An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today focuses on former Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching prospect, Ronald Belisario, who has had a great deal of success with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. In the article, Belisario mentions how it was crazy that the Pirates let him go. I don’t think the decision to let Belisario go was that crazy.
Belisario started his career as an international free agent with the Florida Marlins. From 1999-2004 he was in the Marlins’ farm system, getting only as high as AA. In his 73 innings with Florida’s AA affiliate in 2004, Belisario posted a 5.55 ERA, thanks to a 1.62 WHIP, a 7.15 K/9, a 5.3 BB/9, and a 9.2 hit/9 ratio.
Belisario missed the 2005 season with Tommy John surgery, and was suspended for the 2006 season. He signed with the Pirates in 2007, splitting the season between Lynchburg and Altoona. In his time with Lynchburg he threw 34.1 innings, with a 4.46 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 10 hit/9 ratio.
In 2008 Belisario pitched the entire season in Altoona. In his 81.2 innings pitched in Altoona between 2007 and 2008, Belisario posted a 4.30 ERA, with a 1.53 WHIP, a 6.3 K/9, a 4.3 BB/9, and a 9.5 H/9 ratio.
That doesn’t seem like someone who is major league ready. It is far from predicting the success Belisario has had this season with the Dodgers in the majors. In 67.2 innings pitched with the Dodgers this year, Belisario has a 2.13 ERA, with a 1.14 WHIP, a 7.8 K/9, a 3.7 BB/9, and a 6.5 H/9 ratio. In his jump from AA to the majors he significantly lowered his ERA and WHIP, raised his K/9 ratio, lowered his BB/9 ratio, and cut three hits per nine innings pitched.
Belisario’s H/9 ratio is so good this season that it ranks just outside of the top 25 qualified major league relievers. Of the names in the top 25 this year, the only players who have sustained this high level of success over multiple seasons are:
Those are some of the top relievers in the game. Just outside of the top 25 are more star relievers, like Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jose Valverde, all of whom have sustained that success over several seasons.
It’s hard to imagine Belisario turning from a pitcher struggling in AA to a top reliever in the game over night. As for the reason to the success, there could be many possibilities. Luck could be a factor. Being new in the majors could also play a role. The Post-Gazette article has a quote from Neal Huntington that Belisario added a sinker, although Belisario said that he’s the same guy he was with Pittsburgh.
One thing to consider could be his layoff. Belisario was out of baseball for two seasons, one of which was due to Tommy John surgery. Perhaps the layoff delayed his development, and only after two seasons are we seeing what he is capable of.
Until we see this success over multiple seasons, I’m placing Belisario in the same category that I’d place pitchers like Andrew Bailey or our own Evan Meek. They’ve had good seasons, but one good season does not make a career.
Overall, I don’t think it was a mistake to cut Belisario. In hindsight the move looks bad, and hindsight is usually 20/20, but in this case, I can’t clearly see how Belisario went from what he was in AA to what he has been this season. The Pirates let a struggling AA reliever walk, and he turned things around with the Dodgers to have a great season. That’s not a bad decision. That’s bad luck.