You had, probably, heard of Arquimedes Caminero before. This is because his full name is Arquimedes Euclides Caminero, and that speaks for itself. His existence as a baseballer was something of a curiosity, but that was more or less the extent of it. However much you knew about Caminero, you probably knew next to nothing about his actual talent. In January, he was designated for assignment by the Marlins. Some days later, he was acquired by the Pirates for cash considerations. He was added to the spring-training pile of guys competing for a major-league bullpen spot. These are the transactions you ignore, and you’re usually justified in doing so. Most of the time, the Camineros of the world remain the Camineros, only a little bit older every year.
And to be fair, it’s April 14. It’s been two and a half months since the Marlins gave Caminero up, so it’s not like we can know the rest of his career. But, in February, I polled the audience about pitching coaches, and Pirates fans liked theirs the most. Big fans of Ray Searage, those Pirates people. Searage has developed a reputation for getting the most out of troubled live arms, and based on early indications, with Caminero, Searage can count for himself another unlikely win.
You know Caminero’s history, even without knowing it. He’s had a very familiar profile. Big, mid-90s fastball, sometimes approaching triple digits. And he’d work in some other pitches, but while the power was there, the command was not. In other words: good arm, too wild. Pitchers like this are everywhere, and some of them are in big-league bullpens, but those guys don’t have much job security, because there are others like them just looking for a chance.
You can totally get why the Marlins decided to cut bait, even if it might’ve been a bit hasty. You can also totally get why the Pirates expressed interest. There wasn’t much harm in taking a chance. And soon after Caminero arrived, Searage went to work on his mechanics. An excerpt:
“[Searage] got me to see things that were there, I just didn’t notice them that much,” Caminero said. “I was trying to throw too hard. He said, ‘Go easier. The ball’s still going to fly, and you’ll be even better.’ Once you see that work, you’re confident doing it, and hitting my target becomes more important.”
Searage encouraged Caminero to simplify his delivery, staying away from overthrowing. The No. 1 priority is getting Caminero to be able to better locate his pitches. Additionally, even by simplifying, Caminero wouldn’t lose any of his power. Mechanics can be counter-intuitive in that way.
In terms of evidence of improvement, right now we have only so much. Caminero has thrown 68% of his pitches for strikes, but then, this year, he’s also thrown just 47 pitches, so that barely means anything. But if you’ll allow me this potential confirmation bias: there was also spring training. In 13.1 spring-training innings with the Pirates, Caminero walked one batter while striking out 21. The walk came in his first appearance. We know what we’re supposed to make of this stuff, but we can at least say it’s hard to generate those kinds of numbers by accident.
Speaking of numbers you don’t generate by accident: on the podcast the other day, Dave and Carson were talking about how you hardly need a big sample size to identify velocity changes. Great. Now, keep in mind, Caminero has always thrown hard. It’s what’s allowed him to get chances. I decided to look at velocity changes between 2014 – 2015, isolating average fastball speeds. I compared pitchers to themselves in the same role — starters were compared to starters, and relievers were compared to relievers. Here are the biggest velocity gainers:
- Arquimedes Caminero, +3.5 mph (RP)
- Mike Pelfrey, +3.1 mph (SP)
- Brian Schlitter, +2.0 mph (RP)
- Zach McAllister, +2.0 mph (SP)
- Chris Young, +1.9 mph (RP)
Caminero is in first so far, by four-tenths of a tick. And, last year, Pelfrey pitched through an elbow injury, that sapped his strength. He’s simply regained velocity that last year he lost. Throw that point out and Caminero is in first by much much more. The fastest average fastball in baseball so far? It’s not Aroldis Chapman’s. It’s Caminero’s, at 99.0 miles per hour. Brooks Baseball puts him up at 99.8. He also throws a cutter and a splitter, both of which come in north of 90. Think about that again: Arquimedes Caminero has been throwing three different pitches at or above 90 mph. Somehow, the hard thrower gained more velocity, under Searage. He’s also so far scrapped a slower breaking ball, though we’ll see if that returns.
What are the changes that Searage has introduced? We can try to look at this visually, though it’s not like I’ve spoken to Searage himself. Below, a 2014 fastball and a 2015 fastball (from spring training to get the desired camera angle):
If you just look at the .gifs quickly, they look similar. They are similar — nothing here was overhauled. But, in 2015, Caminero has a higher leg lift, and as his leg comes up, he’s more vertical, eliminating last year’s slight hunch. It also appears he’s reduced his drop on his back leg, and as he comes around, he remains more straight-up. Finally, at release, a year ago, Caminero had some tilt toward the first-base side, with his left knee at an awkward angle. This year, there’s less tilt, and less of that angle, with Caminero’s body aiming him toward the catcher, which channels his energy. His arm, hip, and legs are working together, improving his mechanical efficiency. In this way, a simplified delivery can also squeeze more speed out of all the connective bits.
The one thing we know for sure: Ray Searage has taken an interesting arm and turned it into an interesting pitcher. There’s no getting around the fact that you can’t just make up Caminero’s velocity gain, and that’s significant. He throws even harder, which is something he didn’t have to do. Whether Caminero goes on to throw enough strikes, we’ll see. It’s early, and the spring-training data is spring-training data. But all signs right now are positive. It’s not that the Marlins let go of Caminero too early. Maybe he doesn’t ever improve as a Marlin. But he’s already improved as a Pirate. A lot of pitchers do. It’s kind of one of their things.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.