First off, I have no opinion on the hiring of Oliver Marmol. I will form my opinion when I see him in action. I do think it’s odd how many people seem to find this hiring strange. In the sense that firing Mike Shildt and hiring the next-in-line is weird. Because it operates under the assumption that Shildt and Marmol are essentially the same. Which they could be! But how Mike Shildt managed doesn’t mean Marmol is managing the same way. They are different people. They will probably manage differently. I mean strategically at least.
“But the Cardinals will probably both 1) trade somebody already on the 40 man and 2) go waiver hunting such as their pickups of Quezada and Sanchez, both claimed in February of 2021.”
That is how I ended my article on Thursday about sorting through the 40 man roster. Literally a day later, the second part came true. I would not have predicted that. Today, I’ll talk about that pickup. I realize Sky touched on him a little on Saturday, but I’ll go a bit deeper in depth on the pickup. Who is Ljay Newsome? (Pronounced LJ by the way)
Newsome was drafted in the 26th round out of Chopticon High School in Morganza, Maryland. I’m guessing the Mariners didn’t expect to actually sign him because high schoolers rarely sign after the 20th round. In any case, Newsome came with one principle: do not walk hitters. This is a relatively simple principle and yet you need to recalibrate your expectations for what “do not walk hitters” looks like. Because you probably assume a certain BB rate when you hear a guy has a low walk rate. Well there are those guys and then there’s this guy.
At 18-years-old, he was sent to the AZL. He pitched in five games - 10.2 IP - and did not walk a single batter. He struck out 10 and didn’t allow a run. They promoted him to short season A ball the next season He was less impressive there. He had a 5.9% BB rate, which translated to 2.23 BB/9. That is, no joke, his highest BB rate of his professional career to date. And yeah I say he was less impressive but he had a 4.30 ERA/5.25 FIP/3.79 xFIP as an 19-year-old pitching in short season A ball. Still not bad.
Something you should probably know about Newsome is that he didn’t throw 90 mph. In a 2018 profile of him, Lookout Landing said his fastball nudges 90 on a good day. He also stands at 5’11. This is generally not the ideal version of a starting pitcher you imagine. But he gets results. Sort of.
He spent the entire 2017 season in Low A and he walked 16 batters in 129.2 IP. Literally 3% of batters he faced. And his strikeout rate was low, but not especially low and it actually looks lower because he wasn’t clogging up the bases with walks. (His K/9 would look better if he walked guys, believe it or not, which is why K% is a better stat) He struck out 20.9% of batters that year. 4.10 ERA/3.61 FIP/3.72 xFIP. Still just 20-years-old mind you.
He spent the majority of 2018 in High A. Again, he wasn’t overly impressive there, but did the same thing he did in Low A. Walked even less batters than he did in Low A, with a 2.2% BB rate. Struck out 20.7%. You might be wondering? How are this guy’s numbers not better? Wellll....a large part of the contact he gives up goes up in the air. He has a healthy amount of strikeouts given how few he walks, he just really needs to figure out a way for every ball to not be hit in the air. He had a 31.7 GB% in High A.
With 4.87 ERA/4.60 FIP/4.34 xFIP, he repeated High A at 22-years-old in 2019. His groundball rate fell further actually to just 27.1%. A funny thing happened though. He struck out everybody. He had a 30.4 K% in 100 innings. His walk rate remained at 2.2%. This is truly absurd stuff. He had 11 walks in 100 innings. 0.80 BB/9. His ERA/FIP/xFIP improved to 3.75/2.89/3.07.
He got promoted to AA. He made 9 starts there. His Ks fell a lot and his BB rate ballooned to 3.7%. But he had a career high GB%, aside from his 10 innings in rookie ball. Which was 37.5% but still. He even made one start in AAA, where he struck out 10 in 5.2 IP with one walk. Gave up four runs somehow.
That’s where he stood going into the 2020 season. On August 15th last year, he got the call-up to the big leagues while he was with the taxi squad. Here’s another fun thing about Newsome. Here’s how he took the news:
Servais: “Ljay, I’ve got some news for you.”
Newsome: “Yes, what is that?”
Servais: “Are you ready to be a major-league player tonight?”
Servais: “Are you excited about that?”
Newsome (chuckles): “Yes.”
It might help if you learn about his awesome nickname: The Quiet Assassin. Not sure how he got the nickname, but it probably did not come from Newsome. So he’s a quiet guy, doesn’t seem to show much emotion, and doesn’t walk anyone with stuff that may not be described as MLB stuff.
I glossed over something though. Newsome’s jump in K rate did not exactly come from nowhere. The Mariners have a camp where they work with their pitchers to improve their velocity, pitch selection, and pitching overall. The name of the camp is fitting for Newsome, though I would come up with a different name myself: Gas Camp. Yes, that is the name they landed on. Completely real thing. After the gas camp, Newsome came back with improved velocity, with his fastball being anywhere between 91 mph and 94 mph. And thus the 30% K rate in High A.
Anyway, he got called up last year. And he continued walking nobody. He walked just one batter in 15.2 IP - four starts, five appearances. The strikeouts didn’t translate though with just 9 in 15.2 IP. He also had a 42.1 GB%. One problem: he allowed four home runs. He ended up with a 19 HR/FB%. At 24-years-old this year, he struck out 16 with three walks in 14.2 IP. But the home run problem got worse. Not only did his GB% fall (31.3%), his HR/FB% rose. So he had 5 home runs in 14.2 IP this year.
His season ended prematurely when he got injured and ultimately needed Tommy John surgery. I don’t know when he got the surgery, but his last game pitched was May 8th, so probably close to June. Which means you can count him out for nearly all of next year. Oh sure he might be able to come back before the season’s over, but it seems all but guaranteed it’d be exclusively in the minors.
So depending on one’s optimism, Newsome is either a AAAA player whose stuff just isn’t enough for the MLB or he can be an effective swingman who doesn’t walk anybody. From what I gathered, he was a fan favorite over at Lookout Landing and he’s the poster boy of the success of Gas Camp.
Weird comparison I know, but he reminds me of Mike O’Neill back in the day. Anybody remember him? O’Neill rose through the system with essentially only one trait: excellent plate discipline. He had more walks than strikeouts at every level he was at. He did this with very little power. I think the pitching equivalent of that is a guy who never walks anyone with fringey stuff. The difference between the two is that there is no equivalent to adding velocity for a hitter. So O’Neill stalled out at AAA. Also unlike Newsome, O’Neill was pretty old at just about every level he hit, while Newsome has mostly been young at every stop.
I stopped over at Lookout Landing to ask about Newsome and here are a few responses I got:
“Long reliever/spot starter type who is nice to have available as depth in AAA but ideally would not be relied upon for long” - 206BornHoya
“He was viewed as a developmental success story, a guy with extraordinarily fringy stuff who somehow dominated the minors despite scouting reports that said he was a non-prospect, striking out guys left and right and eventually making it to the major leagues. And then he got hurt. Will his stuff eventually play in the majors? I hope it does, even if his upside is as a 6th or 7th starter. Most likely he winds up as one of those AAA guys who can be called up in a pinch and not embarrass you. It’s fun to root for players like that, but I guess you’ll have to wait a while until he gets better.” - Suburban Shocker
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he re-makes himself as a back end starter. Tommy John is the fountain of youth for arms, sometimes they come back with more than you knew they had and he has exceptional control. I’m being generous but really he’s got a snowball’s chance in Hell of staying on a 40-man into next year. I’d like to have him going into 2023 but next year he’s a dead roster spot without a ton of upside and will make an MLB salary while on the IL for most or all of the season.” - Matthew Edward Swinkey
“Newsome was starting to find his niche as a MLB pitcher. That long relief role suited him well. He came in and pumped strikes. Good luck to him though.” - Between the Lines
“He also was a bit of a darling around here because he started out as a low velo (88 mph FB) command guy pitching down in the zone and getting rocked regularly until he made adjustments in training and technique and started popping 96 and blowing guys in high A and AA away with 4 seamers at the top of the zone. The fastball seemed to have dropped back down to the 92 range, and just throwing cheese at the top of the zone isnt news to major leaguers, but he’s probably good depth for the price.” - goyo70
Very much thanks to all the responses I got, which i think paints a pretty clear picture of who Newsome is. I myself would like the Cardinals to hang onto The Quiet Assassin, which seriously top notch nickname right there. Alright, I’m in. Ready to get disappointed when he gets designated for assignment later because it’s kind of tough to carry this guy on the 40 man all offseason. Maybe they hope they can pass him through waivers and put him in AAA or maybe they’re hoping they can actually keep him on the 40 man and then placing him on the 60 day on Opening Day.
Last note: I believe he has all 3 MLB options left. For whatever that’s worth. I mean if you’re grabbing a fringey MLB guy who “won’t embarrass you” if you need him, definitely helpful that you can send him down. I doubt he’d last long enough to need all 3 MLB options though. Either he’s never good enough to stick in the MLB or he is, and in the former case, the Cards give up on him earlier than those 3 options are used and in the latter, they won’t use them. I do hope to see him pitch in a Cardinal uniform though because it’s just a fun story.