Photo from Library of Congress
Help me out here. If I were to stop you on the street and ask you which pitcher you would want on your fantasy squad in 2011, which would you chose (based on their career numbers)?
Pitcher A: 32-36, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.25 K/9, 2.21 K/BB
Pitcher B: 39-21, 4.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.86 K/9, 4.57 K/BB
Duh, you’d choose Pitcher B.
Which of the following two hurlers would you select based on their 2010 numbers?
Pitcher A: 10-12, 5.42 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 3.80 K/BB, 1.70 K/BB
Pitcher B: 13-6, 4.45 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.71 K/9, 4.00 K/BB
Duh, you’d choose Pitcher B again.
So tell me, why would the Twins choose Pitcher A (Nick Blackburn) over Pitcher B (Kevin Slowey) as their 5th starter this season? Flat out – it beats me. Of course, I also couldn’t solve the Riddle of the Sphinx either, so maybe I’m not the right one to ask (and yes, I know that the riddle likely doesn’t have anything to do with the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau, but I liked the picture).
Let me be as clear as I can – Blackburn is, at his best, a league average hurler. In fact, that is being kind. Here are his career numbers versus the league average during his career.
Blackburn: 32-36, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.25 K/9, 2.21 K/BB
AL Avg: 33-32, 4.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 6.78 K/9, 2.04 K/BB
See what I’m saying?
Clearly Slowey is a better performer in ERA, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, winning percentage – I could go on but why belabor the point. Let’s just say that the Twins are making an odd choice.
As for Slowey, how does he compare when we venture from placing him side-by-side with a slacker like Blackburn? Very well actually.
Slowey’s career K/9 mark is a tenth better than the AL average the past four years while his walk rate is well better than anything most pitchers could ever accomplish as his ability to throw strikes is virtually unparalleled. Slowey has walked an average of 1.50 batters per nine innings in his career for a total of 79 walks in his career. To compare, C.J. Wilson walked 93 batters last season. Moreover, amongst pitchers who have thrown 470 or more innings since 2007, Slowey is the second best pitcher in baseball at limiting walks behind only the great Roy Halladay (1.42). That impressive ability to throw strikes for Slowey has enabled him to post the third best K/BB ratio since 2007 at 4.57, just slightly behind Halladay (5.08) and Cliff Lee (4.60). That’s it, in all of baseball. So again, why in the hell is Slowey being sent to the bullpen in favor of Blackburn?
Now I’m not going to write this article totally pro-Slowey, I have to be honest about his faults too. There are three major issues with him.
(1) He has been unable to take the ball every five days (at least Blackburn can do that). Slowey has thrown 160.1, 90.2 and 155.2 innings the past three seasons. I’d like to think its just been bad luck, and maybe it has been, but he is no Matt Cain. At the same time he isn’t quite Erik Bedard either.
(2) He allows far too many fly balls. In his career his fly ball rate sites at 48.1 percent, and last season that number was even higher at 50.6 percent leading to an absolutely horrible 0.56 GB/FB rate.
(3) As a result of the fly balls, you guessed it, he has allowed far too many homers in his career. The big league average is about 1.0 per nine innings. Slowey has never posted a total below his 1.21 mark of last season and owns a career rate of 1.41 per nine. That’s awful.
On the plus side, Slowey has allowed a rather normal 10.0 percent homer to fly ball ratio in his career. The problem has been all those fly balls. So, theoretically, if he could just cut down on the fly balls a bit, his HR/9 mark could fall back to an “average” level. One way this might happen could be from a helping hand from his ball park. Target Field in Minnesota was the hardest park to go deep in during the 2010 season in the American League according to Park Indices. It would seem that Slowey is now in a great park given his skill set, and what do you know, his numbers at home were strong last season (8-4, 3.63 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 1.17 HR/9), so of course the Twins… oh never mind.
At this point it looks like Slowey will need an injury, or trade out of Minnesota, to become a mixed league option in 2011. As such, he is nothing more than a late round gamble since he could conceivably end up making 50 appearances out of the bullpen this year. The good news is that there must be a few intelligent GM’s out there who are aware of the data I’ve relayed here, so even if one of them isn’t in Minnesota, hopefully one of his compadres will make a deal for Slowey to let him do his thing every five days out of the starting rotation.
By Ray Flowers