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Rough Starts Hiding Recent Turnarounds

When evaluating a player, it’s generally a good idea to look at larger sample sizes so that short term swings in performance don’t mislead you into an incorrect conclusion. However, there are some cases where looking at a player’s line from the entire season will cause you to miss some adjustments and improvements that players have made in season. In fact, just focusing on the overall performance in 2012 might cause you to come to the wrong conclusion about several pitchers who have recently gotten back on the right track after some very tough starts to the year. So, while you shouldn’t completely ignore the fact that they struggled out of the gate, here are some pitchers whose turnarounds might fly under the radar if you only focus on full season numbers.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians

For the first two months of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez appeared broken. He had more walks than strikeouts in both April and May, pacing the Majors by issuing 28 free passes in the second month of the year. His velocity was down, his command was off, and the former groundball machine had turned into a fly ball pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes. However, once the calendar flipped to June, Jimenez began to right the ship.

During the last month, Jimenez has struck out 32 batters in 32 1/3 innings pitched, totaling one strikeout less than he did in the first two months combined. He’s also gotten his command problems under control, issuing just 11 walks and holding batters to a .282 on base percentage. He still isn’t getting ground balls, but his velocity in June (92.9 MPH) is up one MPH from where it was in April (91.9), and he’s commanding the strike zone once again. He still doesn’t look like the pitcher who dominated in Colorado several years ago, but he’s showing that he can still get batters out, and the problems that plagued him early in the season weren’t permanent.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins.

Liriano was perhaps the worst pitcher in baseball in April, posting an 11.02 ERA that got him kicked out of the Twins rotation, which is a pretty remarkable feat considering that the Twins don’t have many quality pitchers to begin with. Everything was wrong – his fastball velocity (91.6 MPH) was down, his command (7.16 BB/9) was off, he wasn’t getting strikeouts (6.61 K/9), and he was giving up home runs (1.65 HR/9) in bunches. The Twins shipped him off to the bullpen to try to get straightened out, and whatever he did while pitching in relief got him ready to dominate upon rejoining the rotation.

Liriano in June just looks like an entirely different pitcher. His fastball is up to 93.9 MPH, putting him among the hardest throwing southpaws in the league once again. His groundball rate this month is 57.1%, a dramatic turnaround from the 31.6% GB% he posted in April. The walks are down and the strikeouts are up, and opposing batters are hitting just .155/.252/.243 against Liriano in June. He’s always been an inconsistent pitcher, but early in the year, Liriano was throwing batting practice and now he’s making Justin Verlander look like a slacker. Given how he’s throwing, Liriano has gone from a complete disaster to a suddenly interesting trade chip for the Twins at the deadline.

Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

Kuroda didn’t find a lot of interest in the free agent market last winter, both because of his advancing age but also because of the negative perception teams have about importing pitchers from the National League West. While Dodger Stadium isn’t the pitcher’s paradise it used to be, it’s still not a terrible place to pitch, and the road trips include frequent stops in San Diego and San Francisco, two of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. Going from the NL West to the AL East is perhaps the roughest jump in level of competition and change in ballparks any pitcher can make.

So, when Kuroda started the year as a pitch-to-contact guy with a serious home run problem, many were quick to chide Brian Cashman for not understanding that Kuroda’s numbers were simply a product of his environment. However, as he’s adjusted to his new environment, Kuroda has adapted and was one of baseball’s best pitchers in June.

His strikeout rate in April and May (5.43 K/9) was one of the main sources of concern, but he’s racked up 8.47 K/9 in June, showing that he still has the ability to put hitters away. The home run problem has dissipated as well, and Kuroda’s 2.38 ERA in June is one of the main reasons why the Yankees have gone 19-6 this month. Kuroda might not be quite as dominant as he was during his days in Los Angeles, but he is showing that he can be a good pitcher regardless of what park he’s pitching in, and his success in LA wasn’t all simply due to inferior opponents.