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August 17, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Kirk Rueter

by Joe Sheehan

A few weeks back in a column I wrote reviewing the first half, I made the claim that Kirk Rueter could be expected to decline from his good first half. I made this prediction based on his poor strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratios.

Rueter, of course, has pitched even better in the second half. In fact, prior to being roughed up Tuesday by the Expos, the left-hander hadn't allowed more than three runs in any start since June 26. His peripheral numbers are still unimpressive--12 strikeouts and 13 walks in 42 2/3 post-ASB innings--but his ERA is just 3.38 and he has been a key part of the Giants' run to the top of the NL West.

As a couple of readers pointed out, this isn't entirely unusual for Rueter. While I chose to focus on his poor K/BB numbers and bad performance in 1999, Rueter has had considerable success since his debut with Montreal in 1993.

Back in the 1980s, Bill James outlined the characteristics of a class of pitchers he would call "Tommy John" pitchers. These pitchers succeeded despite not showing the usual signs of effectiveness, and generally shared the following characteristics:

  • throw left-handed

  • get groundballs

  • control the running game

  • display excellent control

It is the ability to get groundballs and neuter the running game that allows pitchers in this class to succeed while allowing more hits and getting fewer strikeouts than you normally expect a successful pitcher to have.

Rueter does all of these things. He is, obviously, left-handed. While not an extreme groundball pitcher, he generally has even or better than even ratio of groundouts to flyouts, and for his career has a 1.10 GO/FO ratio. It is essentially impossible to steal off Rueter: he has allowed 24 stolen bases in his career, none in 2000. While his control is slightly off this year, he generally allows fewer than three walks per nine innings, a good ratio.

The key for Rueter is, quite simply, keeping the ball on the ground. In 1999, his groundout/flyout ratio fell below 1.00, he coughed up 28 home runs and his ERA jumped to 5.41. This year, his ratio is back over 1.00, he's cut his home run rate and his ERA is back down to 3.72.

I was quick to write off Rueter based on one data point, and in looking at him more closely, it appears I was wrong. I think expecting him to continue to be of the league's best starters is optimistic, but there's no reason to believe he can't be a quality mid-rotation starter for years to come.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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