On Wednesday, Houston pitching coach Doug Brocail turned 45. Four short years ago, he was playing in the big leagues, playing for your Astros. How did he do as a 41-year old that season?
Well, let's backtrack a minute to talk about the strange, twisting career of Brocail. The right-hander was drafted so long ago, he went in the January draft in 1986. That's right, January, back when there were two amateur drafts per season. He went 12th overall to the San Diego Padres, where he broke into the big leagues in 1992.
He pitches for the Friars for three seasons before being involved in that massive, 11-player trade with Houston in 1994 that saw the Astros land Derek Bell and Ricky Gutierrez while shipping out Andujar Cedeno, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley.
Oh, then, he was involved in a 9-player deal to Detroit in 1996 that saw Houston pick up Jose Lima, Darryl Ward, C.J. Nitkowski and Brad Ausmus for him, Todd Jones, Brian Hunter and Orlando Miller.
Wait, though, we're not done. He was then involved in a six-player deal with those same Detroit Tigers in 2000, sending Ausmus and Nelson Cruz (not that one, the other one) to Houston for Chris Holt, Mitch Melusky and Roger Cedeno.
That's 26 players he was traded with in the space of six years.
Things sort of went pear-shaped for Brocail starting in 2000. He started suffering from arm injuries that pretty much robbed him of the next four seasons. He did not pitch in the majors in 2001, 2002 or 2003 before making a comeback with the Rangers in 2004 at the age of 37.
After a sterling year in San Diego in 2007, where he posted a 3.05 ERA in 76 innings, Brocail signed with the Astros. That brings us to his Age 41 season, in 2008.
That year, Brocail appeared in 72 games. Only four pitchers 41 year old or older have appeared in at least 70 games, including Hoyt Wilhelm twice, Doug Jones and Ken Tekulve. What's more, Brocail struck out 64 batters that year, which was the most he'd struck out since 1999. Only five relievers posted seasons of at least 64 strikeouts at Age 41 or older. Wilhelm is there (he did it six times), along with Satchel Paige, Doug Jones, Don McMahon and Diomedes Olmedo (which is totally not a name I made up).
What's more, Brocail was basically Houston's eighth-inning guy that season. He had the second-highest leverage index of his career that year at 1.3, hearkening back to his days in Detroit, when he was also used as a premiere setup man.
That season, Brocail posted a SIERA of 3.31, according to FanGraphs, but that's not the coolest data we can mine from FanGraphs. That would be his pitching data, as we see his average fastball was up to 91.6 that season, the fastest he consistently threw it since 2005.
The big development, though, was his working in a cut fastball about 20 percent of the time. That cutter came at the expense of his curveball, and it seems to have been enough to baffle hitters.
The magic was short-lived, however, as Brocail only saw 20 games the next season and retired shortly after the 2009 season. He lives on as pitching coach of your Houston Astros, though. I wonder if he's trying to talk anyone into learning a cutter...