Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Key 2013 Statistics: 1-4 W-L, 2.58 ERA 38 1/3 IP, 16 BB, 41 SO, 0.7 WAR, 1.304 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 9.6 SO/9
What Happened in 2013
Jake Diekman emerged as a steady and reliable late-inning option from the left side. He started the season off slowly, walking almost a batter an inning. As a result, Charlie Manuel could not trust him in crucial, late game situations. The root of the problem was that Diekman was unable to throw his fastball for strikes, which rendered his plus slider useless.
He bottomed out on August 10 in Washington. He was summoned into a tight game against the Nationals and promptly walked two batters who later scored. He took the loss that night dropping his record to 0-3 with a bloated 4.29 ERA. He looked defeated.
The next day, Diekman turned his season – and quite possibly his career – around. The proverbial light bulb went on, and all of a sudden the strikes came pouring in. To Manuel’s credit he threw Diekman right back out there the next afternoon – a 6-0 blanking by Stephen Strasburg. Diekman ended up pitching the seventh inning in a mop-up role, and he struck out the side in a scoreless inning.
From August 11 on, Diekman was unhittable. The numbers were eye-popping. In 19 games: 0.52 ERA, 17 1/3 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 24 SO. He was able to throw his mid-upper-90’s fastball for strikes on a consistent basis, which made his wipeout slider that much more effective.
What to Expect in 2014
Diekman will enter Spring Training as one of the more robust options at manager Ryne Sandberg‘s disposal.
His next order of business is to work on making himself more effective against right-handed batters as there was a significant gap in his splits last season. His slash line against right-handed hitters was .298/.372/.393 as opposed to .148/.221/.148 against left-handed hitters. Lefties were a paltry 9-61 against him.
He needs to maintain his command of the strike zone throughout the season. If he is able to consistently pound the strike zone, his natural ability will take care of the rest. Left-handed relief pitchers who throw 98-mph from a three-quarter delivery and can then can put the batter away with a wipeout slider, do not grow on trees.
Righties pick the ball up out of his hand much more quickly than lefties because of that delivery. Therefore, it is imperative that he paint the corners consistently. Sandberg will then be able to call on him in all tight situations, and not just against lefties.
Diekman has the raw ability to become an elite relief pitcher. Now it’s up to him to maintain what he did over his last 19 appearances last season.