Getting to know John Axford

The Pirates made a move today to shore up their bullpen, taking John Axford from the Cleveland Indians in a straight-up waiver claim. To get him on the 40 & 25-man rosters, the team designated Matt Hague for assignment and is expected to place Stolmy Pimentel on the disabled list. If Axford’s name sounds familiar, it should — he’s made a living in the NL Central before this year. Here’s everything you need to know about the newest Pirate…


john axford pirates

John Burton Axford (unreal middle name)

Right-Handed Pitcher (relief)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 220 lbs.

Age: 31

Born in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada (second Canadian on the team, eh)

College: Notre Dame

Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2006

Previous teams: Milwaukee Brewers (2010 – 2013), St. Louis Cardinals (2013), Cleveland Indians (2014)

The Numbers

2009 MIL 0 0 3.52 7 1 7.2 5 3 3 6 9 122 3.10 1.435 7.0 10.6 1.50
2010 MIL 8 2 2.48 50 24 58.0 42 17 16 27 76 163 2.13 1.190 4.2 11.8 2.81
2011 MIL 2 2 1.95 74 46 73.2 59 19 16 25 86 202 2.41 1.140 3.1 10.5 3.44
2012 MIL 5 8 4.67 75 35 69.1 61 42 36 39 93 88 4.06 1.442 5.1 12.1 2.38
2013 TOT 7 7 4.02 75 0 65.0 73 32 29 26 65 96 4.34 1.523 3.6 9.0 2.50
2013 MIL 6 7 4.45 62 0 54.2 62 29 27 23 54 86 4.77 1.555 3.8 8.9 2.35
2013 STL 1 0 1.74 13 0 10.1 11 3 2 3 11 221 2.08 1.355 2.6 9.6 3.67
2014 CLE 2 3 3.92 49 10 43.2 34 21 19 30 51 96 4.71 1.466 6.2 10.5 1.70
6 Yrs 24 22 3.38 330 116 317.1 274 134 119 153 380 118 3.45 1.346 4.3 10.8 2.48
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2014.

Some notes:

– He was quite dominant with the Brew Crew a few years ago, with his best season coming in 2011 when he notched a league-leading 46 saves and posted a 1.95 ERA. He hasn’t been great since then, however.

– The number that jumps out at you this season: 6.2 walks per nine innings. That’s just atrocious; it’s the third worst mark among pitchers who have thrown more than 40 innings this year, behind Tampa’s Grant Balfour and Miami’s A.J. Ramos.

– On the bright side, he has neutralized it with a 10.5 K/9 rate.

– His FIP, which accounts for those K & BB rates as well as his .259 BABIP against, is up at 4.71, which looks a lot worse than his 3.92 ERA.

– If you take a look at the 2013 stats, you’ll notice he improved down the stretch with St. Louis when he was traded around this time a year ago. Hopefully it happens again.

The Repertoire

Here’s what he’s worked with in 2014:

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph)
Fourseam 478 58.15% 95.93
Sinker 62 7.54% 95.23
Slider 10 1.22% 86.08
Curve 138 16.79% 78.92
Cutter 125 15.21% 89.27

via Brooks Baseball

The fastball is clearly his go-to pitch, throwing it around 60% of the time. But it’s also a very live pitch, averaging nearly 96 mph and touching 97 in his last outing. Here’s a glimpse of that 97 mph heat from earlier this season:

john axford0002

The Contract

Axford is under team control through 2016. He went to arbitration last year as a Super Two, earning $5 million. In his (technically) first arb year this season, he got $4.5 million, meaning there’s around $1.1 million still to be paid. Axford has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining; it doesn’t look cheap now, but could be a decent bargain if he turns things around…

Thoughts on the Deal

Taking him off the Indians’ hands for pretty much nothing, he’s not a bad guy to take a flier on. But in a pennant race? I don’t know. We’ve complained a lot about the Pirates having too many “projects” in the bullpen — Pimentel of course, Ernesto Frieri, etc. Axford seems like another one. He clearly has potential to be great — and has shown it in the big leagues — but will it show up down the stretch? The Pirates can’t afford to have their bullpen keep blowing games. This is yet another risk, as Axford is yet another uncertainty. This is a pitcher, who, like Frieri, was demoted from the closer role earlier this year and cost his former team a number of games (one of his blown saves actually helped me win a fantasy matchup back in April, so thanks John). Cleveland fans apparently didn’t care for him too much, so we’ll see what happens here.

When he joined the Cardinals last season, their coaches found that he had been tipping his pitches. Considering all the praise Ray Searage and Jim Benedict get for fixing pitchers, perhaps they can reform Axford as well. So maybe they can work with him, but again, it’s a pennant race…

Other Reactions

– Comments from the man himself, Neal Huntington, via Rob Biertempfel:

“He’s a guy who’s pitched in big situations and in big games,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He’s a good addition to our bullpen.”

“He’s been trending upward lately,” Huntington said. “Our scouts like his stuff. The walks are one of the challenges we’ll have to tackle. What are the reasons for it? Is it (American) League related? Ballpark related? Command related?”

“This is a short-term deal that could have longer term benefits,” Huntington said.

– Charlie at Bucs Dugout: “Axford has a great fastball, and there have been times when I would have been very much in favor of acquiring him. This might work. But right now, I’m not sure I understand this.”

– Tim at Pirates Prospects: “Even with the walks, he has a 3.98 xFIP. That’s better than what some of the guys have in the Pirates bullpen. If they can find a way to drop the walk rate, he could be the relief pitcher they need in the 7th inning.”

– A comment from Let’s Go Tribe: “Man, we lost 2 guys this season who were great on Twitter.”


– As mentioned earlier, he’s now the second Canadian on the team — joining his new catcher, Russell Martin.

– He was a cell phone salesman before he made it to the big leagues.

– He has some unreal facial hair.

– He correctly guessed 18 out of 18 Oscar winners this year. Seriously.

– This was legendary: the night Ax lost his streak of 49 saves in a row in 2012, his wife went into labor; he ducked out of the ballpark early and left the media this great note:

– Seems like he has a good personality, which should fit in well with the Pirates.

– You can follow him on Twitter @JohnAxford.

Go Bucs

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