The decision to sign Durbin (sending Yohan Flande to the minors a day after he was told he had made the Show for the first time, like some sort of cruel joke) is basically inexplicable, but then all of Durbin’s (now thirteen season) career has been inexplicable. He has had one good season, and that came after he’d already had eight bad ones. He wasn’t ever a hot prospect, or a first round draft pick, or the sort of physical specimen to make scouts lose their minds, or anything that would call for extra chances despite repeated failure. He’s not even lefthanded. There’s really no reason he isn’t selling insurance now instead of picking up a major league paycheck. He’s made about $6.6 million playing Major League Baseball, and there’s no evidence he’s run out of chances.
Durbin didn’t even come out of a productive farm system. He was a Royal, a starting pitcher. He got into one game in 1999, then in 2000 went 2-5 with an 8.21 ERA in sixteen starts. The next year he started 29 times and went 9-16 with a 4.93 ERA. By WAR, this represents the second-best year of his career. He bounced around pitching-desperate teams for awhile — the Indians, the Diamondbacks, the Tigers, starting some and relieving some.
Somehow, Durbin hooked on with the Phillies in 2008, and in full-time relief pitched 87 2/3 IP with a 2.87 ERA. Some people are giving him a lot of credit for this, but to me it screams “fluke”, caused by (a) playing for an outstanding defensive team, and (b) giving up an unusually (for him) number of home runs, just .5 per 9. His career rate is 1.3, and in the three years since (in case you think he turned it around as a full-time reliever) it’s 1.2. His control’s not very good, though he has bumped up his strikeouts a little in the last few seasons. After a below-average 2008, he was decent in 2010, then signed a free agent contract with the Indians and collapsed last year. Certain people would say “tougher league”; I would say “much worse defense” and “turning 33”. He spent this spring with the Nats, who cut him yesterday. And for some reason, Frank Wren thought “I have to get some of that”.