Anthony Bass made his major league debut in June of 2011 as a second-tier organizational prospect (#22 for the Padres according to Baseball America before the season) making the jump from AA in order to make a spot start. He went five solid innings allowing five hits and just one run though he walked four and struck out just one en route to a win. Considering that the start came in Colorado and he allowed 12 flyballs to just seven groundballs, things could have gone much worse especially with the four free passes.
He was sent to AAA where he spent the rest of June before re-joining the big league club. He spent July, August and most of September as a reliever who Bud Black wasn’t afraid to use for more than an inning. In 12 of his 24 outings, he went at least an inning and a third. He went two-plus innings in eight of them. I don’t think it is out of bounds to say he was run-of-the-mill during the stretch other than the fact that he could go multiple innings, an eroding trait of relievers or perhaps it is an eroding desire of managers to use relievers for one-plus.
He had a 1.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 5.4 K/9 and 1.4 K/BB in his 33.3 innings with 4 holds. The work earned him a pair of starts to close out the season. The first: in Colorado. He was even better this time around once again going five but allowing just two hits and one walk with a strikeout while holding the Rockies scoreless and earning his second win. He ended his season with another five inning start, this time at home, during which he allowed a run on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts taking a no-decision for the effort.
The composite numbers yielded a solid 48.3 innings by ERA (1.68), but the other numbers told a different story as his 1.28 WHIP, 4.5 K/9 and 1.1 K/BB pointed toward a 4.62 xFIP. He left 92% of his runners on base which is an excellent way to depress your ERA. Less because of his performance and more because the Padres strengthened their system, Bass fell to #28 coming into 2012 according to Baseball America. They worried his lack of consistent command would relegate him to the pen for the foreseeable future.
During Spring Training he threw 15 innings, but only got two starts. Though it was a tiny sample, he walked just one batter while striking out nine. I tend to put virtually zero stock into Spring Training numbers, but I don’t make decisions for the Padres and they obviously saw something they liked as he made the Opening Day roster and soon became the front-runner to take the injured Tim Stauffer’s rotation spot and be the fifth starter in the rotation.
He won the job outright and after a pair of two-inning outings to start the season, he made his first start on April 12th. We have seen a new Bass so far. He has six or more strikeouts in six of his eight starts and one of the other two was his debut during which he was limited to just 4.3 innings but still fanned five. All told he has 51 strikeouts in 49 innings as a starter (he didn’t strike out or walk anyone in his four relief innings).
He has gone away from relying so much on his fastball shifting the mix over to his changeup and still seldom used sinker. He has kept the majority of his 2011 fastball velocity and his mid-90s max isn’t much different, either, which is impressive considering the majority of his 2011 work came out of the bullpen where virtually everyone throws with more velocity knowing the workload will be shorter.
His command, the facet of his game that Baseball America thought might leave him a reliever permanently without massive development, have seen a sharp improvement leading to many more strikeouts. He has seen a 6% rise in called strikes with his fastball and 8% with his changeup. He is throwing the slider, his strikeout pitch, in the zone 4% more often and generating 3% more whiffs so while he has thrown 50 fewer sliders at this point than he did all of last year, he has just four fewer whiffs.
With two strikes last year, he was getting a lot of swings, but not many misses. Fastballs were put into play 33% of the time, changeups were at 50% and the slider was at 17%. All three are down significantly in 2012 with the fastball at 26%, the changeup at 32% and the slider at 15%. Last year in two strike counts, he got a called third with the fastball just 8% of the time and the changeup just 5% of the time.
Control is putting the ball in the zone, command is putting the ball where you want it in the zone. In 2012, his called strike percentage in two strike counts is up to 11% with the fastball and 18% with the changeup. I didn’t include the slider because he doesn’t get called strikes with it (1 in ’11; 0 this year) and doesn’t really need to since it is his swing-and-miss pitch. Look at the heat maps of his two strike pitches to get an even better idea of the difference between command and control.
Those pictures are all of his pitches skewing things a bit with this point about command since we’re focusing on the fastball and changeup. Furthering the point another way, last year he populated the middle of the zone with his fastball and changeup in those two strike counts hitting it 42% of the time. This year he is down to 28% in those middle three squares if you think of the strikezone as a nine square box. Meanwhile he is pounding the bottom of the zone with those two pitches 36% of the time, up from just 17% last year.
We are seeing the emergence of Bass right before our eyes. He has a three pitch mix (with a few sinkers sprinkled in) built on a solid low-to-mid 90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider. The changeup has a nice 9-11 MPH split from his fastball and continues to improve. It is his least used pitch by a significant margin, but it is also more than a show me pitch already, too. The 24-year old righty isn’t a PETCO product either, as his ERA at home is 3.09 compared to 2.57 on the road. His skills improve away from PETCO Park as well suggesting he knows he can’t rely on a spacious field to cover his mistakes.
The 53-inning sample is a short one, I’ll grant that, but there are some real changes in Bass’s approach that suggest he is plenty real. The fantasy community hasn’t exactly bought in en masse just yet, though. He is on just 18% of rosters at ESPN, 29% at Yahoo! and 54% at CBS. He has a real shot at becoming this year’s Cory Luebke which is an easy comp as they are teammates, though Luebke is lost for the season with an injury.
They both had similar pedigrees in the minors statistically, though Luebke found himself much higher on the prospect ranking at Baseball America checking in at #6 before last year’s breakout. They both transitioned through the bullpen. They are both displaying strikeout stuff that wasn’t present in the minors thanks in large part to wipeout sliders. Luebke’s arsenal is a bit deeper, but I am making a general comparison, not a dead on 1:1.
Check your wire, there is a good chance that Bass is available.