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who-should-we-worry-about-the-pitching | June | 2009 Articles

2009 Archives

Who should we worry about? The pitching

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Time for the second half of WHO SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT? This time, I'll focus on 2 Braves pitchers that are getting some flack from the internet community. Without any further ado... Kenshin Kawakami was signed to a 3 year, $23 million deal before the season, and fans applauded the move, mostly because of his reputation as one of the best pitchers this decade in Japan. However, some fans were concerned about a few things, mainly his stamina due to the 6-man pitching rotations in Japan. This concern has been proven to be just in Kawakami's 2 month major league career, due to this interesting set of splits. When Kawakami receives 4 days of rest, the standard amount for a pitcher in the MLB, he is 1-4 with a 6.26 ERA and 1.793 WHIP. When he gets 5 days, which is what he is accustomed to receiving in Japan, Kawakami shows off the form that made him a lucrative free agent prize, 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 0.846 WHIP.  Each set of data has a nearly identical sample size as well. Theres not a whole lot the Braves can really do about this, short of installing Kris Medlen into the rotation and working with 6 men...which would bring on a whole new set of problems, namely one less man in the bullpen. Kawakami going deep into games was another related concern, and the pitch splits related to that are equally as telling. From pitches 1 through 25 and 26 through 50, Kawakami is allowing nearly identical lines of .258/.343/.468 and .274/.333/.468. Not too great, honestly. But then from pitches 51 to 75, something happens. Kawakami gets into a groove and starts rolling, and those lines drop to .224/.338/.276...he's only allowed 3 extra base hits, all doubles, at that point in the game. The wheels absolutely fall off after pitch 75 though, as his line skyrockets to .340/.371/.717. The issue likely comes from pitch speed, as Kawakami's walk rate remains rather constant for each of quadrants. Because of the high OPS against that comes out of his first 50 pitches of the game, shifting Kawakami to a relief role may not be the best idea long-term for the Braves. But, is Kawakami really going to languish as a below average starter during his time in America? Should we be holding our collective breath? I think its safe to exhale. Kawakami's April was horrendous (1-3, 7.06, 18:11 K:BB), which was likely due to his getting used to his new home country. When May rolled around, Kawakami kicked things into high gear, putting up a line of 2-3, 3.03, 26:12 K:BB. The walk rate was still a little high, but he cut his BAA by 20 points. Kawakami is only getting better peripherally in June. In 2 starts, he has no record, but a 4.15 ERA. KK has cut his BAA by another 20 points, and has also improved his K:BB to 7:2. Also worth noting, Kawakami allowed 5 homers in 21 2/3 April innings. In May & June, he has allowed 1 in 42 2/3 innings. Sabermetrically speaking, Kawakami is pitching worse than his record by about a half run, due to a high BABIP (.311), and a low strand rate (65.4%). With the Braves bullpen seeimngly weeding out the dead weight (more about this in a minute, though) and improving from a ghastly April, the runners Kawakami leaves on base should be scoring less often, which should lead to a drop in ERA. Also worth noting is Kawakami's streak of 3 or fewer earned runs allowed in each of his starts in May & June, which spans 7 games. My final verdict on Kenshin Kawakami is that you should not worry at all, and instead become optimistic about him. Peter Moylan was one of the best Braves relievers in 2007, posting an ERA of 1.80 in 90 innings. After pitching in only 5 2/3 innings in 2008, Moylan underwent Tommy John elbow surgery and missed the rest of the season. Moylan wasn't expected to be back in game form for the beginning of the 2009 season, but impressed Bobby Cox and Frank Wren enough during spring training, and was given a slot in the Braves bullpen. Moylan was rewarded their confidence in him by walking nearly as many men as he strikes out, and allowing almost a hit an inning. Many Braves fans became fed up of Moylan after he allowed 3 runs to the Pirates on Monday, in a game eventually won by the Braves in 15 innings. But is Moylan really not ready, or still hurt, or just gone? Lets take a look. If you discount Moylan's first 2 games of the season, where he allowed 3 hits, 5 earned runs and 2 walks without retiring a batter, his season ERA drops from its current level of 5.09 to a more than respectable level of 3.13. That doesn't mean Moylan is fine and dandy aside from those 2 games: he's still walking 5.48 batters per nine, which is WAY too high for an effective reliever. His K/9 has improved by 1 full batter over 2007, but his average fastball velocity is still 2.5 mph lower. Moylan is in the same sort of situation as Jeff Francoeur: the fans expect a lot out of him, Bobby Cox has a role envisioned for him in his head, and he can't live up to either of their expectations. Peter Moylan should not be the 7th inning guy in the Braves bullpen, and is not the lights out reliever he was in 2007. That doesn't mean Moylan is Blaine Boyer bad, he's still an effective pitcher. But if he's going to regain the form that let Bobby Cox have the confidence to use him in 80 games in 2007, he really needs to cut the walks down. My verdict for Peter Moylan is to be worried if you want him to be the 2007 version, be content if you expect him to be an effective reliever.

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