Right-handed reliever Jose Flores has re-signed with the Indians. While it turns out Jose Flores is a common name in professional baseball, this Flores has spent his entire professional career with the Indians. Flores was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Mariners in 2011, but was returned at the end of spring training. This was sort of a weird selection (and a predictable send back) considering that he had never made it out of A-ball at the time. He ended up spending the entire year in A + and had a good DIPs year (though his ERA was a shocking 6.02 ERA in 55.1 innings) with a 2.93 FIP, matching solid strikeout and walk ratios with an excellent home run rate. The Kinston (Cleveland's A + affiliate in 2011) ballpark had a 95 park factor in an already somewhat pitcher friendly Carolina League, but Flores' home run rate was basically equal at home and on the road. Despite this, he spent most of 2012 in A + again as a 23 year old. Not to be outdone, he didn't give up a single home run in 38 innings (and in the 6.2 innings in AA). He had a similar 2.54 FIP (in a more hitter friendly park with a 3.67 SIERA because of the no home runs) and was promoted to AA at the end of the year.
If the Mariners got nothing from Flores, we at least got 2 games of Pitch F/X from his spring training outings. The scouting report (according to Ben Badler and USS Mariner) was that he had a "decent fastball but no secondary stuff". We only have 41 pitches of data on Flores (obviously not enough to get tendencies or anything) and 33 of them are fastballs. The one changeup he threw was 83.06 MPH and the 7 sliders he threw averaged 82.22 MPH. His fastball was 91.79 MPH on average (getting up to 93.2 MPH), which is below average for a reliever.
One interesting thing about him statistically is his consistently high BABIPs. When he first came to the States and pitched in the Arizona Summer League in 2009, he had a .348 BABIP in 27.2 innings. In 2010, in A-ball, he had a .327 BABIP in 42 innings. In 2011, he had a BABIP of .376 and a .313 in 2012. Is this because of his batted ball rates, bad defenses in the Indians system, small sample sizes, or other variables? Over the last two years (100 innings), Flores' ground-ball rate has not been bad at all (44.3 %) and there are no absurdities in his line drive rate. The only thing you can really point to is a lack of infield fly-balls.
For defense, I decided to look at the main (most games) shortstops of the clubs he has played for since '09:
Casey Frawley A+ 2011: -13.00 FRAA, 3.34 RF/G (4.36 is average for SS RF/G)
Ronny Rodriguez A + 2012: 8.8 FRAA, 4.24 RF/G
Casey Frawley A 2010: -4.5 FRAA, 3.78 RF/G
Jose Camargo AZL 2009: 3.92 RF/G (FRAA unavailable)
It does seem that Flores hasn't had the benefit of good shortstops (but we only looked at shortstops), but we would expect a high BABIP to run through the Indians system if the culprit is bad defense. So I went to those 4 specific teams listed above, sorted by innings pitched (to get the best sample sizes), took the top 5, and counted the pitchers that had ERAs above and below their FIPs.
2012 A +: 4 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, one had a ERA lower.
2011 A +: 3 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 2 had ERAs lower
2010 A: 2 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 3 had ERAs lower
2009 AZL: 3 had ERAs higher than their FIPs, 2 had ERAs lower.
So it does seem that the Indians' defense in the lower minor leagues are costing their pitchers. We should also note that Flores' minor league career is not exactly a large sample size. This can be a problem when evaluating relievers in general, especially in the minor leagues. Flores has only thrown 169.2 innings since coming to the States (there isn't a real reason to include the Dominican Summer League statistics). If we were wanting to identify him as someone who gives up a naturally high BABIP, we would certainly want more innings than that. It seems that we can attribute these numbers to both bad defenses and statistical randomness over small sample sizes.
As you would expect, Flores is more effective against right-handed batters, but he hasn't given up a homer against a lefty over the last two seasons. While his K/BB is very mediocre against lefties (it is a somewhat dominant 21.5 K % to 5.2 BB % against righties), he gets stellar 55.3 GB % against them (just 38.3 %). This is either, again, small sample size, or signals a different approach to lefties. Considering he is so fastball heavy, it would seem to be the former.
Flores has a pretty bizarre delivery that really lacks any kind of fluid motion. It does not seem violent, there just seems to be a lot of moving parts. He must control it well considering his lack of walks in the minors. As we saw above, the velocity is not impressive, but the fastball does seem to get on hitters quickly, perhaps because of the release point. To give you an idea of his release point, look at this chart from Brooks Baseball:
His slider looks pretty unimpressive, lacking the big break (though it certainly isn't "soft" velocity wise) desired. He is mainly going to have to pitch off his fastball (some versions of Pitch F/X had him throwing a cutter and two seamer as well) and just hope to fool or surprise hitters with an occasional breaking pitch. I think he is sort of an interesting bullpen piece going forward. He may not get his shot in 2013, but he has pretty solid control and may have just enough deception to get out MLB hitters.