Hendry and Lou want to round out the bullpen with a veteran set-up guy. Kiko Calero, despite having some shoulder issues, is a possibility. His success seems, in part, to come from an ability to avoid the long ball. Of more interest is a strange pitch he occasionally throws.
Calero has a verrrry slow "slider" and a more conventional one, which is somewhere in between Carlos Marmol and Esmailin Caridad in terms of speed and sweep/snap, but with less sink on average. Let's call it a slurve, and I'll just use the plain slider to refer to the slow poke.
What the heck is that?
I had to check some literature on Mr. Calero when I found these slow sliders, leaping out of my PITCHf/x graphs. This is from the Neyer/James web extras from their book on pitchers:
Kiko Calero (2003 2007)
Report: "RHP Kiko Calero relies heavily on a slider he throws at two different speeds, which gives it two kinds of breaks -- one hard and one [sic] sharp and the other more looping. Calero, a reliever, throws one of his sliders on more than half of his pitches overall and on about three-fourths of them when he has two strikes on a hitter. If he gets ahead in the count, the at-bat is all but over."
Source: The Sporting News (8/11/2006, Mychael Urban)
How slow? 50 to 65 mph, that's how slow. But he barely throws it. Of the 11 I found, they could all be data errors, but they're too frequent (yet spread out over years) to dismiss out of hand. I will, however, mostly ignore them and his rarely thrown third pitch, a change-up.
The more conventional slider (or sliders?) has been his choice 52% of pitches since the end of 2006, but more like 66% with two strikes.
Calero's PITCHf/x trail goes back to October 2006 when he was with the A's. He happened to be in front of one of the first PITCHf/x installations -- Minnesota -- for the 2006 ALDS. Before arriving in Oakland, and eventually the post-season, Calero was a Cardinal. Most recently, a Marlin after a stop in Texas on a minor league contract. He spent most of 2008 in the Rangers' farm system. so most of the PITCHf/x data for Calero will come from Florida and his 2007 with the A's. Gameday has more complete coverage, but I'll be sticking to the last three years, and just his time in the Majors.
Calero's stuff isn't overwhelming, although his slurve looks nice. His fastball averages around 89 mph, his slurve 80, his "slow slider" averages 59, and the change-up around 84. That change may be nothing more than a slightly throttled two-seamer, a la Randy Johnson.
Yes, I just compared Kiko to Big Unit. So far, he's a mix of Johnson, Marmol and Caridad. I've gone off the rails.
First impressions and a trip to the park
Here are two things I like about Kiko Calero.
- His name is Kiko Calero
- He has whiff rate is .291 since 2007 (avg. is .206)
And some that I don't
- He's not a strike thrower -- .459 in the zone rate (avg. is .520)
- His fly ball rate is high -- .375 (avg. is .291)
Despite the fly ball tendencies, his home run rates are low -- just 0.3 per 9 IP since 2007. He's not a ground ball pitcher, and his line drive rate (.178) is just better than average (.194) since 2007. How does he do it? He doesn't fit the profile of a pitcher who can keep home run rates down -- is it all luck and/or park factors?
Part of it is ballparks, although he hasn't been tagged on the road in a couple years. Some of it is small sample sizes, although he's been tough to take deep since 2006. His career HR/9IP is 0.7, so it wasn't a major issue for Calero at any point in his career, from what I can tell.
Last note on the parks: since 2007 and in terms of home runs, Oakland has been a pitcher's park, Florida a hitter's park -- despite the dimensions.
At the plate and in the air
Pitch location can help keep home runs down. Take a look at Calero's pitch location on fly balls (including home runs, all two of them) in PITCHf/x from 2007.
In the first pane, you can see the consistent outter-half placement of fastballs, sliders and a few changes against lefties on pitches that resulted in fly balls. In the middle pane, you can see the slider away against righties, but more pitches over the inner half (fastballs) and no change-ups. The last pane shows the two home runs PITCHf/x has (it's missing one). A rare slider down and middle-in to a lefty and a fastball up and middle-in to a righty. Both notoriously dangerous locations.
If you check out Dave Allen's home runs by pitch location maps, you'll see how safe a play that down and away slider is against righties, and how dangerously located the two gopher balls were.
Where it flew
Keeping the ball away from lefties worked out very well. Of the 32 fly balls Calero gave up when facing a left-handed hitter, 6 were pulled, 14 hit to center and 12 the other way. He was 22, 29, 22 against righties. These are based on the fielder who played the ball, not the location of a ball in play, but the approximate location it cleared the wall (left- and right-center home runs count as center) according to Gameday's descriptions.
Let's see that again as a rate, and compare to Marmol and Aaron Heilman for kicks. Calero, or whomever, will be replacing Heilman essentially.
Pull Center Opposite
Calero v LHH .19 .43 .38
Marmol v LHH .46 .40 .14
Heilman v LHH .29 .46 .25
Some small samples, but Calero beats Heilman, and they both stomp Marmol. Rubberband Man is actually a little scary in this picture.
Pull Center Opposite
Calero v RHH .30 .40 .30
Marmol v RHH .26 .29 .45
Heilman v RHH .28 .36 .36
Here Calero is actually the poorest of the bunch, Marmol the best.
Last, here's a look at Calero's fastball and slurve in flight:
Compare that with sliders from Marmol, Jake Peavy and more as well as Caridad.