Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Who is Brandon Backe? 

The Rangers have supposedly targeted starting pitcher Brandon Backe in their discussions with the Astros involving a trade of Alfonso Soriano.

Backe isn't exactly a household name, though. So who is Brandon Backe?

Brandon Backe was an 18th round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays out of Galveston Community College in 1998. He was drafted as a shortstop, but converted to pitching in 2001. In December of 2003, he was sent from the D-Rays to the Astros in exchange for Geoff Blum, veteran random utilityman extraordinaire. Baseball America didn't seem overwhelmed by the deal, noting in their analysis of the deal that "Backe projects as a setup man thanks to his 92-94 mph fastball and a slider that can be a plus pitch at times."

Backe was brought up just one week into the season to join the the Astro pen and was unimpressive, posting a 5.32 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 22 innings, allowing 4 homers and 8 walks against 15 strikeouts while pitching in relief. Once he was sent back down to AAA New Orleans, though, he was terrific, splitting time between the pen and the rotation, posting a 2.80 ERA with 74 Ks and 26 walks in 64 innings pitched. With Wade Miller and Andy Pettitte on the shelf, Backe was brought up in August and thrust into the rotation. Backe's peripherals didn't improve, but his ERA did, dropping to 3.80...curiously, as well, his ERA at home was 2.61, vs. a 6.52 ERA on the road. Still, he was pretty much an unknown until the postseason, when he had three impressive starts to help get the Astros ever-so-close to the World Series.

So what is the impression of Backe? CBS Sportsline's scouting report on Backe coming into the playoffs said:

"Solid competitor, everything is hard. His best pitch is a slider or fastball. He's got a chance to be a starter, but his lack of experience for this year might hurt him in the playoffs. I don't see him pitching that much, but in each series he might get a start. If (Sunday's regular-season finale against Colorado) was any indication of what may happen, he could be one of the biggest keys in the series -- if he's a guy who can get them to the next two guys, Clemens and Oswalt. "

ESPN, meanwhile, provides their own scouting report on him, crediting him with four major league pitches -- fastball, slider, cutter, and change -- and notes that he throws his fastball, which sits around 91, as both a two-seamer and a four-seamer. The report notes that the Astros were impressed with his poise and aggressiveness, and look at him as a #4 or #5 starter next year, and possibly better than that going forward.

Backe's DIPS ERA the past two years hasn't deviated significantly from his regular ERA, so he's not getting helped or hurt by defense or luck. In the majors, he's allowed more flyballs than groundballs, which is something the Rangers have wanted to avoid bringing into TBIA, particularly for a righthander.

Looking at everything, I can't say that I really see why the Rangers would be so hot for him. He's a decent pitcher who had a nice run at the end of the season, but he's hardly a guy who is a lock to be a mainstay in a rotation going forward, or even a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

Maybe the Rangers think they see something there...but I don't see that he's such an asset that he'd be a potential dealbreaker in an Alfonso Soriano trade.

With Beltran gone, I don't see Clemens coming back. Of course, this would mean that Houston would hold onto Backe, but at the same time not diminishing their need/want of Soriano. The Rangers may not be able to get Backe, but any deal that dumps Soriano onto another team is a good one. If this is the case, Alex Cora is still available.
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