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.