Jake Westbrook made his ninth start with the St. Louis Cardinals last night. Fittingly, against the San Diego Padres – the third team in involved in the trade that landed Westbrook in St. Louis. Westbrook did what he’s done since: pitch well and get massive amounts of groundballs.
Wise men say Westbrook always has been a groundball extraordinaire and that would be correct – they are called wise men for a reason. The 32-year-old’s groundball rate has increased from 53% to 62% since switching teams. That number increased after his performance versus the Padres. Eight innings pitched, three strikeouts and walks alike, no earned runs, and 26 balls in play. Seventeen – or 65% — scored as groundballs, with three as liners and the rest as flies.
Many credit Dave Duncan for positively affecting many a loathsome pitcher’s career. Westbrook’s time with Duncan is only in its infancy, but there are some signs in pitch usage that could signify what the future may hold. Whether under Duncan’s advice or demand, Westbrook is throwing more fastballs now than he did with Cleveland. Pitchfx data also has him tossing fewer cutters, although I did not confirm whether that is a classification issue with the sequential increase in sliders.
Beyond peripheral alterations, Westbrook’s performance has changed too. Unlike with the pitch usage metamorphosis, which is hard to detail as a pro, or a con, we know that Westbrook walking fewer batters while striking more out is a good thing. Or, at least, should be a good thing. Westbrook’s xFIP is down exactly a run and his FIP and ERA with subtractions of nearly the same magnitude.
Can he be this good heading forward? Can just a league switch really change who a pitcher is? The National League Central features the two worst team on-base percentages in the National League (Pirates/Astros) with the Cubs not far behind. Three of his seven starts entering the Padres’ game had come against those Pirates/Astros’ squads, raising issues over whether wise men would agree that his numbers contain a good degree of mendacity.
Whatever the answer, the results to date have been worthwhile.
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