Spencer Backstrom pitching for Pacific University
Transaction Analysis

Transaction Analysis: The Elusive Unaffiliated Bullpen Ace

The Milwaukee Milkmen signed RP-R Spencer Backstrom to an unknown contract

Building a bullpen in an unaffiliated league (specifically in the North American independents) is not an easy task. The majority of players who end up in the bullpen of an unaffiliated squad are either a failed starter or reliever. The keyword in that sentence is failed. If you’re a failed starter there’s always the chance that your stuff will convert to a bullpen role. There have been plenty of failed starters who became good relievers in unaffiliated ball and either rode that wave back to affiliated ball or took what they learned and became quality starters throughout the unaffiliated ranks. The failed relievers more often than not end up remaining failed relievers and take up space until someone less failed comes along.

All of that is to say that there aren’t many relief specialists floating around the world of unaffiliated baseball. The theory is that anyone who is a great reliever will find their way to affiliated ball no matter what their starting point. Thusly unaffiliated clubs are super vigilant for the reliever with dynamic stuff or great numbers. The level where those numbers were accrued or stuff was flashed doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the numbers were put up and the stuff was flashed. That brings us to Spencer Backstrom and the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Milkmen are hoping that Backstrom’s 1.02 ERA and 0.932 WHIP are legitimate. Backstrom put those numbers up over 44.0 innings with the Bakersfield Train Robbers of the Pecos League and Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association. Those two leagues are of lesser quality than the Milkmen’s American Association. Still, the numbers are the numbers and they are mighty impressive. Last year’s Milkmen bullpen couldn’t get anyone out and it’s clear that the team is hoping they can get a hot streak out of Backstrom before he gets snagged by an affiliated ballclub.

Backstrom wasn’t a lights out closer in 2019, rather he was a lights out reliever. Though he did have a brief chance with the Train Robbers as a closer and he was 6 for 6 in save opportunities. At first, it’s doubtful that the Milkmen will use him in a closing role. They’ll want to ease him into the league, and find out if his stuff holds up at a higher level. One thing is for sure, Backstrom is either going to sink or swim as a reliever. During his college days, Backstrom was a starter and he put up some gaudy numbers, in a bad way. It’s only since he became a pro and switched to a relief role that Backstrom has shined. There’s nothing to indicate that Backstrom should ever be moved out of the bullpen.

I’m not sure if Backstrom will be the pitcher the Milkmen think he can be. Perhaps he will move up a level and his stuff won’t flash anymore. That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s clear to anyone paying attention that the Milkmen think they have found a gem in Backstrom and for his sake hopefully they end up being right.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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