The Contact Tales: 2009

Let’s wrap this series up, shall we?

Starting Pitchers (Min IP: 100)

The Best:
Rich Harden 67.3%
Javier Vazquez 73.3%
Jonathan Sanchez 73.7%
Francisco Liriano 74.1%
Jorge de la Rosa 74.7%

There’s only a handful of starting pitchers in baseball where you can point to a 74% contact rate and say, “Man, he’s just not what he used to be.” Liriano is one of those. Many still recall 2005 (63.8% contact) or 2006 (65.4%), when Liriano’s fastball scorched by hitters with his slider carelessly generating empty swings. During those years Liriano posted xFIP of 1.98 (!) and 2.35 and gave the Twins a pair of ace lefties. Over the last two, he’s looked like an average starter, which still holds value, just not quite the value his name and stuff once held.

The Worst:
John Lannan 88.6%
Nick Blackburn 87.9%
Joel Pineiro/Livan Hernandez 87.7%
Aaron Laffey 87.6%

Blackburn really is Carlos Silva part two. Through his first three seasons, Blackburn has completed two outs over 410 innings while walking 1.8 per nine and striking out 4.4 per nine (with a 4.14 ERA). Silva had 374 innings with per-nine ratios of 2.3 walks and 4 strikeouts, as well as a 4.04 ERA. I’m telling you, if I were Blackburn’s agent I would do everything in my power to have Bill Bavasi signing off on personnel moves with some team come my client’s free agency period.

Relief Pitchers (Min IP: 40)

The Best:
Mike Wuertz 58.9%
Luke Gregerson 66.2%
Mark DiFelice 67.1%
Brad Lidge/J.P. Howell 68.1%

This isn’t the first time Wuertz name appears on under the best label. He had a rough season in 2008 – okay, not that rough; a 4.35 xFIP and 4.30 FIP certainly don’t justify dumping someone with a track record of success – but it’s easy to see why Billy Beane dealt for him once the opportunity presented itself.

The Worst:
Sean White 86.7%
Clay Condrey 86.6%
Chris Jakubauskas 85.8%
Bobby Keppel/Jeff Bennett 85.4%

With the exception of White, each of these pitchers has changed teams at least once over the past calendar year. Probably not a coincidence.

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12 Responses to “The Contact Tales: 2009”

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  1. serious man says:

    Glad someone finally said it: Blackburn stinks

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  2. deckholm says:

    Nice to see the Twins lost one reliever (Keppel) who can’t miss bats and were able to replace him with another (Condrey). Oh wait…

    I’m convinced that having a “pitch to contact” staff can work enough during the regular season not to hurt your team too much but man can it kill you in the playoffs. To me it’s been the reason the Twins never seem to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Especially against the Yankees.

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  3. Joe M says:

    On Liriano:

    will he ever approach his pre-TJ peripherals/skills?

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    • philosofool says:

      Not until he gets his velocity back, if ever.

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    • R M says:

      I was under the impression that the slider that gunned down so many opposing hitters required the motion that killed his elbow, so it’s pretty unlikely he ever regains 2006 form. That’s not to say he can’t be better than 2009.

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  4. Argive says:

    Interesting that Lidge could post that kind of contact rate, considering how 2009 went for him otherwise. As a Phils fan, it gives me some hope for 2010, if his knee doesn’t explode.

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  5. Rut says:

    What’s interesting under the relief pitchers is how bad Lidge was last year, despite missing bats, and how well Condrey performed, despite not being able to miss bats. I understand Condrey way outperformed his FIP, but that is some serious luck.

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  6. Christian says:

    RJ — aren’t you going to say anything about the upside of high contact rates, i.e. Dave Duncan’s ground ball factory? It isn’t necessarily bad to induce high contact rates if your GB/FB is high and HR/9 is low.

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  7. MJ says:

    Hey, at least Bob Keppel pitched a no-hitter for the Binghamton (AA) Mets back in 2004. I was there in person so there is at least some evidence that Keppel belongs on a pitcher’s mound…as long as that mound isn’t anywhere near the big leagues…

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