August 16, 2010
Young AL East Hurlers
Sticking with a young pitcher in the American League East can be difficult, but it can pay off when the starter is talented enough. Take Clay Buchholz and David Price for example—you can argue that both pitchers have been lucky and performed better than their SIERA suggests they should, but there's no denying their impressive campaigns given the context they have to pitch in. Via quality of opponent OPS, Buchholz has faced the fourth most difficult lineups in baseball (747, while allowing an OPS of 614) and Price, the 13th (744, 650). Today we'll take a look at some pitchers who haven't found the same success in the AL East yet, but have potential to survive in spite of their setting in 2011.
Brian Matusz has scuffled a bit in 2010 after showing promise in a 44 inning sample in 2009. The lefty has seen his strikeout rate dip to right around the league average (6.9) and his walk rate climb to the same (3.5). While he's dropped his homers to the average as well, he has allowed a .431 slugging—a significant portion of that comes from a lofty batting average against though, as his ISO allowed is .151.
Matusz has stranded just 67 percent of his baserunners and allowed a BABIP of .327, which you can blame partially on the defense behind him (Baltimore ranks #24 in Defensive Efficiency, converting 68.3 percent of balls in play into outs). His SIERA is nearly a run better than his ERA (4.49 against 5.28), but he does have some work to do if he wants to be able to match that figure. Matusz was more aggressive about throwing first-pitch strikes in 2009, whereas he's been more average in that regard in 2010. He has hitters swinging out of the zone more often, but they are making more contact as well.
Better pitch location and a more aggressive approach from the start of a plate appearance could help him rack up more strikeouts and rely on the defense behind him less, but that's the kind of thing you figure out by pitching in the majors more. Matusz, despite his ERA and the division he's pitched in, has been solid in 2010, and deserves more of a look in 2011 than first glances suggest.
Wade Davis is another starter who performed well in limited duty in 2009 but has not found the same success in his first full season in the majors. Unlike Matusz though, Davis has been able to post an ERA better than his SIERA (4.45 against 4.87). Look no further than Tampa Bay's league-leading 71.5 percent of balls in play converted into outs for the reason behind that—Davis has a .280 BABIP on the year.
Of course, BABIP doesn't include homers, and Davis has given up more than his share of those over the course of 121 innings. His 1.5 homers per nine is half-a-homer per nine above the league average, and has resulted in an opponent slugging of .451 and an opponent ISO of .187. Davis has had the poor combination of allowing many flyballs (1.0 G/F, 43 percent flyballs) as well as many homers per flyball (12 percent, more than double his 2009 figure). If you were wondering how a pitcher can outperform the BABIP average but also have a higher OPS allowed than opponent OPS, the long ball is your answer.
Davis gives up a lot of homers by catching too much of the inner half of the plate with his fastball, and it's something that has happened more than occasionally given the 20 bombs he's allowed. He has very good stuff, but he hasn't been able to whiff batters often despite a minor league career full of punch outs (he's a full strikeout below the league average). Like Matusz' situation, Davis should improve simply by facing more major league hitters—even developing a Pavlovian response to hitters sending fastballs on the inner half of the plate into orbit would help his numbers. A real adjustment that saw him use his stuff to get hitters to swing at pitches they can't do anything with would be best of course, but that's something you learn with more innings. With Davis, holding on to him in leagues where you have just a few keeper options might be a tough sell, but in AL-only he could be worth a look if you need young pitching.