Jake Diekman is a store brand Zach Britton.
The left-handed reliever market is surprisingly thin this year. Zach Britton is one of the few stars of this class, and he will get paid, but he is not the only game in town. There is a knock-off, store brand Britton up for grabs, and according to a report from Jason Rollison, the Pirates are interested in him. That pitcher is Jake Diekman.
Diekman is coming off of two less than ideal campaigns. He missed all but one month in 2017 after undergoing surgery for chronic ulcerative colitis, and in his first full season back he posted a 4.73 ERA over 71 games pitched between the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Those season stats are unflattering, but they were also inflated because of a horrendous stretch last season. From Sep. 13 to the 21st, he faced a total of 10 batters, finishing with 1 inning pitched and seven runs allowed.
One fourth of the earned runs Diekman allowed last season came in this 10 batter sample. Without it, his ERA drops from 4.73 to 3.61. That may be a case of the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ves,” but his FIP was below 4.00 every month besides September last season. It was an outlier for an otherwise consistently good season.
As Rollison notes in his report, Diekman has dealt with a walk problem throughout his career, issuing an average of 4.88 free passes per nine innings in his career. The good news is he also strikes out more than his fair share of batters. Last season, his 27.2 K% was 12th among left-handed relievers with at least 50 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, Britton may not be the best reliever in baseball anymore, but he’s still well respected and desired. He is likely to command a 3 year deal with an AAV of $10+ million. Diekman, on the other hand, may get a second year on his future contract, but it would probably be for less total than what Britton will make in a season. That gap in pay is not reflective in the gap in talent between the two.
If you omit the previously mentioned 10 batter stretch from Diekman’s results the last two seasons, his and Britton’s stat lines aren’t too far apart.
If gerrymandering statistics repulses you, then even with that horrendous stretch included, Diekman’s FIP over the last two years (3.91) is practically identical to Britton’s (3.83).
Both lefties rely on a sinking fastball that are, again, very comparable. The difference this time is Diekman’s heater has a little more spin.
Britton: 2,083 RPM average spin rate, 94.8 MPH average velocity
Diekman: 2,142 RPM average spin rate, 94.9 MPH average velocity
There are plenty of reasons why the Pirates are reportedly interested in Diekman. He has the fastball they desire, strikes out a lot of batters and has the first glance impression of a reclamation project. The Pirates were burned by a free agent reliever out of Arizona two seasons ago, but the difference between Diekman and Daniel Hudson is Hudson was brought in to be a set-up man. He was a boom or bust addition. Diekman would be depth. “Store brand”-priced depth.
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Edit: The original headline for this post was “Bucco Breakfast: Pirates Reportedly Interested in Store Brand Zach Britton.” The edit was made after Bleacher Report picked up the story saying the Pirates had interest in Zach Britton. There have been no reports saying the Pirates are connected to Britton. I apologize for any confusion the original headline caused.