By Ross Gore
Welcome to part two of the two-part examination of how the Orioles 2010 starting rotation is fairing in ‘The Year of the Pitcher’. Recall from the previous post, that so far in the 2010 MLB season home runs are down (~11.5%), walks are down (~2%), strikeouts are up (~0.5%), and the Ground ball to Fly ball ratio (GB/FB) is up (~3.5%) as of July 22, 2010 compared to 2009. In part one we looked at the 2010 Orioles starting rotation as a whole compared to the 2009 starting rotation. Here, we’ll examine three members of the 2010 starting staff individually and see how well they have performed compared to their 2009 efforts.
Specifically we’ll look at Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie and Brad Bergesen – the starting pitchers who have pitched enough in both 2009 and 2010 to yield a large enough sample for semi-significant comparisons. We’ll look at each pitcher in the same four statistical categories as we did in part one: K/9, BB/9, HR/9 and GB/FB. Each statistic is defined below.
K/9 – measures the number of strikeouts recorded per 9 innings.
BB/9 – measures the number of walks recorded per 9 innings.
HR/9 – measures the number of home runs allowed per 9 innings.
GB/FB – measures how frequently a pitcher gets batters out on ground balls versus fly balls.
In the following table, three rows of data are shown for each of the three pitchers. The first row shows the performance of the pitcher in the 2009 starting rotation in each of the four categories. The second row shows the performance of the pitcher in the 2010 starting rotation in each of the four categories. The third and final row shows how one would expect the pitcher to perform in 2010 based on his 2009 performance, given the league average decreases in HR/9 and BB/9 and the league average increases in K/9 and GB/FB. Obviously, the third row for each pitcher is purely fictional and hence is labeled the expected 2010 season (x2010).
The most glaring area of this table is row labeled ‘Brad Bergesen 2010’. This isn’t surprising, even the most casual of O’s fan could have told you Bergie’s been a lot worse this year than his rookie campaign in 2009. His struggles have been well documented and whether its injury or mechanics Bergie has significantly regressed in a year where most pitchers are improving. The home run rate (HR/9) is particularly alarming. His ability to get ground ball outs with his sinker had resulted in a very low HR/9 (0.80 or less) at every level of his professional career outside of a 17 inning cup of coffee in high A ball in 2008 when it was 1.04. More than any of the other four areas here Bergie’s gopher ball problem has to be corrected if he has a future at the major league level.
After a horrendous 2009, Jeremy Guthrie is coming the closest of these three pitchers to getting an invitation to the ‘Pitchers Strike Back’ party. Guthrie’s control, ability to limit home runs and coerce ground balls from hitters have all significantly improved. I don’t think that Guthrie will ever re-realize the level of success he had in 2007 and 2008 but his current skill level in these four categories seems sustainable.
This only leaves us with Mr. Kevin Millwood. Millwood had a great start to the year but has struggled mightily as of late. Millwood’s strikeout and walk numbers are actually better than we would have expected in 2010 but he is giving up many more fly ball outs and home runs than he did 2009. This is surprising for several reasons. First, Millwood has always been a better than average pitcher when it comes to keeping the ball in the park. His career HR/9 is 0.98 while the HR/9 average for starting pitchers tends to sit between 1.00 and 1.10. If he continues to pitch the way he has in 2010 he may double his career HR/9 rate by posting a 1.80 HR/9 this year. Second, Millwood is pitching his home games this year in a less homer friendly ballpark than he did last year. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is the sixth most homer friendly stadium while Camden Yards is the eighth; its not a particularly significant difference but it should have helped him, not hurt his HR/9 efforts. Third, since batted ball data started being collected in 2002, Millwood has never recorded a season with a GB/FB less than 1.00. It seems to be at least an even money bet that he will this year. These new career ‘lows’ could be related to moving from lighter hitting AL West to the rough and tumble AL East, but I don’t think that completely explains the situation. I do not have any qualifications as a scout or a background in sports medicine but I don’t think Millwood is completely healthy. There is just too much sample data for Mr. Millwood to believe that he has gone from being an above average pitcher in HR/9 and GB/FB to well below average this year.
This ends the look at the Orioles starting rotation in 2010. Its been tough to watch the no-hitters, perfect games, and complete games shutouts around the league without feeling left out of the excitement. The optimistic part of me looks at the improvements in 2010 with the ‘Big Three’ young arms and tries to get excited for next year. However, the pessimistic part of me sees that the improvements aren’t overwhelming, that Jeremy Guthrie will never be as good as he was in 2007 and 2008 and that we paid Kevin Millwood 15 million dollars, or one fifth of our payroll, for a career low year. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have some black and orange tears to shed.