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Dan Duquette as GM: The Pitching Staff

Dan Duquette was re-introduced to the MLB world yesterday as the new Executive Vice – President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles, his third such post after running the baseball operations departments of the Montreal Expos from 1991-1993 and the Boston Red Sox from 1994- 2001. He takes over an Orioles organization that has not enjoyed a winning season since 1997, and he will be charged with overhauling a pitching staff that finished with a 4.92 ERA in 2011, good for last place in MLB.

While molding the Baltimore staff back to respectability will be Duquette’s main challenge, his record in putting together a pitching staff is fairly impressive. In 11 years as GM, only twice have his pitching staffs finished with an ERA above the league average (1994 Boston – team ERA 4.93, league average 4.80; 1997 Boston – team ERA 4.85, league average 4.56). From 1998 through 2001, the Red Sox pitching staff finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 4th in the American League in ERA.

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Edwin Jackson Is In Love With His Slider

There is an old adage when it comes to pitching that you have got to establish your fastball first and foremost. The other pitches are deemed ‘secondary pitches’ for a reason.” Apparently, Edwin Jackson has little use for this piece of baseball wisdom, as 2011 has seen him throw his slider more than ever in his career. Last night’s World Series Game 4 was no exception, as Jackson offered the pitch 46 times in his 109 pitches (42.2%) – nearly identical to his Pitch F/X slider percentage of 42.3 in 2011. Jackson’s reliance on the slider last night led to his seven walks – so, despite that he allowed just three hits, Tony LaRussa was forced to relieve him with Mitchell Boggs in the 6th inning. Boggs will not likely be available tonight in the pivotal Game 5 as he threw 29 pitches – his third highest total since August 27th.

Jackon’s slider usage is curious. A picther who has never been labeled a “command guy”, Jackson is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, with his fastball checking in at 94.7 MPH in 2011. For someone who has struggled with his command, Jackson has increasingly utilized a pitch that can generate sharp movement on both planes. This season, Jackson offered the slider in high percentages with two strikes, and regardless of the number of balls. When he was ahead in the count at 0-2 and 1-2, he offered the pitch 56% and 54% of the time, respectively. With the count even or full, those percentages dropped to just 53 and 49. For contrast, Clayton Kershaw, who produced the gold standard for slider usage in 2011, offered his slider in 3-2 counts 34% of the time. Kershaw’s wSL came in at 22.8 in 2011, while Jackson’s checked in at just 1.8 with 30 starting pitchers in MLB generating more value from their slider than Jackson, and just two – Ervin Santana and Bud Norris – offering it at a higher rate.

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Motte, Feliz Continue Tradition

Brian Wilson. Mariano Rivera. Brad Lidge. Jonathan Papelbon — and in 2011, either Jason Motte or Neftali Feliz. Moreso than any other position in baseball, the dominant closer has become the common thread amongst World Series winners. Both Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington have to feel confident in handing the ball to their designated closers. In essence, it’s a race to get to the closers. Let’s take a look at the two who will be participating in the Fall Classic.

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Oblique Injuries in MLB

Like the 2011 regular season, the 2011 post-season has already seen a number of high-profile oblique injuries. Last evening, Tigers DH Victor Martinez launched a solo home run to right field – and strained his oblique in the process. While his status is day-to-day, teammate Delmon Young‘s own oblique strain suffered in Detroit’s Game 5 win over the Yankees in the Division Series has revealed that the injury, however mild, can linger for days or, in some cases, weeks. Tigers skipper Jim Leyland is well aware of the anxiety that is coupled with an oblique injury, saying after the series win over New York, “I learned a long time ago when the word oblique is mentioned, I get nervous… I’ve never seen an oblique all right in a day or two. It’s never happened as long as I’ve been managing.”

So, while the Tigers will have to deal with two middle-of-the-lineup hitters nursing tender obliques, it’s an injury that has become all too common in Major League Baseball. Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria, Jason Bay, J.A. Happ, Curtis Granderson, Brian Wilson, Jair Jurrjens, and Ryan Zimmerman are some of the players who were slowed by oblique injuries in 2011, with Zimmerman drastically altering his throwing mechanics to minimize the risk of future injury to the oblique, and in the process, he struggled through the worst defensive year of his career according to UZR.

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The Evolution of K-Rod

Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez threw a scoreless 8th inning last evening versus the Cardinals, his third consecutive scoreless frame of the 2011 playoffs.

While no longer one of the game’s elite closers, Rodriguez has found a niche as a reliable set-up man for Brewers closer John Axford. Since joining the Brewers, Rodriguez has not only changed roles in the bullpen, he has changed his approach to getting hitters out. This season has seen “K-Rod” post the second lowest K/9 of his career (9.92), but it’s also seen the righty walk the fewest batters per nine (3.27) of his nine-plus year career.

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Arizona Fall League – Arms to Watch

The majority of the baseball-viewing public will be fixed upon the conclusions of the Division Series this week, but the scouting and player development departments of MLB clubs will gather in the greater Phoenix area for the start of the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday. Several of the players in the AFL will play a significant role at the MLB level in 2012, perhaps in October. Arizona’s Game 3 starter tonight is Josh Collmenter, a 2010 member of the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Many of the game’s top prospects will be playing a 38-game schedule in front of crowds that number in the hundreds but include many of the game’s top executives. For some, it’s a chance to get more plate appearances after a limited run in MLB (Mike Trout). For others, it’s the first chance to show an organization what it just invested in (Gerrit Cole). Altogether, the AFL presents an exciting opportunity for players and evaluators before the book on 2011 is closed.

While it’s important to consider the small sample of innings pitched in the AFL, pitching prospects can use a solid performance in the AFL as a springboard to a breakout season. In the 2010 AFL, Nationals righty Brad Peacock flashed a plus FB and CB on his way to striking out 17 in 12 IP while the 2011 season saw him dominate AA and AAA. His breakout season earned him a promotion to Washington, DC in September.

Here are some of the arms to follow this fall:

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