Something Old, Something New, and Juan Oviedo | The Process Report

Something Old, Something New, and Juan Oviedo

Signing players with past success at the major-league level is a luxury the Rays cannot always afford. In the instances where they have signed a previously successful big leaguer, it usually came with a caveat; most commonly related to age, injury, recent ineffectiveness, character, or a combination of negative attributes that lowers their perceived value.

In some cases there is little history of past success. Fernando Rodney would fall into this category. You could make the argument that Roberto Hernandez belongs there as well. In those circumstances, the Rays are not interested in buying a player’s past results. Rather they are investing in skill-sets, or collecting assets with unteachable talents in hopes of bringing out the best of those natural abilities by tweaking flaws that can be corrected.

The signing of Juan Oviedo—formerly known as Leo Nunez—is a hybrid of scenarios mentioned above. Oviedo has past major-league success, but battled legal issues stemming from false identity. He is also currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Though Oviedo has had success at the highest level, he is a flyball pitcher who has issues with home runs allowed. But he comes with a mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss changeup, and an inconsistent slider that flashes plus. At times, former managers have scolded Oviedo for relying too heavily on the changeup in lieu on the harder stuff; however, it’s hard to fault him for wanting to use his weapon.

Despite posting lower a ERA in previous years, one could argue Oviedo’s best season came in 2010. He struck out more than a quarter of the batters he faced (a career-high 26.3 percent) while posting favorable walk and home run rates. Coincidentally or not, he threw the highest percent of changeups in his career that season.

Perhaps at the suggestion of his employer, he scaled back the pitch’s usage in 2011 in favor of more fastballs and sliders. He even spent time with former teammate and current Rays’ reliever, Joel Peralta, working on the slide piece. The plan of less changeups more hard stuff resulted in his strikeout rate dropping by five percent and allowing more home runs despite facing fewer batters. Expect the Rays—as they did with Rodney, Peralta, and others—to encourage Oviedo using his best offering.

Like most valuable off-speed pitches, the key to Oviedo’s changeup is deception. Designed to look like a fastball out of the hand, his changeup mirrors the fastball as it makes it way to the plate, only to drop off the table at in the final stages at a velocity that is 8-10 MPH slower than the heater. The common result is the batter looking like he’s swinging a palm tree through peanut butter, as former minor-league manager Chad Epperson would say.

For example, take a look at these images of Oviedo – pitching as Nunez – versus Jemile Weeks of the A’s.

nunezvweeks

In the top left corner, the pitch is belt high as Weeks begins his leg lift. In the next image, the ball is slightly above knee-high as he starts to drop his bat . In the bottom left, Weeks is past the point of no return as the changeup is fading down and away. Finally, in the bottom right corner, we see Weeks way out in front on a pitch in the dirt. From the time Oviedo released the ball, to the time it hit the dirt, took about a second and a half in real time; barely enough time to blink, let alone decipher between a mid-90s fastball—he hit 95 MPH just two pitches prior—and a mid-80s changeup.

In addition to movement and change in speed, Oviedo does well in throwing the pitch arm-side and down. The ability to hammer this location with changeups versus left-handed batters has made him nearly free of platoon splits in recent years.

Juanoviedo

As good as Oviedo can be, the Rays will not be paying him to pitch much in 2013. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September; a procedure usually requiring nearly a full year of rehabilitation. He may return to a mound as the season comes to a close, but the signing is more about 2014 when the Rays hold a club option on him. If things go according to plan, he will be fully ready by opening day 2014, perhaps replacing free-agent-to-be Fernando Rodney at the back-end of the bullpen.

When Oviedo throws his next pitch it will be with a new identity, with a new team, and with new organizational philosophies and teachings. At the same time, the talent he previously possessed will be key to new success. Let’s hope the new packaging leads to even better results from a product that was pretty good to begin win.

Data and heatmaps courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info



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