Joe Beimel Improves Bucs’ Bullpen

The Pirates announce the signing of Joe Beimel today, giving the organization a decent left-handed reliever since they traded Javier Lopez at this past summer’s trade deadline to the eventual World Series champs Giants. Beimel was originally drafted by the Pirates out of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne University (shout-out to former RotoGraphs author and friend Dan Budreika), debuting with Pittsburgh in 2001. As reported by MLB Trade Rumors, Beimel had several Major League offers and one two-year offer, but he chose to return to Pittsburgh for a minor league deal. He’s expected to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

Since his debut with the Pirates, Beimel has traveled from team to team as a lefty specialist, enjoying his greatest stretch of success with the Dodgers in 2006-2008 when he held all batters to a .261/.324/.359 line with a 3.04 ERA, allowing only eight home runs in 186.1 innings spread over three years. During one of his best stretches, Beimel actually won a fan vote for a Dodgers bobblehead night, something I personally remember very fondly.

More recently, Beimel has been somewhat of a different pitcher but has still found a key role with the Nationals and the Rockies. During his Dodger days, Beimel employed his fastball almost exclusively on over 80% of his pitches. In 2009 and 2010 with the Nats and Rockies, Beimel decreased his fastball usage to less than 70%, using his curveball (about 20%) and changeup (10%) more often than before. Here’s a look at the change in his pitch type usage (or see his player page). I decided to group his sliders and curve balls as breaking balls:

Year Team Fastball SL/CU Changeup
2007 Dodgers 87.0% 7.8% 5.3%
2008 Dodgers 84.8% 11.4% 3.8%
2009 Nats/Rox 69.7% 17.6% 12.7%
2010 Rockies 67.2% 23.2% 9.6%

The adjustment came coincidentally at a time when Beimel changed from a ground-ball pitcher into more of a fly-ball pitcher. Take a look at some of Beimel’s batted-ball stats in the past four years:

Year Team HR/9 GB% FB% HR/FB FIP xFIP
2007 Dodgers 0.13 47.6% 34.6% 1.4% 3.39 4.65
2008 Dodgers 0.00 47.4% 34.0% 0.0% 3.30 4.77
2009 Nats/Rox 0.81 39.3% 46.1% 6.1% 4.09 4.94
2010 Rockies 1.00 43.2% 40.4% 8.5% 4.59 4.94

In those last two years with the Dodgers, Beimel appeared in 154(!) games, allowing only one home run in 116.1 innings. That minuscule home-run rate was not going to be sustained when Beimel ended up at Coors Field, but he still held a solid home-run rate considering the ballpark he was pitching in.

Beimel’s primary role, as has been for much of his career, will be to contain left-handed hitting. Check out his 2010 platoon splits:

Against RHH: .329/.388/.474, 2.84 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9, 5.08 FIP, 5.36 xFIP
Against LHH: .221/.275/.379, 5.19 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, 4.23 FIP, 4.62 xFIP

For the Rockies, they chose to go young and let the 33-year-old Beimel go. For the Pirates, Beimel brings much-needed left-handed help to what could turn out to be, dare I say it, a pretty decent bullpen. In addition to the pitch-to-contact lefty, the Bucs added relief help in the form of Jose Veras, Fernando Nieve, and Aaron Thompson to a pen that already has Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, and Chris Resop.

As individuals, most bullpen arms provide less-than-stellar value to a club, but when accrued and utilized correctly, a bullpen can be crucial for a team that will find late-inning leads scarce. Beimel’s pitch-to-contact tendencies and his less-then-overpowering fastball fits the profile of a LOOGY being trotted out on a nightly basis. If used opportunistically by Clint Hurdle, the Bucs’ bullpen should be improved on a roster that needs improvement in all departments.

Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

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The thing about Beimel is that is better than most LOOGYs at getting RHB out. His late-action, low three-quarters motion is quite deceiving. Indeed, he was used as more of a true set-up man before Joe Torre became the manager and wanted him to LOOGY, ostensibly because his hair is long.

One thing that can’t be overlooked is that Beimel absolutely owned Barry Bonds.