Don’t get Bush-Whacked

Would you believe that 2008 was Dave Bush’s worst season?

On the surface, this might not seem so. After all, Bush posted the best ERA of his career – 4.18 in 185 innings – along with a nice 1.18 WHIP and 109 strikeouts. Certainly not the numbers of a fantasy ace, but well worth having on your team (considering that you probably got him for free from the waiver wire).

However, Bush was worse last year than he had been in the past, even though he had posted higher ERAs in the past. Let me explain.

Before 2008, Bush posted ERAs of 4.49, 4.41, and 5.12 from 2005-2007. However, his FIP was better than his ERA in 2006 and 2007, and Bush looked like the type of player who was primed for a breakout – although he didn’t punch many batters out, he limited his walks and got a fair share of grounders. Bush was hampered by a high HR/FB rate, a high BABIP (.327 in 2007) and a low LOB%.

And then, in 2008, the breakout came. Of course, it wasn’t really a “breakout” in the sense of Bush becoming a frontline starter, but rather Bush becoming a decent starter – a breakout for him. But even though Bush posted solid numbers in 2008, it appears that his “breakout” is actually more luck – just good luck, this time.

Dave Bush’s .245 BABIP was the lowest of any pitcher who pitched at least 150 innings this year. For those of you who are still skeptical of a pitcher’s inability to control BABIP, Bush is a perfect example: his BABIP was .327 just a year ago, and he had some people wondering whether he was simply more “hittable” because he didn’t have great stuff. And yet this year, he had the lowest BABIP of any starter in the game.

Needless to say, this BABIP will almost certainly regress in 2009, and Bush will allow more hits as a result.

However, the other factors that caused optimism about Bush – namely, his ground ball rate and his walk rate – got worse in 2008. Bush allowed more than 40% of his balls in play to be fly balls for the first time in his career (excluding his short stint in 2004). Fly balls left the yard at approximately a league average rate (12% of his fly balls became homers), but Bush allowed a whopping 23 homers in only 168 innings due to the sheer number of fly balls that he surrendered.

Furthermore, his control, which had been one of his biggest strengths, declined. After walking 1.91, 1.63, and 2.13 hitters per nine innings from 2005 through 2007, Bush allowed 2.38 walks in 2008. This may not seem like a big increase, but it’s a big deal for a guy like Bush, who doesn’t get many strikeouts and relies on his defense. The more free passes a low-strikeout pitcher allows, the worse he is going to be.

Finally, using some of the handy stats over at Stat Corner, we can see that Bush induced fewer swinging strikes in 2008 (7.5%) than he did in 06 and 07 (8.7% and 9.1%, respectively). This is not a good sign in and of itself, but it’s even worse when coupled with a rise in his walks. Additionally, Bush threw far more balls in 2008 (36.2% of his pitches were out of the strike zone) than he did in 06 and 07 (33.4% and 34.1%, respectively). That doesn’t bode well at all.

Dave Bush is likely to be worse – perhaps a lot worse – next season than he was in 2008. Let someone else make the mistake of overvaluing him on draft day.

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