Today the Orioles signed Alfredo Aceves to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. The details of the deal, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today mean that Aceves would make $1.2 Million guaranteed if he makes the opening day roster, with the opportunity to make up to $3 Million based on incentives. Aceves has spent his entire career pitching in the AL East. His career started with an MLB debut for the Yankees in 2008, but had his best season as a swing-man for Boston in 2011.
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Aceves bounced around between MLB and MiLB throughout his early career, but each stint in the majors was successful. ERA is certainly not the best way to evaluate a pitcher, especially a reliever with limited innings like Aceves, but it does highlight his success early in his career. His ERA for each of his first four seasons is listed below, with inning totals for reference:
2008 – 30 IP – 2.40 ERA
2009 – 84 IP – 3.45 ERA
2010 – 12 IP – 3.00 ERA
2011 – 114 IP – 2.61 ERA
The past two seasons have seen a near complete 180 degree turn for Aceves, as his performance slipped considerably. Over 84 innings for Boston in 2012, Aceves posted a 5.36 ERA despite seeing his strikeout rate increasing significantly. Last season, Aceves managed a 4.86 ERA over 37 innings for the major league team. He also spent significant time in Pawtucket, but wasn’t much better there. Obviously Aceves’ recent performance should be of concern for O’s fans.
Off the field there are issues with Aceves as well. Eduardo Encina noted some of these off the field issues in his article on the signing:
In August 2012, the Red Sox suspended Aceves for three games for conduct detrimental to the team following a confrontation with then-manager Bobby Valentine. Later that year, he was involved in an heated argument with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia during a game in Oakland.
While pitching for Mexico during last year’s World Baseball Classic, Aceves was ejected following a brawl in a game against Canada in which he was shown throwing punches.
Back on the field, the main question is whether Aceves is the guy who had a strikeout to walk ratio of 1.09 last year (striking out and walking over 5 batters per 9 innings) or the guy with a career average of 2 strikeouts for every walk.
Aceves throws six pitches, and keeps his pitches exceptionally well. Of the six pitches, Aceves threw his fastball the most frequently in 2013 at 30.66%. He threw his curveball the least, but still managed to throw it 9.15% of the time. Below is a breakdown of all the pitches Aceves threw last year:
Aceves’ deep arsenal would be atypical for a reliever, though it seems he doesn’t have the stuff to be a starter. If Aceves is going to make the team, it’ll be as a reliever. Aceves hasn’t lost any velocity since his best seasons, nor has he seen significant changes in movement. It would seem that his stuff is as good as it ever was.
One question might be release point. The two graphs below highlight what I’ll call Aceves’ wandering release point. The first graph is his horizontal release point, which can be altered by moving left or right on the rubber. It could also be a change in arm position, going from more over the top to sidearm. The second graph shows vertical release point, which makes the question of his release changing more legitimate.
Horizontal Release Point
Vertical Release Point
You can see why I say that Aceve’s release point has wandered. Over the course of his career his horizontal release point has ranged from 1.5 feet to the left of the center of the rubber, to 2.5 feet to the left. His vertical release point has ranged from over 6.5 feet above the ground, to just 5.5 feet above the ground.
These kind of drastic swings in release point suggest that from year to year, and even game to game, Aceves isn’t repeating his motion well. When he does, he can be successful. It helps when that release point is high, meaning he’s getting on top of the ball more.
One thing is for sure, Aceves will have a lot to prove during Spring Training if he wants to earn a spot in an already crowded bullpen. If the O’s coaching staff can iron out some of his mechanical issues, he might have a shot. If not, it seems unlikely that he’d be an upgrade over any of the relief options the O’s currently have.