I know that over the past few games our bullpen has let us down quite a bit, which is disappointing for Tribe fans who are used to the bullpen being the biggest strength of the team. The bullpen might be underachieving a bit currently, but on a brighter note I want to try and point out some statistics that show how much the starting rotation is exceeding expectations right now.
There have been a lot of articles within the past week that have rightfully commended the job Mickey Callaway has done as pitching coach so far this season. I mean, our rotation was supposed to be the big question mark this season, and yet almost two months into the season, our rotation is the main reason why we still have a good record. I wanted to delve a little deeper into the statistics to show just how well our pitching is doing and how big of an influence Mickey Callaway has been this season.
Let’s start with Justin Masterson. Despite his rough last start against Boston, Masterson has taken his game to another level this season, but what is he doing differently this year that he has in years past? There’s one major thing I’ve been able to pick out outside of the generic “he’s walking less batters” or “he’s pounding the strike zone more” type of answers. Masterson is using his slider much more this year than he ever has, and the results speak for themselves. Masterson is throwing his slider 26.6% of the time this season. Since his first full year with the Indians in 2010, the highest percentage of sliders he had thrown in a season was 19.3% last season. So why is the more frequent use of his slider significant? The opposition has a career AVG of .173 against Masterson’s slider. If you think that’s ridiculous, then ponder this: This season the opposition has an AVG of .070 against Masterson’s slider, as hitters are 5 for 71 to be exact. Those are video game numbers right there folks, and I quite frankly can’t come up with a word to describe how incredible of a statistic that is.
Now let’s turn to Ubaldo Jimenez. Two starts ago against Detroit, Ubaldo showed that he is still a work in progress. However, at least we’re using the word PROGRESS in that sentence. He’s been a nightmare in terms of mechanics ever since he joined the Tribe back in 2011, but Callaway has been able to pull the rabbit out of the hat with Ubaldo this season. It’s well documented that after Jimenez’s early season struggles this year, the Indians decided to have Jimenez work extra sessions with Callaway in between starts to work on his mechanics. Prior to his start against Detroit, this resulted in the best prolonged stretch of Jimenez’s career with the Indians, and he recovered nicely yesterday in his start against the Reds. He’s simply been able to locate his pitches better, which has allowed less traffic on the bases. Here’s a statistic that show his improvement:
In his 176.2 IP last season, 86.1 (48.9%) of those innings were innings with men on base. This season, he has 51.2 IP, with 19.2 (37.5%) of these innings with men on base, and this is including his poor first few starts and his start against Detroit as well. Thus he is allowing far fewer base runners, and this is due to his improvement in command. He obviously still has some work to do, but for once it looks like Ubaldo is moving in the right direction.
The strides that Zach McAllister has made this season have been remarkable. Coming into this season, I thought that McAllister could potentially develop into a solid back end of the rotation pitcher at best. However, he’s proved to me that he has a higher ceiling than that. One area that McAllister has shown a lot of improvement in is pitching is situations with runners on base. In the past, McAllister would often succumb to the big inning and would struggle with runners on base. This year his LOB% is 78.1%, which is up almost 13% from 2012. The opposition has a .236 AVG with men on base against McAllister this season, which is .25 lower than his .261 mark last season. He is showing a lot of maturity this season, and his numbers demonstrate that.
Corey Kluber has also proved to me that he might have a higher ceiling than expected as well. Kluber’s numbers thus far don’t look special on the surface: 3-3 record, 4.57 ERA, and a .278 BAA. However, some more advanced statistics show that Kluber has pitched much better than the numbers indicate. He has an inflated BABIP of .351, which means his BAA is inflated as well. Studies have shown that pitchers have little control over BABIP and there is a high degree of variability with this statistic. So what I’m trying to say is that Kluber has been a victim of some tough luck early on. Another statistic that shows this is FIP, which is Fielding Independent Pitching ERA. This is a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness in terms of ERA based on statistics that do not involve fielders (HR, BB, K, etc.). Again, studies have shown that pitchers have little control over what happens on balls in the field of play, so FIP attempts to measure a pitcher’s ERA by eliminating this grey area. Taking all of that into consideration, Kluber has a FIP of 3.22. FIP is interpreted just like ERA, so 3.22 is a very solid number and much more telling of how Kluber has pitched than his 4.57 ERA. To put that in perspective, Kluber has a lower FIP than Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Madison Baumgarner, Jake Peavy, Kyle Lohse, Tim Hudson, Gio Gonzalez, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, CJ Wilson, David Price, and Matt Moore to name a few.
Somehow Mickey Callaway has even been able to semi-resurrect the career of Scott Kazmir. Obviously he’s not the pitcher he used to be, but he is still putting up some encouraging statistics that show he still has the potential to be a quality starter. He is averaging over a strikeout an inning, as his K/9 ratio is 9.72, which means that he still has good stuff. Also is average fastball is 91.5 mph this year, the highest it has been since 2008 when he was one of the top pitchers in the American League with the Rays. If anything, he has shown that he still has something left in the tank and is still a viable option for this pitching staff.
The purpose of this post was to highlight how far the pitching staff has come this season thanks in part to Mickey Callaway. The rotation was the major concern for the Tribe coming out of Spring Training, and expectations have been exceeded thus far. Yeah, the bullpen has had a bad few days, and the concerns about Pestano and Perez are legitimate in terms of their health. However, the starting rotation is continuing to giving us a fighting chance, and as long as they keep doing that, there’s no doubt that the Tribe can be a contender all season at the very least.