Fact or Fluke?

Halfway through April, let’s take a look at some players in the American League and try to identify whether their early results can be expected to continue. While the sample-size is way too small to draw any substantial conclusions, we can still examine trends and statistics to try to gain an understanding of whether a certain player's fast or slow start is a mirage or a reality.

 

 

Joe Borowski, or JoeBlow as he is “affectionately” referred to by Indians fans, was lit up once again Monday night during yet another blown save. Borowski, as you probably know, managed to rack up 45 saves last year despite posting a 5.07 ERA. Borowski always seemed to tread on thin ice, but if you look at his peripheral stats, you will see a pitcher who was better than his ERA indicated. Borowski struck out 58 batters in 65 innings last year and walked only 17. No one will mistake him for Jonathan Papelbon – Borowski did also give up 9 homers last year – but his peripherals suggested that he could continue to be a useful pitcher. This year, however, Borowski’s velocity has been down (he topped out at 83 MPH on Monday). If this trend continues, Borowski is indeed going to continue to be ineffective. However, if he can regain a few miles per hour on his “fastball,” JoeBlow might remain a useful pitcher in the Tribe’s bullpen.

 

As of Monday night, speedy outfielder Carlos Gomez had five stolen bases in 52 at-bats. Gomez, however, was only hitting .269/.296/.385. This is the type of player Gomez is at this point his career: he could steal 60 bases if he gets 600 at-bats, but his OBP could hover around .300 and his SLG is unlikely to eclipse .400. Luckily for Twins fans (I mean you, Mr Marrinson), Gomez’s age and minor league track record suggest that his OBP should rise with experience, and there remains a small – but not insignificant – chance that Gomez could develop enough power to be an elite player. Even if Gomez fails to develop much power, if he can get his OBP to the .360-.380 range he should be an above-average player.

 

Several starting pitchers have gotten off to very hot starts. Zack Greinke, touted by many as someone who could have a breakout season, currently sports a 0.75 ERA. His peripherals, however, do not suggest domination: Greinke has walked five and struck out nine hitters. Greinke does have a lot of breakout potential, but he needs to up the strikeouts in order to live up to the hype.

 

Oakland lefty Dana Eveland was an unheralded part of the recent trade that sent Dan Haren to Arizona, but he has made a big impact in his first two starts. Eveland boasts an impressive minor league track record and above-average stuff. His problem has been conditioning (he is a rather large fellow) and control. He appears to have the former under control, and he’s shown the ability to harness the latter as well. Eveland will likely have some days when he simply cannot throw strikes; in the meantime, the combination of his high-strikeout arsenal, a solid defense behind him and half of his starts coming in a pitcher’s park suggests that Eveland could be very successful this season.

 

Chien-Ming Wang seems to have gone from being overrated after his initial success in the majors to being underrated currently. Sure, Wang does not strike out many batters, but he also walks few and is extremely stingy with the long-ball. This season, all of these patterns have continued, as Wang has struck out 11, walked four and given up one homer in 22 innings. He may not be exciting to watch, but Wang should be a reliable force at the top of the Yankees rotation all season long.

 

Finally, let’s discuss two veteran pitchers who are off to poor starts. Kenny Rogers was supposed to be an integral part of a rather fragile Tigers pitching staff. Rogers, however, has pitched very poorly this year, walking as many batters as he’s struck out and posting a 6.75 ERA through three starts. To be fair, two of these starts were very tough assignments: one was in Fenway, the other in US Cellular Field. However, Rogers’s middling strikeout rate may finally have caught up with him, as he neither induces enough ground balls nor walks few enough batters to survive while striking out as few as he does. While his ERA should improve from its current mark, he likely will not be very successful this year.

 

Finally, defending Cy Young winner CC Sabathia currently has an 11.57 ERA through three starts. Many people were concerned about the workload Sabathia endured last season, when he threw 264 innings between the regular season and playoffs. However, Sabathia was so efficient that he actually only threw 13 more pitches during the regular season than Daniel Cabrera (even though Cabrera threw only 204 innings last year). This year, Sabathia has uncharacteristically walked nine batters (he walked 37 all of last year). However, he has also struck out 13 in his 14 innings of work, and his velocity appears to be fine. While it’s possible Sabathia is suffering a hangover from last season, it’s more likely that he’s simply off to a slow start and will recover soon.

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