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 email@example.com.