November 6, 2014
What to Make of Odrisamer Despaigne
So, here is a scenario I am assuming a few of you fellow fantasy baseball brothers and sisters were faced with just two months into the baseball season….
It’s late May, and your pitching is scuffling a bit. Despite the shaky start, you have faith in your squad and know that just one or two waiver-wire pitching finds could turn your season around. You need to act fast, though, so as not to dig a hole in ERA and WHIP from which you might not recover. You play in competitive leagues, and there is not much pitching available on waivers. You see a note saying the Padres have just promoted a 27-year-old Cuban righty named Odrisamer Despaigne to Triple-A and that he could be called up to the majors soon.
Sure, you do not know much about Despaigne, as he was not on many fantasy radars heading into 2014, but he did have positive reports from his workouts this spring. He also had 12 strikeouts in his first 7 2/3 Double-A innings leading to his Triple-A promotion. So, figuring you have little to lose besides a bit of FAAB, why not roll the dice?
Alright… full disclosure here: I was one of the owners in that predicament. I ended up pulling the trigger and FAAB’d Despaigne in May in the two expert leagues in which I participate (I also FAAB’d him in June after his big league call-up in my two NL-only home leagues that do not allow you to FAAB minor-league players).
Well, Despaigne proved to be quite the waiver-wire find, as he was called up to join the Padres rotation less than a month after pitching in Double-A to replace an injured Andrew Cashner. All he did in his first big-league start was become the first Cuban since Luis Tiant to throw seven or more innings of shutout ball in a MLB debut. Following that start, he then proceeded to rack up four more quality starts in a row and sported an impressive 1.31 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
Needless to say, other fantasy owners who rolled the dice on this relative unknown were ecstatic with the early results. Was he for real? Could he keep this up for the rest of the season and lead your fantasy team to the Promised Land?
In short, the answer was a resounding “no.”
In taking a deeper dive into those first five starts, and scanning his career to date, there should have been legitimate fears the positive returns might not last.
Despaigne had a 17-to-11 K:BB ratio during his first five outings, which raised some red flags. I was able to watch most of those starts, and he appeared to me to have just average stuff, and relied mostly on his deception to confuse hitters. After doing more research on Despaigne’s history after his hot start, more concerns arose. Looking at his eight-year career in Cuba, he never had over-powering stuff: His K:BB rates (684-to-394) in just fewer than 1,000 innings were underwhelming to say the least. He also walked more than 10 pecent of the batters he saw in his 31 1/3 innings in the minors before the promotion. These factors should have sparked questions about his ability to sustain this success.
From that point forward, Despaignes’s warts were exposed. Over his next six starts, he took four losses and saw his ERA rise more than two runs while allowing 52 baserunners over 31 innings. His contact rates did not inspire praise during the five-start surge to begin his career, and they certainly did not over those next six starts, as his fly-ball and line-drve percentages spiked. At the end of the day, he simply does not have swing-and-miss stuff—as evidenced by him only notching double-digit swinging strikeouts in three of his 16 games. Heck, he only had five combined swinging strikes in his first two starts over 188 total pitches.
Again, Despainge is primarily a breaking-ball pitcher who relies on deception while on the mound, using different arm angles, release points, and variance in velocity (his fastball is in the low 90s and his slow curve clocks in the mid 60s) to keep hitters off-balance. He experienced struggles locating his pitches from game to game, and that, combined with his contact rates, led to his inconsistency with the Padres. That is just not the type of starting pitcher you would put your faith in when managing your fantasy team. Fortunately for me, I had the ability to reserve Despaigne or trade him in each of my leagues when it was clear the tides were turning.
San Diego already has three solid starters at the top of the rotation in Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross, and promising young arms in Jesse Hahn and Matt Wisler. Casey Kelly (if healthy) and Robbie Erlin also are in the mix, and Cory Luebke should be back around the All-Star break. Despaigne certainly could be in the mix for the no. 5 spot in the rotation to begin the season, but don’t be fooled by his fast start last year. He probably projects better long term as a middle reliever or swingman for the Padres based on his stuff.
Catching lightning in a bottle twice with Despaigne seems like a bit too much to ask. Even if Despaigne nails down the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring training, he’s not a pitcher you want to target in mixed leagues. He is probably best suited for use in deeper NL-only leagues as an endgame flier—and even then, you should have a short leash.