Tejeda Showing Potential

Among American League pitchers with at least 50 innings, name the guy with the highest strikeout rate. Not surprisingly, its Joe Nathan – he’s pretty good, as everyone knows. Who is second? If you knew that it was Robinson Tejeda, well, then you’re probably a Royals fan. In a disastrous season for Kansas City, Tejeda is standing as one of the reasons to find some joy.

Despite throwing three major league quality pitches, Tejeda was pretty lousy during his career in Texas thanks to Daniel Cabrera style command. He was the classic throw-hard-with-no-idea-where-its-going guy, and Texas got tired of his act after a couple of years. His stuff wasn’t even translating into missed bats – in 2006, he posted a 4.89 K/9, for instance. He was just a thrower with no obvious skills besides velocity.

However, he broke through as a reliever after being claimed on waivers by the Royals last year, racking up 41 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings in his most successful big league season to date. His command was still bad, but at least he was offsetting it with swinging strikes.

This year, he’s taken it up another notch, as hitters are making contact just 69% of the time when they swing at one of his pitches. He was good enough out of the pen to convince the Royals to give him another try in the rotation, and so far, it’s worked out tremendously well.

Over his first two starts, he’s faced the Angels and Tigers, and he’s run up 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He’s even thrown strikes around 65 percent of the time, which is a huge improvement from his usual close-your-eyes-and-hope approach to pitching.

Tejeda’s certainly in for some regression (that 1.8% HR/FB rate is obviously not sustainable), but now that he’s showing he can rack up strikeouts while pitching 5+ innings in a game, he’s a pretty interesting piece. Even with the crazy walk problems, he’s got enough stuff to work as a back-end starter.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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What has to make him even more appealing (not that they are thinking about this) is that the high strikeout and high walk rates mean fewer batted balls in play meaning fewer chances for the Royal fielders to pull a Jozy Altidore on a non-trivial amount of ground balls.

Just saying, someone like him is more appealing than an extreme ground ball throwing 4th starter type.