The Cincinnati Reds announced that they have signed left-handed pitcher Jesse Biddle to a minor league contract for the 2020 season with an invite to big league spring training.
The left-handed reliever has spent parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues. In 2018 he posted a 3.11 ERA for the Atlanta Braves. That came in 60 games where he threw 63.2 innings, allowed six home runs, walked 31 batters – with five of those being intentional, and he struck out 67 batters.
Things didn’t go nearly as well for Jesse Biddle in 2019, though. He posted an ERA in the Major Leagues of 8.36 and spent time with three different clubs. He pitched in 15 games with the Braves in the Major Leagues, 11 more with the Seattle Mariners, and then another four games with the Texas Rangers. He allowed 42 hits and walked 22 batters in 28.0 innings during the year in the big leagues. In the minors he pitched in four games in Triple-A with the Braves affiliate in Gwinnett, giving up two runs in 5.1 innings.
The Braves traded Biddle to Seattle in May, but after his struggles for the Mariners he was placed on waivers and picked up by the Rangers in late June. His last game of the season came on July 14th when he allowed three earned runs for Texas against Houston.
2019 was a season of injury for the left-handed reliever. In late April he would hit the injured list with a right calf strain. His season came to an end in mid-July when he injured his shoulder. Initially the injury was listed as “left shoulder fatigue”. The fact that he never returned from that during the season despite another 10 weeks of the season leaves open some questions about what was actually going on there.
After averaging 94-95 MPH in the first three months of the season, Biddle saw his fastball velocity drop to an average of 92.9 in July before hitting the injured list. His slider velocity also dropped in velocity in a big way, going from 88-89 in the previous months down to 84.6 in July. Something was clearly going on.
When it comes to differences between 2018 and 2019, there are more than a few worth noting. His walk rate was poor in 2018, but he overcame that with big strikeout numbers. In 2019 his walk rate got worse – among the worst in the league if he had enough innings to qualify among relievers. And his strikeout rate also plummeted down to just 17.1%. His ground ball rate went from elite, 55.6% in 2018, to average-ish in 2019 – 45.8%. Biddle also saw his BABIP jump from .277 to .389.
Much like the deal that the Reds signed with Nate Jones earlier in the week, there’s not much risk involved for Cincinnati. The deal is a minor league one. The pitching coaches can get a look at Jesse Biddle during the spring and see what’s there. If the velocity is back, he’s healthy, and it looks like he can throw strikes at an acceptable rate once again – there’s some upside to be had. And if some of that doesn’t happen, Triple-A could be an option for him to continue working with the organization.