I'm sure I was not the only one who did a double take when I saw Matt Palmer had a complete game victory over the Boston Red Sox last night. First, a complete game victory against the Red Sox is always a good thing. Second, who is Matt Palmer? I first asked this question about two weeks ago when I saw him as a probable starter against the Yankees, but here is a little background info on Mr. Palmer.
Palmer is a 30 year old right hander who was drafted in the 31st round of the 2002 draft by the San Francisco Giants. He would spend the better part of eight seasons in the minor leagues before going 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA in three starts for the Giants last year. In a made for TV Movie-like story, Palmer almost quit baseball a few years back to go into the landscaping business. After all, his major in college was horticulture. However, he would grind it out in the minor leagues hoping for that one shot.
As fate would have it, Palmer signed with the Angels this off-season on a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Palmer did not make the team, but was sent to Salt Lake City to give the team some depth. It's no secret the Angels rotation has been hit hard this year, with injuries to their front three starters and the shocking death of one of their finest young arms, Nick Adenhart. It's never easy to say you got your shot because of someone's injury or in Adenhart's case, a tragedy, but Palmer has done the most with his opportunity.
It wasn't a thing of beauty last night, but Palmer worked a five hit complete game allowing four runs and two walks while striking out eight. Over the final stretch of the game, he retired 19 straight Boston hitters. Overall, he threw 109 pitches (67% strikes) and was the winner in an 8-4 Angels' victory. This pushed his record to a perfect 4-0 with 3.38 ERA. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but as good of a story it is now, I was not surprised to see that he has been pitching a bit over his head.
Palmer was never a big strikeout guy in the minors and we have seen that manifest itself in the majors as well. In 26.2 innings Palmer has just 16 punch outs (5.40 K/9). While strikeouts are not the end all be all of starting pitching, you better have pretty good control if you're not going to get a lot of them. So far, Palmer hasn't shown great control as his BB/9 of 3.38 shows. The low K/9 and not so low BB/9 makes for a below average K/BB of 1.60. On top of the poor K/BB is an extremely lucky BABIP of .191. With only seven major league starts, it's hard to get a true measure of what his BABIP should be. But for comparison's sake he had a BABIP of .330 in 25 minor league starts in 2008 and .325 in 26 starts in ‘07. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and say his normal BABIP should be around .300, he is still getting some major help from his defense.
He does not have overpowering stuff as his fastball and cutter both sit around 87mph. He does feature a curveball and has thrown a changeup sparingly, but 76.9% of his pitches have been a fastball or cutter. This leads me to believe there is a bit of smoke and mirrors behind his early success. He's getting a generous 22.6% O-Swing and even with that low BABIP, hitters are making zone contact 94.9% of the time. Once those start falling for hits the ERA of 3.38 will move toward the FIP 4.22 he currently sports.
Nonetheless, it is a good story for now and I wish Matt Palmer and the Angels the best of luck moving forward. If there was ever an organization that needed a feel good story right now, it's this one.