Is Odrisamer Despaigne the Next Cuban Star?
The Cuban revolution has fully engulfed Major League Baseball.
On Sunday, San Diego starter Odrisamer Despaigne laid claim to being the next impact player to come from Cuba.
Despaigne was masterful on Sunday, holding the New York Mets hitless for 7.2 innings, until Daniel Murphy broke up the no-hit bid with an 8th inning double. He would finish having given up two hits and one earned run before he was pulled from the game. He also issued three walks and hit two batters.
In five starts covering 34.1 innings this year, Despaigne is 2-1 with a 1.31 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP, with 17 strikeouts, 11 walks and a nERD of 0.25, meaning Despaigne is giving up 0.25 runs less per 27 outs than a league average pitcher. Obviously, the 34.1 innings is not enough of a sample to make any real judgments or get any real sense of a pitcher's nERD or general value, but the early returns are extremely encouraging for San Diego.
Odrisamer Despaigne is the first Padre to start his career with 6 IP and no more than 2 ER in each of his 1st 5 starts.— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) July 21, 2014
As a comparison, here is what he did in the minor leagues this year, at San Diego's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, compared to his first few big league starts.
Despaigne had a higher ERA in seven starts between Double-A and Triple-A, but showed more of an ability to strike batters out, 41 in 31.1 innings. However, his walk rate was also higher, at 5.17 walks per nine. Despaigne has also been aided by a .190 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) so far in the Majors, whereas his BABIP in two Double-A starts was .286 and in five Triple-A starts it was .427.
That would seem to indicate he's been luckier in the Majors than he was in the minors, but of course, we're dealing with very small sample sizes here. That makes it very hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions. Of course, that hasn't stopped some from making them.
Odrisamer Despaigne has a 13% K rate, 1.5 K/BB and a .198 BABIP. #sell— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 21, 2014
Needless to say, opinions on him are mixed, at the moment.
Despaigne played in Cuba's professional league for eight seasons and posted a 3.55 ERA with 684 strikeouts and 390 walks over 213 games as both a reliever and starter. He was seen as a long reliever or back-of-the-rotation starter coming out of Cuba, and given that is the largest sample size we have for the young right-hander, that would seem to be the most reliable projection.
The Padres signed the 27-year-old right-hander to a two-year, $1 million bonus out of Cuba back in May, far from the hefty price tags given to Puig, Cespedes, Chapman, Jorge Soler and Abreu. That was mostly because Despaigne does not have the pure stuff of a pitcher like Chapman, but that is not to say he is devoid of "stuff."
According to Brooks Baseball, his average fastball is around 90-92 MPH, but gets it up to 94-95 MPH when amped up. He can also vary the speed on that fastball by a few MPH here and there, and also throws a change-up at around 74-75 mph, with seemingly good deception. In addition, he has two different kinds of curveballs (one in the mid-60s and another in the 75-MPH range), a cutter and slow curve, and used all of them on Sunday to confuse Mets' hitters.
If you're not going to have elite velocity, then you have to do what Greg Maddux used to do. Change speeds and locate.
Now, here's the important thing to remember. While an absence of elite stuff doesn't preclude a pitcher from being a top-of-the-rotation starter, it does make it more difficult. Plus, teams are still getting their first looks at him, and it's likely some of this early success, just five starts into this big league career, is due to unfamiliarity.
But there is just not enough information to have any real idea what kind of Major League starter Despaigne is going to be. It's easy to get overly excited about a near no-hitter, especially in the midst of this Cuban awakening in Major League baseball. And while a 1.31 ERA is certainly not sustainable for a guy who only strikes out 4.46 batters per nine, it's possible that Despaigne was simply an under-appreciated arm that will now find more success in the Majors than he ever has in his professional career. Plus, at 27 years old, he's just now entering his prime.
Right now, at the very least, it sure looks like San Diego got a steal in Despaigne, just the latest Cuban player to make an impact in the Majors. Just don't break the bank to snag him in all your fantasy leagues just yet.