As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we round out our look at the relief corps with the final—and arguably most intriguing—member of the Indians’ bullpen: Nick Hagadone.
Background: The Boston Red Sox took Hagadone out of the University of Washington in the first round (No. 55 overall) of the 2007 MLB draft. After coming to Cleveland as a starting pitcher in 2009 as the highlight of the return package for Victor Martinez—Baseball America ranked him the 44th-best prospect in the game a few months later—the Indians moved him to the bullpen in 2010. He made his MLB debut in September 2011.
Last year: After starting the season in Triple-A Columbus (he made five appearances without allowing a run), Hagadone got his first callup in mid-April. Though he looked good at the outset, a string of bad outings in midsummer blew his ERA up to 6.39 (62 ERA+). His stuff looked great when he could locate it—witness his 26 strikeouts in 25.1 innings—but too often he lost control (5.3 BB/9) and made mistake pitches (1.4 HR/9). The more sympathetic DIPS stats suggested Hagadone was better than he looked (SIERA put his true-talent ERA at 4.12), but his season ended before he got the chance to prove it after he broke his arm punched something in a fit of rage after a bad outing in July.
Key factor: Confidence. Hagadone never suffered from control problems in the minors after his switch to the bullpen, but so far he’s issued 21 free passes in just 36.1 MLB innings. It’s probably not a coincidence that this pitcher who suddenly can’t throw strikes is the same pitcher who accidentally broke his arm out of frustration. If Hagadone has a future as an MLB pitcher, especially a high-leverage one—many think he has the talent to be a setup man or possibly even a closer—he’ll need to learn to clear his head and believe in himself on the mound.
For all their disagreements, all three systems project almost the exact same WHIP. Interesting.
Best-case scenario: After years of anticipating Hagadone’s breakout, his year has finally arrived. After building up his confidence in low-leverage situations and against left-handed hitters, Terry Francona eases him into a more substantial role and Hagadone thrives. He adds a new dimension to the Tribe’s right-handed late-innings trio of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez, and stakes his claim to a high-profile role in Cleveland’s bullpens of the future.
Worst-case scenario: Imagine a 27-year-old pitcher with control problems, confidence issues, an injury history, and fewer than 40 innings of MLB experience–would you expect him to hold onto a roster spot for long? Well, you just described Nick Hagadone. Obviously there’s far more to him than that, but it’s easy to make the case for him not being around for very long.
What to expect: Hagadone is fascinating because he probably has both the highest upside and the lowest downside of anyone in the Tribe’s 2013 bullpen. I suppose I’d probably bet on something like the Oliver projection, but that will be the average of both some very hot and very cold stretches throughout the summer.
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