When the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions signed Austin Bibens-Dirkx they thought they were getting an ace starter. They needed someone to pair with Ryan Verdugo, Josh Roenicke, and Pan Wei-Lun in what looked to be an impressive rotation. Biben-Dirkx’s signing took on added import with the injury to Verdugo that sidelined him for the first few weeks of the season. There was only one hitch to the Lions’ plan, Biben-Dirkx was absolutely lit up as a starter.
Through 6 starts the Salem, Oregon native had posted a WHIP of 1.53 and an ERA of 6.30. Put simply, he wasn’t missing any bats and the contact he was giving up ended up being of the loud variety. It seems, for all intents and purposes, like the Lions had made a mistake in signing Bibens-Dirkx. But, being a foreign player they wanted to get what they could out of him before admitting defeat so they placed the righthander in the bullpen.
The Lions have been rewarded for their decision and then some. In 11.1 innings pitched out of the pen Biben-Dirkx has been nearly impossible for opponents to hit. His WHIP is an astronomically low 0.44 and his ERA a grand total of 0.00. The only noticeable difference for the former Texas Rangers farmhand has been that he is throwing to contact more. In the footage, I have watched he hasn’t made any significant tweaks to his pitch usage or sequencing. He’s seeing fewer batters though and as a result, he is throwing harder and hurling everything he has in his arsenal at his opponents. Not seeing hitters for a second or third time in an outing has helped, but so has his willingness to go at hitters as opposed to working the edges.
11.1 innings isn’t a lot of work, but it does appear as if Bibens-Dirkx has figured something out. He’s not the closer for the Lions, that job belongs to Chen Yun-Wen and the five-year pro is putting together a dominant season to keep that role well within his grasp. What Bibens-Dirkx has become for the Lions is a relief workhorse. He has been a set-up man for Yun-Wen, but he’s mainly been used as more of a pre-1980s style reliever. In three of his six relief appearances, he has pitched 2 innings or more. In his last relief appearance, he came into the game with only two outs recorded in the first inning. From there he went on to pitch 4.1 innings of scoreless baseball, keeping the Lions in a game that looked to be getting out of hand.
The Lions may have been hoping for something different when they signed Biben-Dirkx as a free agent this year. That being said, they have to be happy with the results the former High Desert Mavericks hurler has been able to produce out of the bullpen. Perhaps the Lions will double down and try Bibens-Dirkx out as a starter again, but why mess with a good thing? As long as he remains virtually unhittable out of the pen and continues to be the jack of all trades in terms of his relief role, Bibens-Dirkx should remain right where he currently resides. Sometimes what you get turns out to be better than what you hoped for, at least that’s what Bibens-Dirkx is trying to prove to the Lions.
Lead photo courtesy of Chen Zhiqu – Liberty Times