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season-in-review-starting-pitching | November | 2009 Articles

2009 Archives

Season in Review - Starting Pitching

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Seems like awhile since I've done one of these, and I think its time to return to the format...time for a review of the 2009 Braves starting pitchers! Follow BravesHeart on Twitter! Alright, now time for a look at the starters. 8 Braves made starts this year, but I will not be mentioning Jojo Reyes or Kris Medlen today...Reyes because he was only up for 5 starts and had a rough go of things, and Medlen because he settled into the bullpen and will be in the spotlight when I begin to mention the relievers. Now, lets start at the top of the heap with the Braves marquee free agent signing, Derek Lowe. I discussed Lowe in my column centered around trading him yesterday, so this may be a little brief today. For the first 2 months of the season, Lowe looked like he was going to be worth his $60 million, posting a 3.49 ERA through the end of May and was looking like a possible All-Star selection. Then the calendar turned to June, and disaster struck. From June until the end of the year, Lowe's ERA jumped nearly 2 runs to 5.33, and his OPS against and BABIP both went through the roof. The increase in BABIP tells me that Lowe just got much more unlucky as the year went on, but was that really the case? Here's a fancy little chart. Keep in mind, Lowe's "good" months were April, May & July, while June, August & September were dreadful. lowe So when we take a look at things, we notice that in Lowe's best month of April, he had high K and walk rates, but the ball wasn't leaving the park at all. In May, the K rate got cut more than in half, but the ball still wasn't leaving the park at all. Then in June, it hit the fan and the walk and homer rates spiked. July, things got a little better as the walk rate was halved and the homer rate got cut down, and Lowe was perfectly fine in July. August...kind of an enigma. His walk rate increased, but not by a huge amount, and his homer rate actually decreased...but Lowe was still horrible. September, the K & walk rates were similar to April, but his homer rate was absolutely absurd. Derek Lowe is not pitcher who allows gopher balls, and that spike in September is likely an anomaly. So whats going to end up happening in 2010 for Lowe, if he stays in Atlanta? Well, if his luck manages to progress to the mean, Lowe should be able to put up an ERA somewhere between 3.70 and 4.10. Lowe really didn't pitch as bad as the mass media and casual fans will have you believe. His FIP was 4.06, and the reason his ERA was half a run higher was due to a .330 BABIP. He's not a #1, but he's not expected to be with the dynamite years that Hanson, Vazquez, and Jurrjens had this year. Now lets touch on one of the biggest surprises in baseball this year, Javier Vazquez. When I heard the news that the Braves acquired Vazquez, I was...displeased, to put it mildly. I was actually really, really pissed off. I thought Vazquez was just a garbage pitcher who couldn't get the job done. I didn't do my research, and now I realize that dude has posted a FIP above 4.00 twice this decade, in back to back years in markets he wasn't comfortable in (the pressure cooker of New York, and Arizona, where he was far away from his family in Puerto Rico). Vazquez is a K machine who has great control, as evidenced by his K:BB ratio dipping under 3 just once in the past 10 seasons (that aforementioned Yankees year). There are 2 major knocks on Vazquez. The first is that he's very homer prone, allowing more than 1 per 9 7 of the past 8 years (the one year he didn't was this season). The other knock is that he continually underpitches his peripherals. This isn't a little issue where he's off by a tenth or two, we're talking big numbers here. 2 of the past 4 seasons, his FIP was a run lower than his ERA. A full run! Not coincidentally, in those 2 seasons, he was plagued by strand rates lower than 70% and BABIPs higher than .320. In 2009, Vazquez put it all together. Career high K rate. Nearly a career low walk rate. Career low homer rate. Career low BAA despite a BABIP that was league average. He also kept the ball on the ground the second most times in his career. Javy's velocity was right around where its been his entire career, which says to me that he's not getting better or improving in any way, he's just pitching like everyone knows he can. If Vazquez can continue to pitch like this, he will definitely be worth the extension the Braves have discussed giving him. A trade to another club would likely not net as much value as Vazquez would be worth to this team in 2010. To top things off, Vazquez received one second place vote in the NL Cy Young voting, placing him fourth behind the holy trinity of winner Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, and former Brave Adam Wainwright. Congrats to Javy on getting a little recognition for a fantastic year. Jair Jurrjens came into 2009 looking to match his awesome breakout year of 2008, and boy did he ever...though you shouldn't put a ton of stock into it. After posting a 3.68 ERA his first year in Atlanta, Jurrjens one upped himself by cutting that number down by a full run to 2.60. However...his FIP was actually nearly identical to the mark he posted in 2008, at 3.68 compared to the 3.59 he posted a season ago. JJ was very lucky this season. His BABIP fell 38 points in 2009 to .273, and his strand rate was teasing 80% (79.4). Maybe more worrisome than those numbers it that Jurrjens allowed a whole lot more flyballs, with his rate rising by 12.6% to 39.1%. JJ still kept the ball on the ground more often than in the air, which is a good thing. But when you don't strike out people like Jair does (6.36 per 9) and walk a good bit of men (3.14/9), you really need to not make mistakes. JJ's homer rate rose to 0.63 per 9, and it really can't go much higher without damage coming into play. The increasing flyball rate makes me think that more of those balls will be going out of the park, and then he'll really be screwed. Lets talk about the other big free agent signing for the Braves, Kenshin Kawakami. Kawakami had a very odd season...like Jurrjens, he outpitched his peripherals, posting a 3.86 ERA compared to a FIP of 4.21. And in all honesty...I have no idea how both of those were so low. He struck out a tad above 6 per 9, while walking 3.28 per 9, and allowing 0.86 homers. His BABIP at .291 and strand rate at 73.3% were right around the league average, so theres really no extenuating factors there. I guess...posting numbers across the board really close to the league averages make you a league average pitcher, and theres really nothing to it. Kawakami was shifted to the bullpen in September to make room for Tim Hudson in the rotation, and to not tire him out after his smaller workloads in Japan. Tim Hudson came back in September and made 7 starts that were exactly what you'd expect out of Tim Hudson. Hudson's FIP was right in line with his career average, while his K rate was slightly higher and his walk rate was dead on. The homer rate on the other hand was a little high, but when you're dealing with a 7 start sample size, things can get slightly skewed by a bad outing. Worth noting is the .335 BABIP, a number that is unsustainable, which should help contribute to a better 2010 season for Huddy. Hudson is a definite upgrade over Kawakami in the rotation, and moving Kenshin to the pen in favor of him was the right move, regardless of what other fans may say. I fully expect 200 innings of 3.50 baseball from Hudson in 2010, which would be more than worth his $9 million contract, which could be one of the best bargains in baseball next season. At the end of May, the gloves came off, and Frank Wren pushed the button. After struggling through a 5th starter spot populated by the 6+ ERAs of Kris Medlen and Jojo Reyes, Wren released the rehabbing Braves legend Tom Glavine, pissing off a good bit of the fanbase in the process. He then endeared himself to that same fanbase by bringing up the best pitching prospect in baseball, Tommy Hanson. Down in Gwinnett to start the season, Hanson was unbelievably dominant, posting a minuscule 1.49 ERA in 11 starts while striking out 90 in 66 1/3 innings. Yeah, he was ready. Tommy came up to the Braves roster and immediately provided a spark for the team, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA and finishing 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Tommy wasn't as soulcrushingly dominant as he was in the minors, but there is a huge difference between the minor leagues and The Show. His K rate was second best among Braves starters behind only Vazquez, at 8.18. His walk rate was a manageable 3.24, and his HR rate was 0.70. Hanson did outpitch his peripherals, as his FIP was only 3.50 compared to his stellar ERA. Also worth noting is the .280 BABIP and 80.3% strand rate. Regardless of what the numbers may say, he still had a fantastic rookie season. Expectations will be very high for Tommy going into 2010. Will he have a sophomore slump? Will he pull a Lincecum and turn into a Cy Young candidate? I think he'll fall somewhere in between...maybe something like 200 strikeouts, 200 innings, 15 wins, and an ERA around 3.20 or so. I'd be happy with that, especially when its coming out of a 23 year old. So that does it for the starters...all that I have left are the relievers, and the bench. Expect more of those little news and notes columns when things pop up on various official Braves blogs and in beat reporter notebooks...I'm getting used to writing about little rumors and making my opinions known. And just for the road...BravesHeart on Twitter. You're done reading my writeup now, so you have more than enough time to click the link and the little follow button. All it takes is 10 seconds!

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