Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tale of Three Pitchers

Three pitchers that figured greatly in their teams' runs to the playoffs and beyond have been in the news this week. Two will be pitching for different teams and one is still under contract. All three have had varying levels of success, two of them have had high levels of success. All faced difficulties in 2009 and have serious question marks behind their names. The three? Todd Wellemeyer, Chien-Ming Wang and Daisuke Matsusaka.

Wellemeyer just signed with the Giants, so let's start with him. Two years ago, he seemed to be another of Duncan's miracles for the Cardinals. He went 13-9 with an ERA of 3.79. After never throwing more than 79 innings in any season in his years with the Royals, Cubs and Marlins, he threw 191 quality innings for the Cardinals.

Then 2009 came and Wellemeyer had a dud. His record sunk to 7-10. His ERA ballooned to 5.89 and his hits per nine and homers per nine innings were downright scary. So the question needs to be asked, is he as good as 2008, or as bad as 2009? The answer is probably no to both.

After playing around with Wellemeyer's numbers, it appears that he was pretty lucky in 2008. His BABIP or Batting Average for Balls in Play was a ridiculous .267. It was an even more absurd .216 on ball hit on the ground. His 20.6% line drive percentage was high, his walks per nine were high and he gave up 25 homers. But the Cardinals had a good team, a good defense and they won a good percentage of his games.

As lucky as Wellemeyer was in 2008, he was as unlucky in 2009. His BABIP shot up to .357 including .330 on ground balls. Remember that he had Schumaker out of position at second base and a rotating case of fielders at third and short whereas he had Troy Glaus at third and Cesar Izturis at short and Adam Kennedy at second (a good fielding infield) in 2008. .300 is about right for BABIP and would be considered neutral on the luck scale. But BABIP also shows fielding skills behind a pitcher. Wellemeyer had good fielding support in 2008 and lousy support in 2009. The Cardinals were 11th out of 16 teams in fielding percentage in the NL.

So what can the Giants expect? Probably a league average pitcher. He fared well in relief last year after he lost his rotation spot. He walks too many and gives up his fair share of homers, but whether he is in relief or starting, he should give them a shot at winning any game at least. It should also be noted that last year, he was coming off a year in which he threw more innings than ever before. That had to be some kind of factor as well.

Chien-Ming Wang has been reported close to a deal with the Nationals. The question begs as to why the Yankees gave up on him. What do they know that they aren't telling anyone? After all, before his injury in 2008 (running the bases in an interleague game), he had gone 54-22 for the Yankees. That's a pretty darn good winning percentage, eh? And it wasn't a fluke. In 2006 and 2007, his ERA+ was over 120.

So Wang got hurt and when he tried to come back last year, he had one of the most horrendous starts in the history of baseball. The Fan watched most of those games and has never seen a pitcher get so rocked...ever! Obviously, he wasn't right. After spending some time on the DL, he came back late in the year and pitched three games in relief. The numbers looked good for those outings too. So given his history, and given the state of pitching in the game, why would the Yankees just let him walk? Only they know. But it will be interesting to see if they were right or if he comes back and pitches well for his new team.

If he does sign with the Nats and can give them some semblance of his former self, they could be a lot more fun to watch this year than last. They already have Marquis, so they could have some decent starters at least.

Daisuke Matsusaka (his nickname of Dice-K is MUCH easier to say) is pretty much in the same boat as Wang except he still has a contract with his old team. If he didn't, odds would be that he wouldn't still be with the Red Sox either, especially when he angered his manager in a dispute over his conditioning and the state of his shoulder.

Like Wang, Dice-K had a dreadful year to forget in 2009. After two years of success, he apparently hurt his shoulder in the World Baseball Waste of Time Thingy. He never could get started for the Red Sox, but since they have committed a lot of money with him, he will get a chance to prove he can pitch again for the Red Sox--something Wang didn't get from the Yankees.

But again, Dice-K's numbers are interesting. He fared moderately well in 2007. His BABIP was right where it should have been at .301. He walked way too many batters, but struck out a passel of them too. His 18-3 in 2008 was something of a fluke. His BABIP was an insane .260 which also showed how good the Red Sox were in the field. His walks were still high and he has showed a propensity over the years to pitch worse when runners are on base and he has to pitch out of the stretch. His saving grace is his strikeouts--consistently in the 8.2 K/9 range for his career.

Last year, he wasn't quite as bad as much as he wasn't quite that good in 2008. His BABIP shot up to .382 which is REALLY high. Everyone agrees (including the Red Sox themselves) that the Red Sox did not field well last year. Shortstop was particularly painful.

So what does this tale of three pitchers tell us? First, things sure do change from year to year, don't they? Second, if all three are healthy, they could help the teams they will be pitching for. Predictions? Dice-K, from all accounts has worked hard on strengthening his shoulder and legs and should finish with an ERA+ between 115 and 125. Wang, if he is healthy, should finish with an ERA+ of between 100-110 and Wellemeyer will be anywhere from 95 to 105. If those predictions were to come true, everyone who employs them should be quite happy.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

I'm guessing there is something seriously wrong with Wang. The Dodgers also lost interest after seeing him throw. But if he does regain his old form and the Nats don't wait too long to bring up Strasburg, they could conceivably finish close to .500.

I can tell you that Red Sox fans aren't very happy with Dice-K right now. Playing through and aggravating an injury for the World Baseball Classic isn't admirable when it ends up screwing over the team that is paying you millions of dollars. He needs to get his priorities straight.