One of the best pitcher’s of our generation, Roy Oswalt struggled in 2011 posting the worst numbers of his career. Starting the 2012 season at 34 years of age, he’ll turn 35 in late August, it’s fair to question just how much juice he has left in the tank (especially since he has two degenerative disks in his lower back that have necessitated multiple cortisone shots in recent years though he has been able to avoid going under the knife).
How bad was Oswalt in 2011? The first thing you will notice when you look at the back of his baseball card is that he won only nine games, just the second time in his 12 year career that he has failed to win in double-digits.
The second thing you’ll likely come across given that low win total is the fact that he pitched only 139 innings. Long tagged as a somewhat injury prone hurler, the fact of the matter is that Oswalt really never deserved that moniker. From 2004-08 he tossed at least 200 innings each season, and from 2004-10 he eclipsed the 180-inning mark each season. I know he is aging, and those back woes aren’t likely to go away, but given his track record a return to the 180-inning level in 2012 has to be seen as at least a plausible outcome, even if the risk is much higher than it would have been two years ago.
As for his performance in 2011, it clearly wasn’t up to his normal standards. However, let me remind you of this. In 2010 Oswalt posted a 2.76 ERA (5th in the NL), 193 Ks (9th) an a 1.03 WHIP which led the Senior Circuit. That’s right, he was an elite arm as recently as 2010, so it would be wise to avoid summarily writing him off this season.
OK, so he was limited last season by injury, but how was his performance when he was on the hill? Let’s break down his efforts by category.
ERA (3.69): A solid mark no doubt, but nearly a half run above his career rate of 3.21. However, his FIP mark was 3.44 which was only slightly above his 3.35 career mark and actually the second best mark of his last five seasons.
WHIP (1.34): Last year was only the second time that Oswalt had a WHIP over 1.25 (the other was 2007 when he posted a 1.33 mark). Part of the blame here obviously falls on the .280 BAA for Oswalt, a career worst and the first time the number had ever been over .265. Given that his line drive rate was 19.3 percent, a point below his career level, might there be some luck involved here? His BABIP mark of .316 was a career worst which might hint at a wee bit of regression in 2012 which could help to lower his WHIP a tad.
K/9 (6.02): This is the scariest number on this list. A career 7.35 K/9 arm, that barely six per nine mark was a career worst and the first time he has ever been under 6.54 for a season. Given his age, his back woes, and the fact that his average fastball dropped about a mile an a half last season, the days of 175+ strikeouts are gone.
BB/9 (2.14): Though his strikeout total receded, Oswalt just barely missed his career long walk rate of 2.09 per nine. Oswalt doesn’t beat himself, and that should help him to go deep into games and to keep his WHIP at an acceptable level even if he doesn’t pitch great.
GB/FB (1.27): 2011 was a third straight year in the 1.20′s for Oswalt. It’s a level below his his 1.46 career rate, and well below the 1.56 or better mark he posted from 2005-08. Still, his current level is slightly better than league average and leaves him in a decent spot.
Oswalt is no longer an ace, and he’s not going to be a #2 starter in mixed leagues either. However, given his history, and the fact that he seems to be motivated to continue his career, I wouldn’t bet against him returning to the realm of being a top-40 hurler in 2012. He’ll come with certain risk so make sure you have depth on the hill if you call out his name, but I could see him could end up producing a better effort than he did last season.
By Ray Flowers