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A Tale of Two Pitchers

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I crapped out of yesterday's recap duties, so I thought I'd make it up to you with a couple of pitching notes on the young season. What have we learned?

  • John Danks has transformed himself into a ground ball pitcher with the additions of a cutter. He's not going to be channeling Chien-Ming Wang any time soon, but through 4 games he has a ground ball rate quite similar to that of Jon Garland, except Danks can miss some bats.

    Quick math might make it seem like Danks' K-rate has dropped this season (7.06 K/9 in '07 vs. 6.08 K/9 in '08), but upon closer inspection Danks appears to have retained all of his K-inducing talents. Using the raw total K/TBF (Total Batters Faced), Danks strikeout rate has declined from 17.5% to 17.2%, a negligibly small amount given the sample size of just 4 starts.

    Danks is also doing one other thing exceedingly well, unsustainably well, in fact. The White Sox pitching staff as a whole has joined him. I'd get into specifics, but I'm superstitious and don't wish to throw my jinx their way. I'm pretty sure you can figure it out for yourself anyway.

  • If a pitcher signs a 4-year contract, expect him to have his starts pushed back as much as possible. Mark Buehrle is of to a rough start, and the Sox are taking every opportunity to push his spot in the rotation back, all the while claiming he is perfectly healthy. I see no reason (yet) to doubt them, and attribute Buehrle's extra rest as a means to protect their long-term investment. The Sox have been extremely reluctant, with good reason, to hand out long-term contracts to pitchers, and I assume they have some data (or at least a theory) that the extra rest will help ensure Buehrle's effectiveness not just in August and September, but until August and September of '11.

    On the mound, Buehrle has allowed a troubling 35 hits in just 22+ innings pitched, which is surprising because he looked spectacular in spring training. I think we can attribute at least some of this to bad luck, Buehrle has allowed an astounding .384 BABIP so far. But there are at least two warning signs I can see in the data from FanGraphs; 1) Buehrle's K-rate 11% is tied with his poor '06 campaign for the lowest in his career, and 2) take a look at the pitch-type data. Buehrle is throwing about 33% fewer fastballs so far in the early going, and it looks most of those fastballs have been replaced with cutters, which have almost doubled in frequency. I don't know if there's enough data from which to draw any concrete solutions, but it's something to keep an eye on as the season continues.