Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Baker Needs to Step Up

Outside of Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, the Twins' rotation has been struggling mightily for nearly the entire season. We've seen an occasional beam of light emerge in the performances of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn, but for the most part these starters have been struggling and that's reflected in their bloated earned run averages.

It's not difficult to determine the roots of Slowey's and Blackburn's issues. In his first season back from a major wrist surgery, Slowey is essentially re-learning how to pitch. He's striking out fewer, walking more and relying more heavily on his below-average secondary stuff. Blackburn, meanwhile, has always walked a dangerous line with his propensity for pitching to contact, and he's inducing fewer missed swings than ever this year.

Baker, however, is more difficult to figure. He's a traditionally slow starter, with a 5.30 career ERA between the months of April and May, but he usually starts to come around in early June. Yet, we're at the end of June and Baker still hasn't gotten on track. After surrendering three homers to the Mets on Sunday, the right-hander finishes the month of June with a 6.07 ERA, thanks largely to his allowing eight homers in five starts.

The underlying numbers say that Baker isn't pitching that poorly. He hasn't allowed an inordinate number of base runners, as his 1.35 WHIP is roughly average. He's striking out batters at the highest rate of his career and he's been typically stingy with walks. His 30-to-3 K/BB ratio in June was nothing short of spectacular. Overall, he's struck out 4.37 times as many hitters as he's walked, which ranks him fourth in the American League behind Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver and Zach Greinke -- excellent company. (Lee, by the way, has a 19.0 K/BB ratio. Freaking insane.)

Yet, the results have not been there for Baker and balls continue to fly out of the yard. He's on pace to surrender a career-high 32 gopher balls this season and one has to wonder how much worse that figure might look if he didn't have the luxury of pitching his home games in spacious Target Field.

The stat-head in me wants to attribute Baker's poor results to bad luck and nothing else. After all, a whopping 12 percent of his fly balls have left the yard and his batting average on balls in play is .338, well over his career average of .307. But from actually watching Baker this year, I hardly get the impression that he's been all that unlucky. His strikeout rate suggests that his stuff has been filthy -- and certainly he's thrown a lot of good pitches -- but his tendency to lapse and leave hanging breaking balls out over the plate has seemingly been worse than ever. I watched the Mets broadcast of Sunday's contest from the La Guardia Airport and the team's announcers remarked repeatedly about how many meat balls Baker was throwing.

It seems odd, to say the least, that Baker is managing to baffle more batters than ever while simultaneously getting hit harder than ever before. One would imagine that something has got to give. He no longer has the excuse of being an inexperienced and wide-eyed kid; Baker is 28 years old and the Twins have shown their faith in him by handing him a long-term contract and lining him up as their Opening Day starter in each of the past two seasons (though injuries prevented him from being able to fulfill that duty on both occasions). It's time for him to step up and help stabilize a rotation that is quickly spiraling out of control.


SoCalTwinsfan said...

Check out Baker's first-half and second-half splits for his career, especially his K and BB rates. They are bizarre.

BTW, Baker was 6-7 with an ERA over 5.00 last year at the All-Star break, so this is nothing new. He was very good (results-wise) in the second half.

Peter said...

Quality stuff as always Nick, now get some quality starts Scott.

Leslie said...

Expecting Baker to step up is too much to ask. He is what he is. He will be great or he will be terrible. Only thing consistent about him is that he will be inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

I'd bet on baker improving and if he doesnt it will largely be because of batted ball bad luck. You shouldnt evaluate bakers performance using the eye test. Im sure all pitchers with huge eras look bad while they are getting pounded. You see a homerun and think "man baker is serving up meat", if that same play is a catch at the warning track youd quickly forget how the out was recorded and focus on the results and think "man bakers pitching well". Evaluating baseball with the eye test is going to have heavy bias towards the results rather than performance. Pavano looked great in his 2 complete games. He seemed to have teams eating out of his hand. But he only struck out like 2 combined in those 18 innings which is awful. He seemed masterful because the 2 teams happened to hit a lot of balls at people. If he allows a league babip in those games hed have given up a bunch of runs. Striking out 2 guy every 18 innings is not a recipe for long term success. I say trust those peripherals if youve trusted them in the past, otherwise you can trust your eye and you probably think that pavano is the twins best starter, guerrier is the best step up man in baseball, nick punto is a better defensive SS than jj hardy, orlando hudson is the best defensive 2b in baseball, torii hunter is the best defensive CF in baseball, michael cuddyer is fine at 3b and has CF range in the OF, ect ect.

Dave said...

Yea, stupid people can't give the "eye test" and have it work out well. But really, Nick is a baseball blogger, I bet he has seen enough games to know that a meatball caught on the warning track was still a meatball. BABIP is not the stat that sabrheads make it out to be, if the eye test from a relatively inteligent baseball fan says it is indicative of bad pitching, it probably isn't due to bad luck.

Anonymous said...

I dont believe you can tell much with an eye test ever. Things like defense im certain you cant properly evaluate with your eyes. Things like offense and pitching are pretty tough to evaluate with an eye test. You lose perspective really fast. You can probably tell if a pitcher is pitching well or not in a single game but its impossible to keep track of performance from multiple games and multiple starts. Its not that i dont think nick can evaluate an individual play, i just dont think he accurately keep track, chart, and assess performance over a significant period of time. This is where statistical analysis can become important. And i dont think babip is really a goto stat. Its dependent on too many things besides pitcher skill. But bakers striking out more , getting more ground balls and walking fewer guys than ever. Im confident baker will get it together.

Anonymous said...

you can't evaluate with your eyes? that is the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard.

Ed Bast said...

"Things like offense and pitching are pretty tough to evaluate with an eye test."

That might be the single most insane thing I've ever heard in my life.

I get it, you're in love with sabermetrics. But, Jesus, let's not get carried away here.

How about this: you stay home and follow the game via computer, so you can have up-to-the-millisecond stats on hand, and since seeing the game doesn't matter at all to you. That'll free up more Target Field tickets for those of us who get enjoyment out of actually watching America's pasttime. Deal?

Anonymous said...

I think everyone is missing my sentiment. I dont trust the eye test strictly on the evaluation level. At the end of the season if i were to evaluate how a pitcher pitched throughout the season I would use his bb, k , gb rates and not my impression of his starts. Saying baker is struggling right now based on what youve seen is fair but as for how hes pitched for the entire season or over the last 2 season, i trust the peripheral numbers more than my impression. Just try to evaluate how scott baker pitch last year without looking any numbers. You arent going to come up with anything predictive or meaningful.

Ed Bast said...

If your point is "Stats can summarize a season," then yes, I agree, that's a brilliant thesis.

I gotta tell ya, I feel dumber having read your posts.

Anonymous said...

I was just trying to dumb it down for you ed since you seemed to be missing the point with your neanderthalic 'baseball isnt played paper post'.

You called me insane for claiming that meaningful analysis was very difficult with the eye test. Then you called me a simpleton for claiming that statistics were a good make meaningful analysis, i guess because the claim was too obvious. Your critiques are contradictory in a lot of ways.

Ed Bast said...

Let me lay it out for you.

1) You can watch a baseball game and get a pretty good feel for who is performing and who isn't.
2) Statistics are indeed often used to measure performance.
3) A lot of people (you included) go way way way overboard with statistics.

It's not that difficult.

By the way, "neanderthalic 'baseball isnt played paper post'" is awesome. I have no idea what that means, but it sort of rolls off the tongue.

Anonymous said...

"I dont believe you can tell much with an eye test ever."

Do you think that advanced scouts are in the stands compiling sabermetrics? Nope.. Most laugh about them.. With a few exceptions.

About the only stats pro baseball people care about is whatever quantifies raw physical abilities or traits such as MPH, types of pitches, delivery time from stretch, home to 1st time, ect. Obviously there are a few more. Once you know these, nothing else matters because players are not capable of performing beyond them.
If you have a trained eye, most dont, you can indeed determine with your eyes alone how good or bad a player is.
lt. col. L Fletcher Prouty, ret.

Anonymous said...

k, bb and gb rates are my goto pitcher stats. Just 3, and they are basic rate statistics, not some correlated "saber metric" figure.

Anonymous said...

nick as i read your blog, i saw nothing on run support. if he can throw 6-7 good innings, and give 2-3 runs, the twins need to wake their bats up and score some more runs. they have only scored 52 more runs then the picthing staff has given up. good but not great. they need more run support.