Besides having a name that is incredibly difficult to spell and will surely give Gary Thorne fits, Odrisamer Despaigne is a soon-to-be 29-year-old pitcher who throws a baseball with his right hand. That he is a Major League Baseball player may be news to some on the East Coast. That tends to happen to players from San Diego. Despaigne is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles, no doubt prompting many questions from Orioles fans. The Orioles have had the most profligate winter in team history in terms of dollars spent, but to this point have not added a starting pitcher. Last year’s rotation was one of the worst in the American League.
Despaigne was acquired for next to nothing — a mere low-level pitcher who was not even in the organization’s top-30. The Padres needed to clear room on their roster for Fernando Rodney. Both sides had at least been discussing players in recent days, as it had been reported that the Orioles had some level of interest in another Padres starter, Andrew Cashner. The Orioles and the Padres seem to have good channels of communications, as the Orioles also engaged in talks for Justin Upton and Tyson Ross last summer. Presumably, the Padres laughed them off the phone on Upton and Ross. With a good working relationship, the Orioles and Padres were able to work out a mutually-beneficial trade with Despaigne switching coasts.
The Orioles did not have to give up much to get the two-year veteran. On that level, it is a very low-risk trade. Despaigne comes with five more years of team control, and has not even entered arbitration yet. The Orioles can send him down to the minors if things do not work out immediately.
With the facts established that this is a very low-risk trade for the Orioles, what does Despaigne actually bring to the Orioles. In two years with the Padres, he is 9-16 with a 4.74 ERA and 4.33 FIP. In 2014, his rookie season, the right-hander went 4-7 with a 3.36 ERA in 16 starts. He was much worse in 2015, eventually losing his spot in the starting rotation en route to a 5.80 ERA over 125.2 innings. Despaigne’s HR rate doubled from 0.6 per nine in 2014 to 1.2 a season ago. That is not a great sign for a pitch-to-contact type of pitcher moving into the American League East — a launching pad for home runs.
Is there any reason to expect that a return to form could potentially come with the Orioles?
Despaigne is a junk-balling righty. Dan Duquette would call that “crafty.” The new Oriole features a low-90s fastball with sink, a changeup, a cutter, and a curveball that he throws at two different speeds. His slow curve came in below 70 mph on average last season. Essentially, Despaigne is Yovani Gallardo without draft pick compensation or a lengthy track record of big-league success. His four-seam fastball and sinker were rather effective year-to-year, but each of Despaigne’s secondary pitches got smacked around like a beachball last year.[table “” not found /]
Yikes. That’s not very good. I’ll spare you from having to lay your eyes on the resulting jump in ISO from 2014 to 2015. Rest assured, it’s also no bueno.
When a junkballer experiences a massive sophomore slump, that is not a sign that things will turn for the right direction in year three. As a pitcher that changes speeds and tries to keep hitters off balance, Despaigne does generate a fair amount of soft-to-medium contact. He actually gave up slightly less hard contact in 2015 — down to 26.1% from 26.5%. That doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot because hitters put more balls in play against him than the average pitcher. He gets a swing-and-miss on less than 10% of his offerings. Josh Towers is a similar former Oriole who comes to mind when searching for a good comparison for Despaigne. Towers experienced initial success in his rookie season, but was eventually exposed.
There’s not much reason to expect that Despaigne will fare much better in 2016 than he did in 2015, which is probably for the best. Asking Gary Thorne to learn how to pronounce that name is just unfair. Until proven otherwise, Orioles fans should approach this new acquisition as a swingman between the Triple-A rotation and the big club, making spot starts when needed and pitching out of the bullpen. Despaigne will get a chance to crack the starting rotation, but don’t get your hopes up. An internal option like Mike Wright or Tyler Wilson still stands a good chance of making the rotation when the team breaks camp. If this is the last move the Orioles make in the starting pitching market this winter, it may be another season-long battle to finish 81-81 in Baltimore.