said Moylan. “I knew that I could go into the season and still do the same sort of thing. And I managed to have a bit of success down there. Next thing you know, I’m here.”

 Moylan started out as an option out of the pen if the game was out of reach or if the Royals needed to go to the pen early. After the injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar in July, Moylan became a bigger part of the bullpen. Since July 31st, Moylan has appeared in 12 games, posting an ERA of 1.35, allowing only one run in 6.2 innings. Moylan has been one of manager Ned Yost’s first calls in pressure situations and has averted many a tight situation over the last month. At 37, Moylan appears to have found a new home in Kansas City.

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Moylan becomes a free agent after the season and will have quite a few options on the market if he decides to leave Kansas City. He might be in his late 30’s, but Moylan is not a pitcher who relies on velocity as much as deception, guile and pitch placement. It’s hard to imagine much of anything stopping him, as he has bounced back from a litany of injuries and keeps coming back. Moylan will never be a star player and won’t get the type of adulation that the top players in the game receive. They can have all the attention in the world; what they won’t have is one of the best damn baseball stories you will ever hear about. Moylan has just that to set his hat on.

 

 

Wednesday Notes-10/24/12

I decided last night to start a regular notes column, most likely on Wednesdays. This way I can take a look at things going on around baseball each week and cover as much ground as possible. So without further ado(and much procrastination), here are your Wednesday notes.

Two perfectly normal relievers…

Tonight is Game One of the 2012 World Series, as the Detroit Tigers will be taking on the San Francisco Giants. Most experts are predicting the Tigers to come out on top, as their pitching has been superb this postseason with a potent offense. Far be it from me to doubt the Cyborg Verlander, but my gut is telling me to not doubt the Giants. They have been the underdogs throughout the playoffs, coming back from the edge of elimination during both the NLDS and the NLCS. They even came back from being down 3-1 against the Cardinals to punch their ticket to the World Series. The only other time it’s happened? The 1985 playoffs by the eventual champion Kansas City Royals. Yes, they did it against the Cardinals that year in the Fall Classic. Game 7 the other night was oddly reminiscent of another Game 7, of that same 1985 World Series. For anyone who doesn’t know, in that game the Cardinals veered off the rails and the Royals routed them in classic fashion. Joaquin Andujar blew a gasket that game, demolishing a toilet in the locker room while Whitey Herzog was ran up by the umpires while his Red Birds choked in epic fashion. I almost expected Andujar to make an appearance Monday night, being carried off the field by Cardinals enabler Mike Matheny. Alas, it didn’t happen but we still got our rout of the Cardinals. Anyway, back to my point, which I lost while reminiscing about the Royals actually winning meaningful games. The Giants have defied the odds all season, so it doesn’t seem right to doubt them now. They have three characteristics that any winning team needs: they know how to win, they are clutch and they have heart. They are also unorthodox, but that isn’t as normal as the other items. This Giants team has pitching, way better defense than the Tigers, and are clutch. So don’t count this Bay Area bunch out just yet. So here goes: my prediction is the Giants in 7.

Storybook Scutaro

Probably the best acquisition before the trade deadline this year is the Giants getting second baseman Marco Scutaro from the Rockies. Scutaro had been traded in the offseason by the Red Sox to Colorado, where he just languished with the under performing Rockies. The Giants needed a middle infielder, and they hit gold with Scutaro. Scutaro caught fire and hit .362 in 61 games for the Giants, solidifying the top of the order after Melky Cabrera was suspended(ie. played the part of a big dummy). Scutaro hasn’t stopped as he is now the MVP of the NLCS and headed to the World Series. All this from a guy who didn’t even make the majors until he was almost 27. He has had to fight his entire career, so this is no different. Scutaro is a guy you cheer for, a guy who has to work twice as hard as everyone else. If you needed another reason to root for the Giants, I just gave you one.

Even in picture I can hear Ozzie cussing.

Yesterday word came down that the Miami Marlins were parting ways with manager Ozzie Guillen after one year. No one should be surprised by this. For one, the Marlins got off to a bad start and never found a real groove. Add in Guillen’s comments about Fidel Castro, less than stellar attendance at their new stadium and his war of words with former closer Heath Bell and it was just a matter of time before Ozzie got the hook. Guillen has always been a very outspoken manager, and this was no different. When Guillen managed the White Sox, I always wondered how his team put up with his show. I mean day after day, it’s Ozzie with permanent diarrhea of the mouth. At some point those players HAVE to just tune him out. Add in owner Jeffrey Loria’s tendency to fire his managers on a whim(just ask Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez about that) and it was just a matter of time until Guillen had his bags thrown out on the lawn. To be perfectly honest, this is the best for the Marlins, and hopefully they make a good hire for manager. I would highly recommend Brad Ausmus, but he doesn’t seem to be interested being in Miami. No matter what, this is a team that needs to rebuild(again) and it might be time for them to hire someone under the radar.

  Boston got their man. John Farrell is the new Red Sox manager, as the team worked out a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays to bring him to Boston. Beantown is not new to Farrell, as he was the pitching coach for years in Boston under former manager Terry Francona. He was well liked in the Boston clubhouse and was a favorite of the players. I think this is great move by Boston and was GM Ben Cherington’s original choice last year, but was outvoted by the Boston owners. Now, the part of this I found interesting was that Toronto’s compensation for Farrell going to Boston is shortstop and former Royal Mike Aviles. I’ve always been an Aviles fan, but Boston just fleeced Toronto. John Farrell will be a good major league manager, while Aviles will be…well, Aviles. Which means he is a solid starter but probably a better fit as a solid backup that can fill in if someone gets injured. I don’t know for sure what Toronto is thinking, but if you are keeping score at home, I believe the score is Boston 1, Toronto 0.

That expression…that is how most Red Sox fans felt this season.

Speaking of the Red Sox, yesterday in an interview, former manager Bobby Valentine continued his scorched earth tour, saying that star hitter David Ortiz decided not to play the rest of the season after their big blockbuster trade with the Dodgers that signaled Boston waving the white flag on the season. Look, I’m not going to go into whether or not I think Ortiz was actually hurt or just gave up. Either way, what is more interesting is that Valentine continues to burn bridges left and right. I get that Valentine was probably blamed for some stuff he had nothing to do with, and was the scorn of a lot of Red Sox fans this past season. I’m sure being the Red Sox manager is a major pressure cooker, but this is just uncalled for. Part of being a manager is to have your players back, and Valentine doing this would make any player think that if he played for Bobby there wouldn’t be that level of trust. Unless that is the point. Maybe Bobby V is done managing. Maybe this was the last straw. If so, it is an awful way to go out. But he also made his own bed. Time to sleep in it.

Wouldn’t he look good in Royal blue?

Finally, I love trade rumors, especially this time of year. So many possibilities that are endless and mostly purely fictional. But there was one floating around last week that interested me. Someone threw out there that the Royals were interested if the Tampa Bay Rays make star pitcher David Price available. It’s no big secret that the Royals main priority this offseason is pitching and the team has no true number one starter on the team. Price would be that, easily. But this got me to thinking. What if the Royals can’t get Price, but would still like some pitching? Tampa has a gluttony of arms, and I can’t see them not being interested in some young talent if the Royals are willing to deal. My choice would be Jeremy Hellickson who has been on my wish list for a couple years now. I would have to think the Royals could scrounge up some prospects that would make the Rays interested. The name bandied about for Price was Billy Butler, which might be a tad high for Hellickson. But let’s be honest here; the Royals need to do something. I can easily see the Royals parting ways with a Butler, Moustakas or Hosmer if it nets them a top of the line starter. I would hate for any of those guys to leave, but to receive talent you have to trade talent. Time will tell, but if Kansas City is smart they will further conversations with the Rays and see if  they work something out. You can only hope it is not a debacle like the Cabrera for Sanchez deal that went down last year.

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