It’s a good time to check in on a few pitchers who haven’t been greeted with the results that their skills merit. We have a large enough sample size (for most pitchers) to interpret strikeout rates and most PITCHf/x data with some degree of reliability. Home run rates, on the other hand, are another story. My three “diamonds in the rough” this week have all fallen victim to the long ball this year at a rate that is likely not going to persist.
These are three starting pitchers I’d buy stock in. I chose these pitchers with the long run in mind, since I’m counting on them to fall back to earth—or, at least, back inside the yard.
Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves
Hudson has never really been a strikeout pitcher; he relies on his sinking fastball to induce ground ball outs. This year he has fallen victim to the long ball more often than a sinker ball pitcher should, and his ERA is artificially high as a result. Hudson’s ground ball rate is gradually declining as he grows older, but we shouldn’t infer that this relationship as a causal one. Hudson’s sinker is moving just about as much as it has in recent years, and he has silenced those who were worried about his fastball velocity.
What (if anything) is Hudson doing differently this year? I couldn’t find too much, but if we want to get nitpicky, he is using his off-speed pitches a bit more often. These pitches don’t appear to be any less effective, though. Hudson has also been using his curve ball surprisingly often (around 25 percent of the time) when ahead of right-handed hitters.
If you watch Hudson on the mound this year, you’ll notice that he has shifted his positioning so that his right foot barely touches the left-hand side of the rubber. As you can see on the chart below, Hudson pitched from this angle in 2010-2011, but moved toward the center of the rubber in 2012. His exaggerated release point has allowed Hudson to run his sinker in harder on right-handed hitters, and to back it up against left-handed hitters. He has induced almost twice as many misses per swing with the pitch this year as he did last year.
In recent years, Hudson has been able to vary his pitch usage quite well in two-strike situations, so I’m not sure why he has decided to become more predictable this year. Regardless, look for Hudson’s ERA to improve as his ground ball rate regresses and his home run per fly ball rate improves. He’s still the same pitcher we know and love.
Dan Straily – Oakland Athletics
Straily has had an interesting season thus far. His earned run average stands at a miserable 7.27, yet his fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark of 4.18 suggests that he has merely been unlucky. In addition to suffering from the home run plague, the A’s starter owns one of the league’s worst strand rates. While he does seem to struggle with his control from the stretch, he should see fewer runners score soon enough—so long as his inflated BABIP regresses. Straily’s strikeout-to-walk ratio plummets from 2.71 to 1.60 with runners on base, but we haven’t seen enough from him to believe in these numbers.
I am optimistic that Straily will turn things around sooner rather than later. He’s a strikeout pitcher, and he has consistently demonstrated the ability to dominate hitters all the way through the A’s minor league system. He possesses a running fastball that can be paired effectively with his slider against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. If Straily begins to consistently locate his fastball on the corners, we all owe him a second look.
Edwin Jackson – Chicago Cubs
In my eyes, Jackson is having a fine season. Hawk Harrelson might disagree with me, though, because the right-hander owns a 1-6 record and a 5.76 ERA. His strikeout rate is higher than it has ever been, and his fastball is moving more than what we’re used to seeing from him. His sinking fastball is running in on right-handed hitters (and occasionally left-handers) often this year, and he has posted a ground ball rate exceeding 60 percent with this pitch. Jackson is a fun pitcher to watch, and at 30, is enjoying a resurgence that makes us wish he were 10 years younger.
As Jackson’s unsightly strand rate begins to stabilize, many will take notice of his achievements this season. His batted ball misfortune this season is likely keeping him on the Cubs roster, as contending teams will be looking to acquire Jackson as the season progresses. His value for fantasy owners can only improve.
*Thanks to Brooks Baseball for the pitch data and charts used in this article.