Justin Duchscherer Should Help O’s

Over his last 169.2 innings pitched, Justin Duchscherer’s ERA+ is 160, which ain’t too shabby, as the kids say (Note: Kids don’t say this at all). Looking at other pitchers with similar innings pitched totals, we see that Scott Baker’s ERA+ was 92, Wade Davis’ was 97 and Phil Hughes’ was 102. The difference of course, is that these three pitchers accumulated those innings in 2010, whereas you have to go back to 2008 for Duchscherer’s innings count that high. Additionally, a lot of things have gone his way when he has been healthy. Expecting those results to continue may be a bit optimistic, but with such a low base, the Orioles made a nice calculated gamble when they signed him for 2011 this past weekend.

The deal pays him $700,000, and $1.1 million if he makes the active roster. Thanks to all of his various injuries, there have certainly been years where he has been worth around that figure or less. However, since 2005, when he has been healthy, he has been worth a great deal more. The contract does take this into effect, as there are incentives that make his contract worth as much as $4.5 million if he makes 30 starts. This is a win-win for the Orioles. Duchscherer’s career high in starts, 22 in 2008, and during that season he was worth $13 million, so it’s a decent bet that if he stays healthy he will be worth the money.

Looking again at the last three years, we can see that of all starters with at least 160 innings pitched, Duchscherer’s 3.84 FIP ranks 41st overall, slightly behind Matt Cain and Jason Hammel, and slightly ahead of Brandon Morrow and David Price. He is an interesting case, as he is the rare right-handed pitcher that is effective without any sort of velocity. For his career, his average fastball is under 86 MPH. As you might imagine, he doesn’t throw his fastball very often, just a tick over 43 percent of the time from 2008-2010. This percentage ranked tenth lowest overall, and eighth lowest for all non-knuckleballers.

Since he does lack that dominating velocity, when the Duke does throw his fastball, he has to be sure to locate it on the fringes of the strike zone, particularly against lefties, as you can see below in this Heat Maps:

Keeping the ball on the fringes like that means you need to know how to pitch, and Duke’s ratios paint him positively in that regard. Back in 2008, his 2.79 K/BB mark ranked 31st in the Majors, and his 2.16 BB/9 ranked 29th (min. 140 IP). In addition, his K/BB mark has twice been over 4 while in a relief capacity, so he controls the ball well. But as time has passed, he has been less able to keep hitters off balance. From 2004-2007, he posted swinging strike percentages of at least eight percent each season, culminating at 9.6 percent in a shortened 2007 season. But that number dipped to 7.1 percent in 2008 and 4.3 percent in 2010. A low SwStr% isn’t necessarily the end of the world. The 13 qualified pitchers last season who clocked in at 6 percent or lower had an average FIP of 4.43, which while below average, did include pitchers who had good seasons like Doug Fister and Trevor Cahill. But while it isn’t necessarily a death blow, Duchscherer has also been rather fortunate in his time in another regard.

Duchscherer’s BABIP has been well above average throughout his career. In four of his six seasons, his BABIP was .280 or lower, and in his stellar 2008 season, it was .235, which was the lowest in the Majors for anyone with at least 140 innings pitched. Perhaps not coincidentally, the A’s had a fantastic defense that season, as they ranked fifth in team UZR at 33.7. And with a total of 38.9, they were once again fifth last year. The Orioles, not so much. Their -22.9 team UZR total ranked 22nd in 2010, and that defense doesn’t figure to improve dramatically in 2011.

The combination of low velocity, a decrease in SwStr% and the likelihood that his BABIP could rise behind a more porous defense, not to mention the ever-present injury concerns, temper expectations for Duchscherer heading into 2011. But given his past success, craftiness and reasonable contract, he’s an interesting gamble for the Orioles.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Mike Green
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Mike Green
5 years 5 months ago

The O’s defence may not improve dramatically, but it should be noticeably better (statistically or actually) at a few positions. Jones and Markakis are somewhat strange cases with apparent significant defensive declines at a young age. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are at their career norms in 2011 (about league average). Hardy will probably be somewhat better than Izturis was last year.

Preston
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Preston
5 years 5 months ago

Derek Lee, Brian Roberts, JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds should all post solid UZR’s and while their outfield isn’t great it will be adequate. I like everything the O’s have done this off-season. They probably won’t be able to compete with the big boys in the AL East but they will at least make it interesting.

KS
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KS
5 years 5 months ago

Plus, Ty Wigginton won’t be booting balls at 3 of 4 infield positions, as he did for most of last season. I admire Wiggy for his toughness, competitiveness and the fact that he was pretty much the only player hitting on the O’s for the first half of 2010… but he should not be allowed near a fielder’s glove except in an emergency.

Preston
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Preston
5 years 5 months ago

I didn’t want to single Ty Wiggington out. He’ s a first baseman. It’s not his fault that he was willing to embarass himself for the good of the team when his manager and management had failed to have good backup plans. Similarly Nick Swisher was unfairly criticized in 2008 when the White Sox inexplicably played him in center.

Bill
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Bill
5 years 5 months ago

I agree with Preston about Wigginton. It’s MacPhail’s fault for not having a reasonable backup plan when Miguel Tejada’s corpse was pulled off the field or when his aging second baseman missed a lot of time. Roberts and Hardy should be a big improvement over Izturis and random awful second baseman. Plus, Reynolds and Lee are probably a bit of an upgrade.

PaulC
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PaulC
5 years 5 months ago

Jones has been an odd case. He was great defensively in ’08, fell off some in ’09 (ironically when he won a gold glove), and really didn’t look that great out there last year. He’s definitely an athlete though and he’s shown he has the ability to play CF well so hopefully he can return to ’08 form.

Markakis is an even odder case (when it comes to UZR atleast). He was +12 in ’08, -6 in ’09, and -5.2 in ’10. He was obviously fantastic in the field in ’08, but he didn’t exactly fall off the past two years, especially last year. Not sure what facet of UZR and Markakis’s game haven’t agreed the past two years. He still has a cannon for an arm and is very accurate with it.

Mike
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Mike
5 years 5 months ago

I enjoyed this piece, but (like the others have noted) the Orioles defense likely *will* be dramatically upgraded. They not only upgraded defensively at 1B, 3B, and 2B (with Roberts playing more), they also added defensive depth. No more Julio Lugo at SS if Hardy gets hurt, it will be Izturis. And no more Wigginton/Tejada sized disasterpieces.

James III
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James III
5 years 5 months ago

My issue with the O’s is the second line. What happens when B-Rob, Hardy, and/ or Reynolds get hurt? Then we’re talking Robert Andino, Cesar Izturis, or Brendan Harris. Uh oh.

Casadilla
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Casadilla
5 years 5 months ago

What happens when any team loses 75% of their infield? It’s fair to say Boston’s post-season chances in 2010 were squashed because of this same circumstance. It’s ‘uh-oh’ for the best of teams.

Mike
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Mike
5 years 5 months ago

SS- Izturis
3B- Josh Bell/Harris
2B- Harris/Izturis/Turner

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s the worst worst case scenario out there.

scott
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scott
5 years 5 months ago

Turner was claimed off waivers by the Mets

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