Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday Throwback - Blaine Boyer

(This column used to be called Random Ex-Brave.)

The Baby Braves.

2005's crew of kids who were either fresh-faced rookies or just beginning to establish themselves. Sure, the Braves still had Chipper Jones, but he only played 109 games that year. And yeah, Andruw Jones was a monster that season while John Smoltz anchored a rotation that included just three pitchers who made at least 21 starts. There were still big names, but the Braves capped off their legendary Streak with a 14th division title because of the kids.

Chris Graythen | Getty Sports
Flash forward to 2015, few of those kids are still in the majors. Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson, who often flanked Andruw in the outfield during the second half, are journeymen bench guys at this point. So, too, is Brayan Pena. Brian McCann is a superstar catcher, but he's the outlier. Where's Ryan Langerhans, Wilson Betemit, Andy Marte, Kyle Davies, Roman Colon, Macay McBride, or Joey Devine? Oh, and where exactly is Blaine Boyer?

Minnesota. In fact, you might be surprised to find out just how often Boyer pitched for the Twins in their desperate effort to return to the playoffs this season. I know I was. Boyer finished 2015 with 68 games, his first save since 2011, and a 1.25 WHIP. The number nerd in me looks at a 4.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 and thinks it would be shocking to see Boyer post another 2.49 ERA, but it's certainly not impossible. After all, he did it this year and considering what he's done to even get to this point, it's not a smart idea to count out Boyer.

Born July 11, 1981 in Atlanta as baseball endured a work stoppage, Boyer would later attend George Walton Comprehensive High School (fortunately, shortened to Walton High) in Cobb County. The school would later graduate Billy Burns, the fast outfielder for the A's, but the school's has more notable alumni like Nine Inch Nails and Guns N' Roses guitarist Robin Finck. Oh, and two of the founding members of The Black Crowes.

Boyer was part of a big 2000 class for the Braves in which they had 7 picks in the first 100 selections. Adam Wainwright was a nice pick with #29. After all, he acquired Stephen Drew's brother and we all remember that deal for how awesome it was. Scott Thorman was taken with the next pick, KJ selected #38, Aaron Herr #40, Bubba Nelson #51, Bryan Digby #70, and Boyer was picked with the #100 overall selection of the 2000 draft. And here I thought it was the Frank Wren years that didn't draft well. Ugh! In their defense, they did get Adam LaRoche in the 29th round.

Boyer spent a pair of years in rookie ball before being a member of the final Macon Braves squad in 2002. After fiddling with the starting game the first two seasons, he was moved to the pen with Macon and showed a strikeout arm, but the Braves wanted Boyer to try starting again so, for some reason, he was left in the SALLY League to be a member of the first Rome Braves team. He actually looked notably worse or at least more hittable, but was moved up the ladder finally in 2004. Myrtle Beach often served as a park that made average pitchers look like world beaters. Boyer finished the season with a 2.98 ERA in 28 starts. His K numbers shrunk, but the results looked nice. He opened 2005 in the minors with Mississippi and was struggling, but the 2005 Braves needed arms and he was called up for action on June 12.

After taking a loss in his first outing against the A's, Boyer quickly settled into the seventh inning guy ahead of Jim Brower and Chris Reitsma. Talk about the opposite of a shutdown relief squad. Boyer continued to perform well in his role and even threw two scoreless against the Giants on August 10 before getting his first major league win after Marcus Giles singled in Betemit in the 12th. Boyer got his ERA down to 1.71 after his seventh hold on September 3, but over his final ten games, the wheels came off. Of the 34 batters he faced, 19 reached base. His struggles over those final weeks led to him being left off the roster in favor of a guy like Devine, who would not do so hot in the playoffs. Have I cursed about Chris Burke today?

The bad taste in Boyer's mouth for how 2005 ended wouldn't be resolved anytime soon. He appeared just twice in 2006 because of injuries and in 2007, logged just five games in the majors as the Braves left him in Richmond to both start and relieve to little success.

Now it's time to remember how bad the Braves pitching was in 2008. Usually, I focus on the fact that Jeff Bennett, Chuck James, James Parr, Jo-Jo Reyes, and somebody pretending to be Tom Glavine started 52 games that year. What shouldn't be ignored is that Boyer appeared in 76 games and had a 5.88 ERA! In Atlanta's defense, he wasn't that terrible over the first three months (43 games, 3.63 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), but Boyer gave up three runs on the first day of July and stunk it up from there. Over 33 games, he had a 9.55 ERA. He blew five leads and blew in general, yet Cox said "give me Boyer." I blame John Schuerholz for that. And Cox. And El Nino.

For reasons unknown, Boyer was kept for the 2009 season. At this point, he had a career 5.06 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Guess they thought he needed more time. After three games and six runs allowed, even the Braves said, "Just because you're from Atlanta doesn't mean you get to be this bad." They traded him to the Cards for Brian Barton, who is a nominee for Barviest Career. 1 G, 0 PA, 1 inning in right field, 1 caught stealing. Well done, Brian. St. Louis tried Boyer in the pen, but he struggled and got hurt.

He was non-tendered after the season and we get our first "Boyer Goes International" leg of the tour. First stop - the Mets, where Boyer made the team coming out of spring training in 2011 and was atrocious in five bullpen appearances. Next stop - the Pirates, where Boyer had a 13.50 ERA in 11 AAA games. After being cut by his second team of the year, the Cards brought Boyer back and he started seven games in the minors. Three ugly ones in A+ ball, four REALLY ugly ones in AAA. They cut him, too. His minor league ERA in 2011 - 10.90. His MLB ERA - 10.80. There's got to be a police code joke in there somewhere.

After the season, Boyer went home and decided that he could continue to get his head beat in or he could head home, enjoy his family, and get a real estate license. The latter does sound inviting so that's exactly what Boyer did. But as players who retire voluntarily tend to do, Boyer had second thoughts and returned to pitch for the Kansas City Royals minor league system. The results were okayish at AAA, but he was still released in May. Boyer thought that this International Tour lacked an international flavor so he headed to Japan to sign with the Hanshin Tigers. He was damn productive for them, posting a 2.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.

His work in Japan earned him a contract with the Padres minor league system to open 2014 with former Baby Brave teammate, Francoeur. In the hard-hitting Pacific Coast League, Boyer held his own with a 3.10 ERA in 25 games, including 7 saves. The control, which had been such an issue for him for so long, disappeared. His work in El Paso got him called up in late May and after a brief demotion, he was up in the majors for good after June 12. He finished the year with a 3.57 ERA in 32 games, including a 1.8 BB/9. Still, the Padres moved on after the season and he went hunting for a new contract. It came in the form of a $750K offer from the Twins. He started slow, but after a mechanical adjustment from Everyday Eddie Guardado, the Twins bullpen coach, Boyer got rolling and went through a 22 game stretch between April 17 to June 3 where he allowed just one run in 23.2 ING.

Again, I'm dubious about Boyer's chances to repeat his 2015 success. But again, I could be wrong. To his credit, Boyer seems like a well-liked guy who has kept a great outlook during his struggles. I imagine there is some interest in retaining his services in Minnesota for 2015 and he probably has interest himself.

More Recent Throwbacks...
Juan Berenguer (1991-92)
Charlie Morton (2008)
Freddy Garcia (2013)
...or view ALL of them.

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