It's pretty easy to imagine how Red Sox fans greeted the news of the Red Sox acquiring Jean Machi.
- "Jean who?"
- Google "Jean Machi ESPN"
- (Optional) "Oh, right, that guy from last year's giants who sucked in the World Series."
- See 5.14 ERA
- Bark cold, humorless laugh before returning to regularly scheduled despair.
It's a fair reaction. Jean Machi ain't much to look at this year, and it's not hard to see why. His splitter is gone. It's no more. It has ceased to be. Pitch valuations will tell you that the splitter was never all that important to Machi, but the splitter sets up the fastball, and the fastball sets up the slider. Here's what Chris Quick wrote over at McCovey Chronicles back in 2013:
How does Machi do it? He pummels batters with his splitter. Or, if you prefer a beatiftul GIF of said splitter:
Check that thing out. If a good curveball "drops off the table," Machi's splitter is committing crimes against humanity. According to PitchF/X, approximately every third pitch Machi throws (32.6 percent) is the splitter. It's a pitch that averages 86.3 mph. Machi primarily works off a 93 mph fastball that he uses to get in front of hitters before dropping in the splitter. Machi's usage of the splitter skyrockets all the way to 62.1 percent in two-strike counts.
And yesterday, after Machi made the move to Boston, Grant Brisbee--also of McCovey Chronicles--told us to "enjoy the magic, floating, hanging splitter."
The difference between having that splitter and not is huge. When we watch Koji Uehara pitch, there's often parts that don't look particularly good. A splitter that nobody would be crazy enough to swing at, or a fastball that every batter in the league should take a shot at. But they swing at the splitter and take the fastball because the combination of the two has them too crossed up to figure out which one is coming next. You add in a slider like Machi has and that should be that.
But when the splitter isn't doing what it should, suddenly everything falls apart. Hitters are no longer chasing them down in the dirt, swinging at just 23.4% of his pitches outside the zone compared to 32.6% in 2014. Meanwhile they're all over anything he throws for a strike, swinging at 74.8% up from 63.7%. Simply put, he's not fooling anyone, and getting crushed because of it. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he no longer looks like a viable major league pitcher.
All of which makes him a reclamation project. We may be tired of hearing about those, but that doesn't make them bad ideas, especially with two months left to us in a lost season where Justin Masterson is still throwing innings out of the bullpen.
The Red Sox have space for Jean Machi on their roster. They have time to look him over and see if they can't bring his splitter--and with it the rest of his arsenal--back to life. They have an unfortunate track record in that department of late (see: Mujica, Edward), but very little to lose.
And the upside? The upside is absolutely there. It's going a little far to say Jean Machi was among the best when he was working, but he was at least a very strong piece of San Francisco's bullpen. Still under team control, he won't cost the Red Sox much at all, and if they can convincingly fix him before the season is over, they might actually be able to pencil his name in as a reliable pen option for 2016.
And at the moment, the Red Sox could use as many of those as they can get. They've got bigger problems to worry about in the offseason, after all.