Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Hot Starts
By Ben Valentine

In every sport season there are players who start out on fire, performing well above expectations in the beginning. Because the season is young and stats are fresh, those hot starts always look impressive. However, for the most part these players tend to revert back to their career norms over the long haul. This is especially the case in baseball, where the 162 game season leaves less room for flukiness.

Today we’ll be looking at pitchers, specifically the top ten ERA guys at the moment. It’s now nearly the end of May, so these guys have had a month and a half of pitching under their belts and often have faced teams multiple times. It’s at this point in the season where people begin to wonder whether or not a player’s hot start is for real or not. So who’s the tease and who will continue to please? Let’s find out.

Jose Contreras, Chicago White Sox: Contreras is your surprise ERA leader to this point in the season, going 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA and microscopic .87 WHIP in 52 IP. Just off the shelf, he seems to have left whatever issues he had with the Yankees in years past behind. But is he this good? This season his K/BB is 25/11, or 2.27. That’s higher than anything he’s posted before, but has a K rate of just 4.33, which isn’t very good. He is getting more GB outs, 1.39, than he has at anytime since 2004. Since Contreras’ K rate should eventually elevate back to his more normal area around 7.00, his ERA should stay respectable. But at age 34, (maybe 34, you never know with those Cubans) it is hard to imagine him improving on last year’s 3.61 mark. He’ll be good, but not this good.

Verdict: Medium Tease: Contreras is a solid #3 guy and maybe a low end #2. But he’s not a number #1 and at 34 he never will be.

Scott Kazmir, New Yo…. I mean, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: It burns me up to have to write that last “Devil Rays” part. While Victor Zambrano is done for the season and most likely as a Met, Kazmir is 7-2, with a 2.39 ERA in 64.0 IP, tying him for first in AL in wins and second in ERA. Many saw Kazmir as a future ace, but is he there yet? His WHIP, 1.28, says no. But his K/9, 9.42, and K/BB, 3.19, say hell yes. Kazmir’s stuff has never been the question. It’s always been his stature and walk rate. He’s been relatively healthy so far and his walk rate is finally down. Things like that can always elevate again, however Kazmir was dominant at every minor league level and solid last year in his first full season. He’s good for this year and probably will be something special down the road. Don’t think I’ll be saying that for Mr. Zambrano… well ever.

Verdict: The Real Deal: Sick K rate; declining walks rate equal two things. First: Emerging ace. Second: Worst Trade in Mets history.

Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks: The ace of my all underrated rotation, I mentioned Webb then as having a season that has finally gotten him some notice by the national media. Webb currently stands at 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Those look ace like. But what do we find when we look deeper? Webb’s K/9 is at 5.86, which isn’t all that impressive. However as I mentioned in my previous post about him, his ability to induce the ground ball makes up for it. This season Webb’s GB/FB rate is a ridiculous 4.28. But since last year it was 4.34 and he’s now 27 and hypothetically in his prime, it’s entirely possible it stays around that mark. While I doubt his K/BB ratio will remain at 6.00, it would take a huge fall off for his ERA to jump a great deal. Webb’s going to stay in the top 10 ERA leaders for some time.

Verdict: The Real Deal: Previous years show that even if he has no control it’s hard to score off Webb. If he continues with any degree of the precision he’s shown this year, he probably will win the ERA crown and maybe the Cy Young.

Mike Maroth, Detroit Tigers: Perhaps the biggest “what the?” guy on the list. Maroth hasn’t been looked at as anything more than a backend guy since he came up in 2002. And with good reason; his career K/9 is 4.41 with a K/BB of 1.85. He’s a ground ball pitcher, but at 1.42, it’s not really enough to get away with that. Of course he’s 28, so maybe this is just a breakout season, right? Wrong. Nothing in Maroth’s peripherals have changed. This year his K/9 is actually down, to 4.15, and his K/BB is a miserable 1.47. His GB/FB ratio is also down to 1.28. Opponents have posted a .844 OPS against him this year. Heck they’re hitting .313. How does he have a 2.46 ERA? Beats me. But we’ve played this game before: 4.15 K/9, 1.47 K/BB, 1.36 WHIP, 2.46 ERA. Which of those numbers doesn’t belong?

Verdict: Huge Tease: Such a big one Detroit should actually trade him right now. They probably would get something decent back from some sucker. Maroth has never been anything more than a backend starter and still isn’t.

Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds: One of the biggest surprises of the young season, Arroyo was a pitcher with declining peripherals sent to the second level of pitcher’s hell. But instead of continuing to drift towards oblivion, he’s taken a step towards stardom. Arroyo’s ERA is second in baseball with at 2.29 in 71.2 IP. His WHIP is at 1.06 which is exceptional and his K/BB is the best it’s ever been at 3.79. Most people expect Arroyo to flop as teams in the NL see him again but hey, that’s why we’re here. His K/9 is a very solid 6.75, which is up a ton from last year (4.38). However since his career mark is 5.74 and he’s posted a mark above 6.00 in every season except 2001 and 2005, I expect that to remain stable. His homer rate is .88/9 which is down from last year’s .96/9 mark and he’s inducing slightly more GB outs than normal (1.17 vs. 1.00 career). So is he pitching above his head? Yes. But it is not quite a fluke, at least not as much as people think it is. My guess is Arroyo’s ERA will be around 3.00 by the end of the year, which will still be quite good.

Verdict: Small Tease: He’ll be good just not as good as he’s been.

Tom Glavine, New York Mets: The first of a couple of old members in this group, Glavine is having his best season in years. What’s been odd is that his peripherals have been very un-Glavine like. Normally a guy who didn’t strike anyone out, walked quite a few and had a larger WHIP than his ERA would indicate, Glavine this year has struck lots of people out, and has a low WHIP. (He’s still walking people though) So far in 2006, Glavine has a K rate of 7.03 with a K/BB ratio of 2.32. His WHIP stands at 1.13 and his ERA at 2.48. So unlike a guy like Maroth, his ERA is backed up by his peripherals. However, those peripherals are not supported by his career and specifically the last few seasons. Glavine is a guy who last struck out over 7.00 batters per nine back in 1994! Twelve years ago! The last time he posted a K/BB anywhere near his current 2.32 is in 2000 (2.34). I don’t care how much people say the guy has reinvented himself, things like this don’t happen to 40 year olds naturally. And since Glavine’s head is still the same size, I’m going to say he won’t keep this up.

Verdict: Big Tease: He probably can post an ERA in the low to mid 3.00’s since he's done it over the last few years. But common sense says what he’s done to this point isn’t going to last.

Brad Penny, Los Angeles Dodgers: A guy with great stuff who’s had the rep of never being able to put it together consistently, Penny is in fact, an excellent pitcher. If it weren’t for his injuries, he would have made a solid addition to my all underrated rotation. He hasn’t thrown 200 innings since 2001 and hasn’t really gotten close since 2003. So what about this year? Penny’s ERA is a very good 2.53 and his WHIP is respectable 1.20. The good news for Dodgers fans is that Penny’s K/9, 6.75, is right around his career mark of 6.50 and that at 27, it would make sense he’s having a break out year. However there are two big issues with that. He is injury prone and perhaps more importantly, while his GB/FB ratio is down, (1.02 compared with a 1.27 career mark) his home run rate has dropped from .87/9 in 2005 to .34/9 this season. Eventually, the balls will start flying out of the park again for Penny and his ERA will rise.

Verdict: Small Tease: Penny’s ERA should be solid this whole year. But I don’t think it will get any lower than it is now and probably will rise a bit, most likely into the low 3.00’s.

Mike Mussina, New York Yankees: Many people had the Moose left for dead last year, but his 7.11 K/9 and very good 3.02 K/BB ratio suggested otherwise. This year, Mussina has improved on both, posting a 7.97 K/9 and a phenomenal 5.02 K/BB. Correspondingly, he has a 2.57 ERA and .98 WHIP. Like Tom Glavine, he’s an old pitcher who people believe has resurrected himself. But as his numbers from last year show, Mussina hasn’t been resurrected as much as being just a bit luckier. I don’t mean it disparagingly; Mussina was hurt by an awful Yankees defense the last two years. His .276 and .284 Opp BA against doesn’t really fit with his K or BB rates. This year it is the other extreme; at .217. Mussina’s walk rate will probably rise again, which will cause his WHIP and ERA to do the same, but an ERA in the low to mid 3.00’s is certainly attainable.

Verdict: Small Tease: He’s not this good, but the Moose is still a front end starter.

Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals: Last year’s NL Cy Young award winner looked to pick up where he left off last year. With a 2.63 ERA, he seems to have done just that. When you look deeper at the numbers, there is something interesting about his peripherals to this point. While his K/BB is down from 4.18 in 2005 to 2.79, his GB/FB ratio is up from 1.98 last year to 2.47. Carpenter is 31, so as long has he continues to avoid the injury bug, his numbers should remain consistent with what they’ve been in the past. If you look at his 2004, it’s basically the same as his 2005, with the exception of ERA and HR allowed. So, I expect him to get fewer GB outs in the future while also walking fewer batters. In the end it will balance out to allow Carpenter to post an ERA around where it is now and where it was last season.

Verdict: The Real Deal; well as long as he stays healthy.

Brett Myers, Philadelphia Phillies: A hyped prospect who finally put it together last year, Myers was still a large question mark in a lot of people’s minds. Could he withstand another year pitching at Citizen’s Bank Ball Park? His 2.75 ERA suggests answer is yes, which makes him unique among Philly starters. However the peripherals suggest otherwise. Myers’ K/9 and K/BB were 8.69 and 3.06 respectively in 2005. This year, they stand at 6.86 and 2.50. Those are pretty good, but a decline from last year. His GB/FB ratio is also down to 1.34 from 1.46. If he continues with those numbers this year he will not be able to continue his success at his current level. Of course since he’s 25 the temptation is to say his K rate will return to form. However, his career number is 6.87, almost the exact mark for this year. In the minors, outside of a 27 inning stint in rookie ball, he never posted a mark higher than 7.50, which was at AA. Therefore I don’t think his current K rate is that out of line. Considering that last year he posted better peripherals and his ERA was 3.72, I’m going to say this year has been a bit of a mirage to this point.

Verdict: Big Tease: It’s partly the ballpark’s fault too for me saying this, but there’s almost no way he continues with an ERA this good. If he K/BB approaches what it did last year then he could get his ERA into the mid 3.00’s. But that would require he raise his strikeout rates back into the 8.00’s or drop is walk rate even further. I doubt he does either so Myers will be lucky to end up with an ERA around where it was last year.


Blogger Matt Brown said...

On Bronson Arroyo, he is putting up a pretty spectacular early case that he will NOT be easier to face the second time around. Thanks to the scheduling gods, Arroyo has already faced four different teams (the Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals and Brewers) twice this season. Check out his combined numbers from the second start vs. each club...

W-L 3-0
Team W-L 4-0
IP 31.0
H 22
ER 2
BB 4
K 22

Arroyo may not have much musical talent, but as a pitcher he's in a groove right now. And the unfamiliarity factor doesn't seem to be the reason why.

4:30 PM  

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