I'm not sure how I missed this until now, but earlier this week, the Twins signed Randy Choate to a minor league contract.
The Twins think that Choate is worth a look as another left-handed option out of the 'pen. While I'm not too keen on stockpiling the bullpen with LOOGYs, I don't think that adding Choate is a terribly unreasonable idea. In his major league career, he's pitched 165 innings, and gotten the following results compared with the approximate MLB average in each area last year:
2006 MLB avg 6.6 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9
The first thing that jumps out at me looking at that is that Choate does walk a few more than you'd like to see, but his HR rate is ridiculously low. This suggests that he's probably a ground ball inducing pitcher. The data at the Hardball Times would seem to verify that:
56.7% -- '04
66.7% -- '05 (only 35 batters faced)
57.9% -- '06
In comparison, Francisco Liriano (55.3%) and Jesse Crain (55.2%) had similar ground ball percentages last year, with Rincon not too far behind at 50.2%. This is significantly lower than where Reyes has been at the last two years (at a practicallly astonishing 65% and 69%), but still puts Choate in the top 10% of his peers.
Last year, in both AAA and MLB, Choate drastically cut his walk rate. He got very little time with Arizona, so it's tough to say conclusively whether or not this made him more hittable (or whether he really can throw strikes if he wants) when he was in the strike zone, but he did awfully well in AAA. While he is very old (and has repeated AAA a few times), you don't typically see pitchers cut their walk rate from around 3.5 BB/9 to around 2.0 BB/9 regardless of how many times they've repeated a level.
Is he best used as a LOOGY?
Most signs point to yes here. For instance, check out his career splits against RHB and LHB:
vs. LHB 77.7 10.2 3.8 0.23
vs. RHB 87.7 4.2 5.5 0.31
Those are some mighty nasty splits, but he has been effective against lefties. And he still keeps the ball in the yard against righties, which...well, it's something.
If Choate can repeat his career numbers, that would make him good for about a 3.60 FIP. That'd put him behind Nathan (1.62), Rincon (2.83), Reyes (2.87), Neshek (2.99) and Crain (3.42), but definitely ahead of Guerrier (4.78) and the now-departed Eyre (5.35). That wouldn't make him a spectacular addition to the 'pen, but with a minimal salary in low- to medium-leverage situations he'd be a positive contributor.
I think Choate's chances of replicating his career numbers are relatively good. More intriguing to me is the previously mentioned drop in walk rate last year. Without ever showing much aptitude at throwing strikes in previous assignments, the Twins were able to get Dennys Reyes to lower his walk rate drastically and still maintain effectiveness. Choate has a leg up on Reyes--he's already shown for a season that he can keep the ball in the strike zone. It's whether or not he can maintain his effectiveness that is the question, but these days it seems like if anyone can help out a pitcher in that category, it's Rick Anderson. So I guess I'm fairly optimistic about how well Randy Choate can do under Rick Anderson's tutelage.
In the grand scheme of things, right now this might seem like a pretty subtle acquisition. It could, however, wind up becoming important as the season wears on. I'd bet that Choate finds his way into more key spots this season than, say, Sidney Ponson. For better or worse.