The Toronto Blue Jays’ recent acquisition of Anthony Banda has the potential to be more than a depth pickup.
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On Saturday, the Jays acquired Anthony Banda from the Pittsburgh Pirates for cash considerations. On the face of it, this looks like nothing more than a depth move. Banda is pitching to a 6.41 ERA in 2022, and has a career 5.50 ERA over 6 partial seasons. Hardly an acquisition to get excited about.
Or is it?
Banda was drafted in 2012 by the Brewers but was traded to Arizona in 2014 as part of the Geraldo Parra deal. By 2016, he was rated as the D-Backs best prospect, and by 2017 mlb pipeline had his pitches rated as FB: 60 | CU: 55 | CH: 45 | Ctl: 50 | Overall: 50 and Baseball America had him rated as the 88th best prospect in baseball. But Tommy John surgery in 2018 basically cost him all of 2018 and 2019, and when he came back he struggled as a starter and was moved to the bullpen. He bounced between the Rays, Giants, Mets and Pirates until being acquired by Toronto.
So where is the cause for optimism?
Start with Statcast. In 2021, Banda had a perfectly cromulent 4.28 ERA. But his xERA was a considerably more attractive 3.57. And his 6.41 ERA in 2022 comes with a 3.93 xERA. His 2021 line against was .287/.353/.478 – which means that the average batter turned into 2021 Bo Bichette when facing him. But Banda’s x-stats line was .231/.292/.364. Which meant that the average batter turned into 2021 Joe Panik. Bo to Joe is quite a difference.
And while we are Statcast-ing: so far in 2022, there are 447 pitchers who had 50 or more Batted Ball Events (BBEs). Care to guess where Banda’s 83.2 mph average exit velocity ranked? If you guessed 5th in all baseball, take a cookie from petty cash. And his 27.1% hard hit percentage ranked 17th. The usual small sample size caveats apply, but the man is clearly doing something right. (For enquiring minds, 2022 Jordan Romano ranks 416th (91.4 mph) and 426th (49.3%))
So why is his 2022 looking so good? It is easier to accept improved stats when there is an identifiable reason – better health, or a new pitching coach, or a better catcher. Or a new pitch. Like the sinker that Banda has been experimenting with in 2022. He has only been throwing it roughly 10% of the time, but with a line against of .154/.138/.154 and a put-away percentage (that is the percent of the time that, when he throws it with two strikes, the batter is out) of 30%, it is looking very good. And a good sinker can enhance a pitcher’s entire repertoire – just ask Patrick Corbin.
The final source of cautious optimism is more subjective. A pitcher to whom Banda has been compared is a name familiar to Jay fans:
Oddly enough, the best comp for Anthony is an ex-fellow DBack. Both Ray and Banda stand 6’2” and are southpaws, weighing in just under 200 lbs. Both rely on their fastballs, and while Ray took longer to develop his curve, it has now become his most used secondary pitch along with his slider.
They also have similar velocity on their FB which helps the comp, both working in the 94-95 MPH range. Their curves also work in the 80-82 MPH range.
The bottom line
Clearly, for all his strong points, Banda is not a lock to win the Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year award. If he did not have rough edges. Pittsburgh would never have let him go. But some projects are more interesting than others, and Anthony clearly falls into that category, with the potential to be far more than a depth Banda-id.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.