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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Better Know a Red #18 - Matt Belisle

In part 18 of our ongoing 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we turn our attention to the other young gun in the Reds' bullpen, Matt Belisle. Belisle was as second-round pick by the Atlanta Braves in the 1998 amateur draft out of McCallum High School, Austin, Texas. He had almost immediate success, posting outstanding numbers as a starter in both levels of A-ball and holding his own as a 22- and 23-year old in AA. On August 14th, 2003, during the "fire sale" that followed Jim Bowden's dismissal, the Reds acquired Belisle as the player to be named later in exchange for Kent Mercker.

Belisle debuted with the Reds briefly that year, pitched (rather poorly) a year in AAA, and then spent the entire 2005 season with the Reds club. He proved to be one of our more reliable pitchers last year. Nevertheless, he has been relegated to a long-relief role for much of this season due to the acquisition of Rick White and the success of Todd Coffey. Still only 25 years old, and Belisle still has some time to develop and may prove to be a reliable guy out of our bullpen this season.

Historical Statistics (for explanations of these statistics, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet in the side-bar):
2003/ATL-AA 125.3 6.8 3.0 0.36 0.304 3.52 3.22 4.67 -0.5 --
2003/CIN-AAA 26.0 5.2 1.7 0.69 0.315 3.81 3.62 4.85 0.2 --
2003/ATL-AAA 20.0 4.5 0.0 0.45 0.242 2.25 2.85 3.86 4.6 --
2003/CIN 8.7 6.2 2.1 1.03 0.309 5.19 4.00 --- --- ---
2004/CIN-AAA 162.7 5.9 2.8 0.89 0.315 5.26 4.12 4.99 -3.1 --
2005/CIN 85.7 6.2 2.7 1.16 0.312 4.41 4.40 4.70 3.5 54%
In his 2003 and 2004 minor league seasons, Belisle demonstrated an ability to keep the ball in the ballpark while exhibiting good control. He is not a strikeout pitcher, however, and maxed out at a fairly average 6.8 k/9 innings in AA. I doubt he'll ever reach that level in the major leagues.

Nevertheless, as he demonstrated last year, his combination of above-average control, average strikeout rates, and average-ish HR rates can result in an adequate pitching line. There were some rumors about him as a potential closer candidate last year, but his minor league numbers don't indicate much potential to become a classic (high strikeout) type of pitcher in that role. Nevertheless, there's good reason to think that he can continue to improve on his walk and hr-allowed numbers and become a very effective reliever, or even possibly a starter.

'05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 30 6.3 4.2 1.20 0.355 4.20 5.33
vs. Right 55 6.2 2.0 1.14 0.290 4.57 4.23
Home 41 5.9 3.1 1.31 0.283 3.94 4.95
Away 44 6.5 2.4 1.02 0.341 4.90 4.31
Given that only one year of split information is available on Belisle, these numbers should be taken only as an indication of how he performed last year, rather than some sort of predictor of future performance. Nevertheless, his left/right splits look like you'd expect for a typical right-hander. Last year, he walked lefties far more often, but otherwise was similarly effective against them. That his walk rate was more than two-fold higher, however, pushed his FIP up into the 5+ range. Clearly, a key to Belisle's effectiveness is his ability to locate his pitches and, by extension, avoid free passes.

His home/away splits indicate that Belisle threw better away from home in ~40 innings per split, though his ERA did not agree, in part due to a relatively low BABIP at home. With only 40 innings in each split, I don't feel comfortable making any real conclusions.

PECOTA75 84.0 6.0 3.0 0.86 0.292 3.97 4.10 4.29 11.1 53%
PECOTA 70.3 5.8 3.2 1.02 0.306 4.61 4.47 4.80 4.2 53%
PECOTA25 62.3 5.5 3.3 1.16 0.327 5.62 4.76 5.62 -4.4 52%
ZiPS 135.0 6.1 3.1 1.07 0.292 4.73 4.42 --- --- ---
PECOTA predicts that Belisle's performance could range from very solid (PECOTA75) to disastrous (PECOTA25). ZIPS is more or less in line with the weighted average PECOTA projection (PECOTA). One thing that really surprises me about these numbers is that they predict a higher walk rate than Belisle has shown since playing in AA-ball with Atlanta in 2003. They also predict a substantial decrease (usually) in his HR-allowed rate from his performance last year.

At the time I write this (through only 15.3 innings), Belisle has substantially higher walk rates (4.1) than any of these projections, but his k-rate and hr-allowed rates are approximately in line with these numbers. A substantial issue for Matt so far this year are the relatively rare opportunities he has gotten, but given the poor performance of Rick White this year, I have to think he'll be getting more chances in the coming weeks. My hope is that he can solidify a job as a middle reliever this year, and continue in that role over the next half-decade. If he can get his walk and hr-rates under control--which may be a matter of getting frequent enough work--he can continue his work from last year and be an important contributor out of our bullpen.

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Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
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Hardball Times '06 Annual