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Eric Stults: The Most Surprising Pitcher of 2013

An inside the numbers look at Eric Stults, who has emerged from replacement level obscurity to become the de facto ace of the San Diego Padres.


When I sat down to watch last night's games I had more or less nailed down the topic I would be covering this morning. I was going to break down the surprising resurgence of Rockies SP Jhoulys Chacin over the last month. I carefully studied Chacin throughout his start against start against the Padres. Over the course of the game I accumulated two or three pages of notes, but I also began to notice how much Chacin had in common with his opponent last night, Eric Stults.

Though they throw from opposite sides (Stults is a southpaw, Chacin a right-hander), both pitchers rely heavily on deception and mixing up their offerings.

Here's a look at Stults repertoire courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

And now a look at Chacin's:

Both pitchers work with fastballs in the 87-89 range, so they do this by necessity. While Chacin has been very good over the past month, Eric Stults has proven himself a master practitioner of this craft during the first half of 2013, a season in which he has evolved into San Diego's de facto ace.

The emergence of Eric Stults has seemingly come out of the clear blue sky. Barely above replacement level in stints with the Dodgers, Rockies and White Sox organizations, Stults has already surpassed his career WAR of 1.6 in just half a season. (1.7 WAR going into last night's start.)

It's difficult to find the reason(s) behind Stults' success so far this season. His 15.1 K% is fairly consistent with his career mark of 14.6%. What stands out to me is that his BB% is currently 2.6% lower than his career average and he's benefited from a 2.6% decrease in HR/FB. Stults xFIP of 4.26 is nearly a run higher than his FIP of 3.38.

However, this isn't another simple case of a Padres pitcher benefiting from the pitcher friendly confines of Petco Park. Stults' HR/FB is actually 0.5% higher in road starts this season. At 5.6% his HR/FB is 2.3% below his career mark of 7.9% and well below the league average of 10.8%. He'll begin to regress towards the average eventually, but we shouldn't expect to see him completely fall apart. The decrease Stults has seen in BB% thus far indicates he's had better control and control than in years past. That assumption begins to look closer to the mark when you watch Stults pitch. His command has been pinpoint for the majority of the year, spotting his fringe average fastball well enough to avoid damage and set up his offspeed and breaking pitches.

All stats used in the article are courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Ryan is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and The Dynasty Guru

You can follow him on Twitter @80GradeWant