Where in the world is Ronald Belisario? That is the question we’ve been asking every year. Stop me if this sounds familiar. Every spring since 2009, Belisario has shown up late to spring training, or hasn’t showed up at all. Belisario’s story is a long, and crazy one, but has a happy ending. We can only hope the good times can continue for Belisario.
Ronald Belisario, the 30 year old goggle wearing Venezuelan right hander with nasty stuff, was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Marlins in 1999. He was only 16 years old. Belisario languished in the minor leagues for the next several years. He mainly pitched for the rookie, and class-A ball teams for the Marlins, before being placed on the 40 man roster in 2004. He missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Then he began to get into trouble. In 2006 he missed the entire season because of some kind of suspension. Sound familiar yet? Is Belisario the rebel without a cause of the Dodger bullpen?
He resurfaced within the Pirate’s farm system in 2007. In 2008 he was promoted to the Pirate’s double-A team. He finished with a 25-28 minor league record, a 3.78 ERA, and career walk per nine, and whiff per nine rates of 6.6 and 3.8 respectively.
In 2009, the Dodgers offered Belisario a minor league contract, and an invite to major league spring training. Belisario had trouble getting to camp on time because of some Visa issues. But once he got his Visa issues squared away, and showed up for camp he began to flourish. After an extended spring training down in Glendale, Arizona, Belisario exploded onto the scene in 2009 like an atomic bomb, soon becoming an important part of the Dodger’s bullpen that season.
Belisario was added to the Dodger roster on April 6th, and made his MLB debut on April 7th against the Padres. Belisario had a very solid season in 2009, while pitching as one of the Dodger’s primary set-up men. Belisario pitched in 69 games that season, recorded a 2.04 ERA, and a 4-3 record in 70.2 innings of work. He posted an 8.2 whiff per nine rate, and a 3.7 walk per nine rate. That came out to 64 whiffs and only 29 walks. He only allowed four home runs the entire season, and finished with an ERA+ of 197. Those were very impressive numbers for a guy who had been in the minor leagues for nearly a decade.
Belisario was expected to have a big season in 2010, but was once again late to spring training because of more visa issues. He reportedly was dealing with some kind of driving under the influence charge, before finally showing up to camp very late. Belisario struggled for much of that season. His off the field problems eventually lead up to his mental breakdown, after an outing during a Dodger game at Philadelphia. Belisario had given up several runs during one inning, and then was seen crying in the dugout. After that appearance he was placed on the restricted list. He did return to the Dodgers for the last month of the season, but he was not the same pitcher we had seen in 2009. The 2010 season saw Belisario post a 3-1 record, an uncharacteristically high ERA of 5.04, 38 whiffs, and 19 walks in 55 innings pitched. Belisario’s absence caused then manager Joe Torre’s love affair with Ramon Troncoso (also known as Tronsucko) to sky rocket to ridiculous proportions. With Belisario gone, Troncoso’s workload doubled. That eventually led to Troncoso’s arm being utterly blown to smithereens.
The next season in 2011, it happened again. Belisario missed spring training because of visa issues, and it was rumored that it had something to do with an unspecified drug charge. Belisario’s agent told the Dodgers that he did not know when or if Belisario would return to the Dodgers at all in 2011. The Dodgers placed him back on the restricted list, and did not play at all in 2011. He couldn’t even make it into the country. In late December of 2011, Belisario’s agent informed the Dodgers that he had renewed his visa for five years, and would be able to enter the country and play for the 2012 season.
We learned that the drug charge against Belisario was because he had tested positive for Cocaine back in 2011, and as a result had to serve a 25 game drug suspension handed to him from MLB before he could begin playing in 2012.
Once Belisario had served his suspension, he rejoined the Dodgers in early May, and regained his all-star form that made him so nasty during his first season with the team. He ended up having a similar season to his 2009 campaign while pitching as a set-up man in the Dodger bullpen. Belisario finished with an 8-1 record, a 2.54 ERA, and pitched in 68 games. Belisario worked 71 frames, while whiffing 69 and walking only 24. Once again he was very good at keeping the ball in the park, only allowing three home runs all season long. He finished with a whiff per nine rate of 8.7, and ERA+ of 150. His WHIP was a career low of 1.070. The numbers Belisario put up last season were almost identical to his 2009 numbers. If you remember, the Dodger bullpen struggled without him during the first month of the season. However once Belisario returned, everything clicked into place. Kenley Jansen was moved into the closer role, and Belisario solidified the seventh and eighth innings. Because of Belisario, the Dodger bullpen became a team strength throughout the 2012 season.
Belisario was first year arbitration eligible this winter. After making 480,000 dollars last season, the Dodgers signed him to a one year 1.45 million dollar contract for 2013 avoiding arbitration. Belisario posted a 1.5 WAR in 2012, and his projections for 2013 should have him putting up similar numbers again, provided of course that he shows up for camp on time. Projections show Belisario pitching in 75 games in 2013, with a 3.36 ERA, and 35 walks, and 68 whiffs. We did learn that Belisario got into a little bit of trouble this winter, and was kicked off of his Venezuelan winter ball team. Put your mind at ease Dodger fans. He is expected to arrive at camp on time for the first time ever.
The reason Belisario is so good at keeping the ball in the park, is because he throws a very nasty sinker ball. His sinker is a heavy pitch, and tops out at 95 MPH. He is very adept at getting ground balls in the late innings. He has a career 60% ground-ball percentage, which goes along with the fact that he throws his sinker ball about 60% of the time. He also has a four-seam fastball which can reach the mid 90’s, and a hard slider he throws mainly to right handers.
Will Belisario show up to camp on time this season? It would be a first. There is no doubt in my mind that Belisario is a very strong pitcher with great stuff. Without a healthy productive Belisario, the Dodger bullpen just doesn’t function correctly. If Belisario can stay away from the off the field problems that have plagued him over the last few years, then I am very confident he will have another strong season as the Dodger’s primary set-up man behind closer Brandon League. The success of the Dodger bullpen relies heavily on the sinkerball of Ronald Belisario. I think we will all find out that Ronald Belisario will be a vital cog in the Dodger bullpen for the 2013 season.