Thursday, August 04, 2011

Pavano and Blackburn: Contact Kings

Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn haven't had particularly memorable seasons up to this point, but at least they do find themselves atop the American League leader board in one category: hits allowed.

Pavano has yielded 168 knocks this season, more than any other AL hurler. Blackburn, with 158, comes in second.

Hey, it's something, right?

The rate at which these two pitchers have given up hits should come as no huge surprise, as both have been quite hittable throughout their respective careers. In 2009, Blackburn led the AL with 240 hits allowed while Pavano checked in third at 235. Last year, Pavano ranked fourth at 227 and Blackburn (limited to only 161 innings due to injury and a minor-league demotion) ranked 15th, allowing the same number of hits as Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez (194) in 88 fewer innings.

There's no mystery as to why Pavano and Blackburn are coughing up hits with such generosity. Pavano's 3.7 K/9 rate is the lowest in all of baseball, while Blackburn's rate of 4.8 (which would actually be the best of his career) is the ninth-worst in the AL.

The Twins continue to preach pitching to contact as if it's some generally desirable trait, but the truth is that exorbitant contact rates are these pitchers' greatest downfalls. It's exceedingly difficult to find sustained success while giving up hits at a higher clip than almost any other pitcher in baseball, and while Pavano and Blackburn ease their burden by limiting walks, it's difficult to expect anything better than back-of-the-rotation mediocrity unless they run through a prolonged period of good luck (as Pavano did through the first four months or so last year).

It's a rule of thumb in baseball that about 3 out of every 10 balls put in play will turn into a hit. In his eye-opening article for Baseball Nation yesterday, Jeff Sullivan found that, since 1970, even position players who have taken to the mound have registered a .296 BABIP.

By letting hitters put almost everything in play, you walk a dangerous line, and we've been reminded of that over these last several weeks. Since the start of July, Pavano owns a 6.87 ERA and Blackburn is at 7.45. These performances have contributed to a screeching halt in momentum for a rotation that looked spectacular in June.

Pavano and Blackburn have both certainly proven that they are capable of succeeding in spite of their heavy contact tendencies, but it should be intuitively obvious that it's not a reliable recipe for sustained success.

The two are under contract next year for a combined $13.25 million. It's more than likely that they'll once again be two of the most hittable pitchers in the majors.

You reap what you sow, I guess.


Diesel said...

The Twins definitely have a strange approach to pitching. I would definitely like to see some more strikeout pitchers in the organization. With an entire rotation of "pitch-to-contact" pitchers (minus Baker this year since his K/9 skyrocketed), the Twins have to rely heavily on luck. I would have loved to see Cuddyer traded this deadline to the Giants (before Beltran) because they might have been able to get Zach Wheeler like the Mets did. The Braves would have also been a good destination (before Bourn)because they could have had a shot to get Mike Minor or Julio Teheran. But the Braves seemed very reluctant to trade them so who knows.And we don't know anything about what they were offered. The Twins really need some starting pitching prospects if they have any ambition moving forward. They have never really had an ace since Santana. Our best minor league pitcher is Kyle Gibson who is a #2 or #3 at best.

Matt said...

It's no surprise to you all that the Twins' defence ain't what it used to be.
If you're going to preach pitching to contact, you've got to make sure you've got a competant shortstop... Oh, wait...

GoTwins said...

Tim to take Pavano and Blackburn out the rotation and put Swarzak and Slowey in.

Mike said...

@Matt- I think that's exactly right. It's much easier for the Twins to rely on extreme pitch-to-contact pitchers like Blackburn and Pavano when you have a solid defense behind you. But the middle infield has been a mess, minus some good stretches by Casilla. Valencia isn't anything special, Cuddyer isn't a great first baseman, and the outfield range is limited (except, of course, when you have Span and Revere out there at the same time).

It's just not a good combo. It's like having a 41 year old immobile quarterback playing behind a porous offensive line. It's just not going to work in your favor.

Ed Bast said...

I'm sure this offseason Pav and Blackie and probably Frankie will all have minor elbow surgery and the club will say they've been "battling injuries all year". It's what they did with Blackie and Bake last year, and what they do after almost every poor start a guy has (or similar, i.e., "it was cold out"). Gotta make an excuse for everything - it's the Twins Way.

Anonymous said...

For back end starters Pavano and Blackburn are fine. That is if they don't get shelled every time out. But a 4.50 is fine with me for a innings eating 4th and 5th starter. Innings eating is the key right now they are just getting blown out. Pavano has 1 year and 8.5 million next year. Yeah that's fine. Blackburn is a small problem. Low cost but long contract.
Liriano is the guy to get rid of, and the Twins need to focus their energy on signing a top tier starting pitcher. They need to look hard at CJ Wilson.

Drew Madison said...

The main reason the Twins don't have strikeout pitchers up and down the roster is because they don't have them in the minors that are not wildly flawed. Why? Because those are not generally the kind of pitchers the Twins draft and sign.

Much like power hitters, power arms are a highly prized commodity because there are only so many to go around. Contact pitchers are a dime a dozen and can be found everywhere. Also, power arms are considered to be more vulnerable to serious injury, so the risk when signing such a player is higher. The Twins have made a calculated business decison to avoid such costly risks in exchange for talent they feel they can afford without busting the budget and mold into possible major leaguers.

The Twins do reap what they sow. You pay for mediocrity, that's what you get. If you are the Giants and you pay the price for premium pitching prospects, maybe you'll get the Baseball gods on your side and win a World Series. They reapt what they sew as well.

USAFChief said...

Didn't like signing Pavano over the winter, still don't. I think it'll look a lot worse next year, too.

The Blackburn extension was pretty unnecessary as well.

If it were me, Pavano would be on waivers along with a fervant prayer somebody would take that $8.5M he's owed in 2012 off my hands. Not at all sure anyone would, though. Doubtful, even. He wasn't exactly in high demand this past offseason.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

I vacationed to MN for the '91 reunion this past weekend, and actually got to take in both of the games Blackburn and Pavano started. The comments about infield defense are absolutely on the money. The first inning of Blackie's game took forever due to two unbelievable errors by Nishi. The real issue that stood out from this series, however, was the lack of hitting.

The situation with Pavano and Blackburn is frustrating because they're not easy to dump. Pavano's clearly aging, and Blackburn's contract is too big for anyone else to want to inherit. If it weren't for Baker's breakout campaign, I'd be completely distraught on the rotation right now. And as much as I hate to say it, I've lost my patience with waiting for Liriano to finally return to form. Even worse, as others have said, there aren't any real power options in the farm system. Hopefully the team will change its drafting philosophy (and perhaps do some trading/signing this offseason), but for as long as Smith is at the helm I don't see it happening.