Tommy Bergjans Ready to Play Baseball's Numbers Game

Tommy Bergjans during his pitching days at Haverford College. The school is a virtual pipeline for bright minds working in major league front offices, and Bergjans might someday find himself joining that group. Meanwhile, he's content to keep striking out major league batters.

Tommy Bergjans during his pitching days at Haverford College. The school is a virtual pipeline for bright minds working in major league front offices, and Bergjans might someday find himself joining that group. Meanwhile, he's content to keep striking out major league batters. SUBMITTED PHOTO

 

NEW YORK -- Someday, Tommy Bergjans will know whether it's baseball that keeps pulling him toward Haverford, or if it's Haverford that has pushed him deeper into baseball. Either way, he will enjoy every lengthy journey.

Bergjans is the 23-year-old right-hander who relocated from his hometown of Manhattan Beach, Calif., to attend Haverford College. As a senior, he would quietly surface as a Division III All-American, striking out an NCAA-high 111 batters, 14.84 per nine innings. That alone should have gained him some interest among the pay-for-play leagues. That the Dodgers' senior vice president for baseball operations was Josh Byrnes, also a Haverford grad, didn't hurt.

So it would be with Byrnes' appreciation for strikeout pitchers and his Delaware County alma mater that the Dodgers would make a non-scholarship college pitcher their eighth-round draft choice in 2015. And so would it be that the forces that keep pulling him closer to Haverford were at it again last week when the Dodgers sent Bergjans to the Phils in a package for Carlos Ruiz.

"I know," Bergjans was saying Saturday, on the phone from Clearwater. "I went back home to California for a little bit. Now I am back on the East Coast. 

"Not a bad location at all."

It worked for him once. It could work for him again.

By the time the Phillies would offload Ruiz, he was 37, unsigned, and sitting behind Cameron Rupp. But they threw in some cash, took back A.J. Ellis and took a chance on a pitcher doing in professional baseball precisely what he'd done at Haverford. That would be striking out hitters at a remarkable pace, 133 in 130 minor-league innings this season, while walking just 29.

How does that happen?

"No secret," Bergjans said. "I think just being in the Dodgers organization, they really preached being aggressive in the strike zone. And we had these reports last year in the instructional league, a certain percentage of each pitch in the strike zone. My fastball was good, but my breaking and off-speed stuff, they weren't where I wanted them to be. They were more like 55 percent.

"So going into this year I was really trying to emphasize being able to throw more strikes in the zone with my off-speed and secondary stuff in particular. I was also trying to get my first-pitch strike percentage up, my 1-1 strike percentage up and basically trying to put myself in advantageous counts."

If that sounds like a follower of baseball analytics, it should.

If that sounds like someone who studied economics at Haverford, it should.

If that sounds like someone who wants to swirl both into a productive career in baseball, either on a mound or in a front office, that's Tommy Bergjans' idea.

"I just think the liberal arts education helps you see things critically," he said. "Hopefully, that is one of the most valuable skills that I got from Haverford. But obviously right now, I am putting aside my economics background and playing baseball and trying to compete."

That, Bergjans plans to resume doing Tuesday, when he is scheduled to start for the Clearwater Threshers at Brevard County, a Miami Marlins farm team. Under Matt Klentak, the Phillies have been stuffing their system with arms, and Bergjans' was lively enough to rate a chance.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer," Klentak said. "He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks, which was appealing."

Over two minor-league seasons, Bergjans was 6-16, including 3-13 this season at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, a crooked enough record for the Dodgers to grant him the change-of-scenery courtesy.

"Ultimately, the way I looked at myself, it was process-oriented, not results-oriented," Bergjans said. "So I think the 3-13 is a little misleading. Obviously, I wish it was better. But the Phillies liked me and the Dodgers were satisfied with my progress of keeping the ball in the strike zone."

Bergjans enjoyed his time at Haverford, where he was able to mix in a few trips to Citizens Bank Park, gaining an appreciation of the Phillies franchise.

"I watched them when I was in high school because one of my coaches was a die-hard Phillies fan," he said. "So I paid attention a little bit. When I was traded, one of my college friends said, 'You just got traded for my favorite player.' And they were obviously heartbroken that Chooch was gone. But they were happy that I was coming to the organization, which was nice. 

"I know the Phillies' Double-A and Triple-A teams are in convenient locations. So my friends from the Northeast are pretty excited. I hope I get to see my coaches and friends a little bit more. Maybe they will come out and have a little cheering section for me.

If not, they can wait a while, then cheer for Bergjans whenever he uses his pitching experience, his economic degree, his passion for analytics and his Haverford connections to help build, not just pitch for, a team. According to the New York Times, there are up to 20 Haverford College graduates working in major-league operations, including Byrnes and Major League Baseball's chief operating officer Tony Petitti.

"I like this game and being involved in this game, and I'd like to stay involved in the game in some capacity," Bergjans said. "So I think my background at college can definitely help me there.

"They are everywhere in professional baseball, Haverford alums."

Haverford alums are in baseball, and baseball runs deep in Haverford alums. In more ways than one, Tommy Bergjans is a little closer this week to both.

 
 

To contact Jack McCaffery, email him at jmccaffery@21st-centurymedia.com; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery