- Rating: 3.67
- 2022 stats: 29 G, 28.2 IP, 4.40 ERA, 5.21 FIP, 1.360 WHIP, 1.83 SO/BB, 93 ERA+
- Date of birth: March 15, 1994 (28 years old)
- 2022 earnings: $406,026 (via Spotrac) - prorated league minimum
- 2023 status: Claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres on December 2nd, 2022.
In last year’s review of Sean Poppen, Jim McLennan already summarised Sean Poppen’s flight to the desert. He was a 19th-round pick by the Twins and picked off waivers by the Pirates. He moved over to the Rays and ended up via waivers in Arizona. From August 2021 until the end of the season he travelled between Reno and Phoenix.
But that might not be what he was remembered for last year.
“Harvard University is not exactly renowned as a hot-bed of baseball talent. [...] Then there was Sean “Professor” Poppen who graduated with honors from Harvard, double majoring in Chemistry/Physics, and Engineering Sciences. So, if there’s a smarter man on the Diamondbacks 40-man roster, I’d like to hear about them.” - Jim McLennan in the 2021 player review of Sean Poppen on AZSnakePit
Unfortunately, for Sean Poppen baseball isn’t science. We can analyse all we want and might have a clue of what is working and not working for a baseball player, but it is impossible to tell them exactly what they have to do to become successful. A good baseball coach or manager might tweak a bit and hit the right button, but more often he doesn’t than he does. In the end it is all up to the player and what his body and mind can and can’t do.
And so Harvard grad Sean Poppen pitched to a 4.67 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2021. Jim wrote last year that there was something to be excited about: a double-digit K-rate, a lot of strikes looking, a FIP well below 4.00 and maybe some bad luck that was in play. However, the high LD% and contact rate were lurking like thieves in the shadow.
After a fine Spring Training, allowing no runs in 7.1 innings of work, Poppen made the opening day roster as one of the relievers that would get a first shot at maintaining a spot in the Arizona bullpen.
He would take the field in the first game of the season, coming up in relief in the 4th inning with 2 inherited runners gifted by Luke Weaver. He got Manny Machado to pop up, who would walk over Christian Walker while heading reluctantly to first, ending in an interference call to finish the inning. The following day Poppen pitched another low-leverage scoreless outing, which gave the Diamondbacks the trust to put him into a high-leverage situation against the Astros 5 days later.
After two hits and a wild pitch Poppen blew the save situation he was in on a fly ball from Martin Maldonado. He would then pitch two scoreless outings before heading onto the IL with shoulder problems.
A month later he was greeted upon his return by the LA Dodgers with two earned runs and after that, except for a game here and there, mainly pitched in low leverage situations until he was optioned by the end of June to make room for Dallas Keuchel.
A Zach Davies injury had him back in no time, but early July, before the All Star break, he was down again and the Diamondbacks tried with other relievers. Maybe the Diamondbacks had already accepted that Poppen was not going to be part of the nearby future, because the righty spent the rest of the time in Triple A except for a couple of games back in the majors at the end of September-early October, when he gave up 3 runs over 3 games and saw his ERA been blown up to 4.40.
Poppen’s peripherals trended into the wrong directions for the pitcher that he is: a guy with a very low spin rate on his pitches. In many ways Poppen was in 2022 comparable with Madison Bumgarner:
- 16.6 launch angle (Poppen) vs. 16.8 (Bumgarner)
- 64.3% out of zone contact (Poppen) vs. 70.5 (Bumgarner)
- 89% in zone contact (Poppen) vs. 85.7 (Bumgarner)
- 30.6 FB% (Poppen) vs. 30.3 (Bumgarner)
- 5.9% solid contact (Poppen) vs. 6.6 (Bumgarner)
James Karinchak (excellent fastball and location) and Matt Wisler (excellent slider) show that certain stats do not need to be worrisome per se, but their success in 2022 also shows that a pitcher needs to have a bit extra to be able to survive with certain stats, and you have to conclude here that Poppen’s stuff just isn’t enough. Besides, it was all a step back from the previous year.
That was even more true when facing left-handed batters, who achieved a somewhat inflated .333/.447/.633 triple slash line on especially the change-up.
Without any progress from the previous year and without any options left, Poppen was apparently removed from the 40-man roster just a few days before wrapping up this article to make space for a Rule 5 draft pick.
The Padres saw some value in Poppen and picked him up on waivers. It is hard to envision Poppen sticking onto the 40-man roster in San Diego, so they will probably try to move him through waivers themselves very soon. Good chance he makes it through.
At some time next season we could see him pitch in the majors again as either a depth option on the Padres or on any other team if he becomes bait on the waiver wire.