Ron Villone has moved his way up from an irrelevant Spring Training arm to potentially making the opening day roster. Villone is a 38 year-old, lefthanded reliever who has spent time with 11 organizations and has not played more than two consecutive years with any one team. He was drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Mariners but was traded in 1995 to the Padres for Greg Keagle and our old friend Andy Benes. He has been traded five times since then, the most recent being from Seattle to Florida in 2005. Villone was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and, in an interview with Tyler Kepner at the New York Times, didn't disprove his connection to steroids:
Was the report true, as it concerned him? “I can’t answer that, for better or for worse,” he said.
Villone turns 38 next month and he’s unsigned for next season. I asked if he worried that this would diminish his chances of getting a job. “I sure hope not,” he said, “but I really can’t tell you anything more than that.”
I asked a few other questions and got nowhere.
“It’s a serious situation, and I’m trying to take it as serious,” Villone finally said. “It’s my name, and I’m going to treat my name with respect and the game of baseball with respect.”
The sad thing is, even though it appears Villone took steroids, it doesn't appear so in the stat books. Villone has had a rocky career from the get-go, but has had a few quality seasons in between some really bad ones. He has a career 4.76 ERA and 4.94 FIP and has only been able to get ground balls 38% of the time. He will be able to strike people out, boasting a 7.09 K/9 ratio, but the numbers aren't kind beyond that, as he has a 4.81 BB/9 ratio and a 55-57 record.
I'm surprised the Cardinals decided to take a chance on Villone, since he is yet another Cardinal connected to steroids and has not had a very successful career. In what might amount to be Villone's final season, Ron will be asked to redeem himself as Tyler Johnson's replacement. His past three years have proven his stinginess against lefties, allowing a .608 OPS versus a .782 OPS against righties. If he can continue that trend, he will find a home in St. Louis as a LOOGY, which is about the only capacity I could see him being useful to this squad.
So far in Spring Training, Ron Villone has pitched 2.2 innings - 3 hits, 4 runs, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, and 1 strikeout. What do the projections have in store for Villone in 2008?
Proj. Sys. G IP ERA K/9 BB/9 LOB%
Bill James 38 46.0 4.11 7.04 4.70
66.0 4.64 7.09 4.36 70.8
54.0 4.67 7.00 4.50 71.0
ZiPS 62 67.0 4.43 7.12 4.70 71.0
The normally pessimistic ZiPS calls for an improvement from Ron's 5.31 ERA-2007 season, while Bill James has the one truly realistic scenario of only 46 IP. Villone's projections are comparable to both Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson; I guess a 4.50 ERA is the going rate for lefthanded relievers these days. But in order to make the team and stay on the team, Ron is going to have to aim for higher goals than that.