If you’re looking for maybe the Brewers’ most puzzling player of 2020, you’ve come to the right place.
The expectations for Lindblom were pretty unknown entering the season, and now that it’s over, I think most of that uncertainty remains.
Lindblom was signed by the Brewers from the KBO, where he spent the last five years (except for one cup of coffee with the Pirates in 2017). His time in Korea culminated in an incredible 2019 in which he posted a 20-3 record and 2.50 ERA on his way to winning the KBO’s equivalent of the Cy Young.
However, his time in the majors has been hit and miss. He started only six games in the big leagues in 114 appearances, being used primarily as a reliever. He broke in with the Dodgers in 2011 and had some success, posting a 2.73 ERA in 27 appearance his rookie season.
Success tapered off quickly, however. He was traded midseason to the Phillies in 2012 and finished with a 3.55 ERA in 74 total appearances. He was traded again following that season to the Rangers, where he was finally used as a starter, but he finished 2013 with a 5.46 ERA in only eight appearances.
After just 1 start with Oakland in 2014, he was out of the majors. The short stint with the Pirates in 2017 yielded a 7.84 ERA in four appearances.
But he found success immediately when he returned to Korea. He went 15-4 in 2018 with a 2.88 ERA and followed with the award-winning performance last year.
Yet it remained to be seen which Lindblom the Brewers were going to get.
What We Know
The one thing we can say for certain is Lindblom employs one of the widest arrays of pitches in the majors. He’s not a power pitcher. With his fastball averaging around 90 mph, so he understandably uses a lot of deception.
Mixing pitches is Lindblom’s specialty. In fact, he only used his fastball 35.2% of the time. (For comparison, Brandon Woodruff throws his fastball almost two-thirds of the time.) The cutter was Lindblom’s second weapon of choice, at 19.3%.
His impressive repertoire fooled hitters to the tune of a 27.2 strikeout percentage. His swinging strike percentage finished at 12.4, and batters made contact only 71.8% of the time. Both of those numbers were considerably lower than at any point in Lindblom’s MLB career.
His off-speed filth garnered some decent run on Twitter, too:
Josh Lindblom’s Pitch Grips. pic.twitter.com/6pXinpdPMj
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 7, 2020
Josh Lindblom’s filthy breaking balls to Kevin Newman pic.twitter.com/HZMRVL7cat
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) July 28, 2020
He also saw success out of the bullpen, pitching two clean innings in his two appearances.
Wait, Why Was He in the Bullpen?
As filthy as Lindblom’s stuff is, he struggled to keep runs off the board, evidenced by the 5.16 ERA he sported at season’s end. In only one game did he pitch more than five innings.
After his September 1 start against Detroit, Lindblom’s ERA had ballooned to 6.46, and he was subsequently removed from the rotation. After his two relief appearances, he seemed to have figured it out. He allowed only one run combined in his two starts back in the rotation. But he managed only 2.1 innings in his final start, a crucial loss to the Cardinals in the final week of the season.
Fortunately, the Brewers still made the playoffs in spite of that loss. However, that sort of subpar performance in a pressure situation is sort of a microcosm of Lindblom’s season.
Consider that in 2020, batters only hit .225 against Lindblom when nobody was on base. That number jumped to .271 with runners on base and up again to .286 when runners were in scoring positions. Furthermore, batters’ overall OPS soared from .644 with nobody on to .860 with runners on base.
That’s troubling for a guy that always pitches from the stretch.
Left-handed batters also saw greater success against Lindblom, batting .284 compared to .195 for right-handed hitters.
Lindblom is truly a hard player to grade. Maybe not since Matt Garza has a Brewers’ pitcher been so frustrating to watch, insofar as he could be dominant one inning and utterly overmatched the next.
Though, I do think it’s unfair to lump them together considering Garza’s much higher expectations and much larger contract.
In the generally small sample size of the 2020 season, Lindblom flashed some very real potential. He did, after all, maintain a steady 3.87 FIP this season. But for a 33-year-old pitcher, it’s fair to wonder how much he can really improve from here.
His pitch mistakes became repetitive, and his fastball velocity simply did not overpower hitters. The electric breaking ball is there, it really is. But Lindblom will need to locate his fastball better and pitch better in jams to survive in the majors.
Luckily, he arrived on a relatively low-risk, $3 mil per year deal, and for a team that seems to be tightening its pockets at present time, he’s going to get another shot at the rotation and should be considered a favorite to win a back end spot until further notice.
Final Grade: C-
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