Anatomy of a Relief Pitcher – Astros RHP Jason Stoffel
After Jason Stoffel was included in a trade from the Giants to the Astros in July 2011 for Jeff Keppinger, Keith Bodie who is now managing the Corpus Christi Hooks, made a phone call. He called Ross Grimsley, pitching coach for San Francisco’s AA team in order to find out what the Astros were getting. According to Bodie, Grimsley told him, “This guy can be so much better than what he was here with us.” You see, Stoffel wasn’t truly bad with his 3.98 ERA and 1.579 WHIP in 32 appearances for Richmond, but those numbers weren’t about to excite anyone either.
Stoffel got to Corpus Christi and he put up somewhat worse numbers. In 18 appearances, he had a 5.63 ERA and a 1.688 WHIP. But I realize how volatile relief pitcher’s numbers can be and didn’t read too much into that. Stoffel got an invitation to participate in the Arizona Fall League which is something usually reserved for some of a system’s more elite prospects so I’m thinking that there has to be more to this guy than meets the eye. Well, that didn’t go all that well either. He ended up with a 6.87 ERA, a 2.182 WHIP and as many walks as he had strikeouts. Not his finest hour. So, I’ll admit it. I kind of forgot about him and he just wasn’t on my radar at all.
Then the new season started. Stoffel was with the Corpus Christi AA team again. But this time the results were different. Through April, he had a 1.93 ERA and a 0.549 WHIP. He kept it up through the end of May with a 1.54 ERA and a 0.900 WHIP. And now through June 24th, he has a 1.72 ERA, a 0.926 WHIP and 11 saves. Oh, and he’s an All-Star in the Texas League. This from a guy with a career 4.72 ERA and 1.445 WHIP prior to the 2012 season. How does that happen? It wasn’t an incremental improvement. It was as though a lightbulb went off somewhere.
I sat down and talked to Stoffel and his manager Keith Bodie earlier this month. Keith Bodie talked to me a great deal about his philosophy of player development and I learned much from him. Bodie preaches pitching to contact. Many of his pitchers fight that and pitch away from contact to get swing and misses. “This is the biggest battle I’ve had with these guys is you try to convince them to throw the ball in the middle of the plate. Throw the ball down the middle and you’re going to find out two things when you do that. One, you can’t throw it down the middle as much as you think you can and then it becomes a very good pitch. And when you throw the ball over the strike zone, they don’t hit it as well as you think they’re going to. And that’s what [they] have to learn.” He went on to say, “You have to share the baseball with your teammates.” In other words, pitch to contact and trust the players behind you.
What did Jason have to say about the change? “It’s been a mindset change for me. I kind of got away from trying to strike everyone out which I’ve been trying to do for the last few years and trusting my stuff and throwing it in the zone instead of maybe wasting a couple of pitches trying to get a strike out, and then I’m 3-2 on guys and walking people and just getting myself in trouble. I think that’s been a huge part of it.” Sounds like maybe Keith Bodie got through to at least one of his players.
Ross Grimsley had a bit more to say about Stoffel when he first came into the Astros system, “He’s got the ability. He’s got a lot more on his arm. He’s probably a 95-96 guy with an outstanding slider.” According to Bodie, “That’s what we’ve seen here. He’s coming in to his own. He’s got a lot more confidence and he’s pitching great and to me, he’s a big leaguer.” And Jason Stoffel is now officially on my radar.