Now I know that we are just a few short weeks into the 2011 season, but there have been several patterns emerging - rain, offensive offense, spotty defense, irregular bullpen. But one of the more constant things so far has been the starting rotation. You have heard the stat over and over, that rotation is the only one left in baseball to have each starter go at least 5IP or more in each game; and this is great. But as several of our beatwriters have written, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have been good. None have been more back-and-forth than Tom Gorzelanny. At times this year he has has been brilliant, and at times he has been not-so-brilliant (much like a certain DC ballclub). There is one really big question hanging out there...
Has he really been that bad?
His ERA currently sits at a 3.97, and its always good to have a sub-4 ERA. But that number is very deceptive.
We have talked in the past about FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which essentially tallies up everything that a pitcher can control while removing everything that he can't (just hits, walks, strikeouts). I like using FIP to judge how a pitcher is really performing, and in Gorzelanny's case, it doesn't paint a pretty picture. Right now it is over a point higher than his ERA, sitting uncomfortably at 5.11. Seeing as though we read FIP the same as ERA, 5.11 is not good.
Next, let's talk about his BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play), and as we discussed earlier this week, league average is somewhere around .298. BABIP is useful in determining a pitchers luck, a high BABIP means that the other team are finding gaps and getting lucky hits, low meaning that the pitcher is getting some help from his team via solid defense or lucky outs.
Before I tell you what his 2011 BABIP is, I should tell you that his career average is .296 which is incredibly average. This year, in his 4 starts, his BABIP is .200, good for 4th lowest in MLB. One has to figure that this number doesn't change that drastically in one offseason, and that Gorzelanny will soon regress towards his career average almost .100 points higher - sending his ERA skyrocketing.
We will get into this a bit more in the next section, but he is also suffering from a severe case of Gopher-Ball-Itis. In 2011 his HR/9 rate is 60% higher than his career rate (0.98 career, 1.59 in 2011).
To sum up...
1 - Gorzelanny has not been good when the defense is out of the picture.
2 - Gorzelanny has been getting extremely lucky.
3 - Gorzelanny is giving up significantly more Homers.
Now the bigger question - Why?
Gorzelanny is coming off of a bounce-back year with the Cubs, winning 7 games with a sub-4 FIP, while also earning his 2nd highest WAR total ever with a 2.3. What happened between this year and last year that has this writer so worried?
1 - Over the past 5 years, Gorzelanny has made a living getting hitters to ground out, having never posted a Ground Ball Percentage (GB%) rate below 40%. This year his GB% is at 31.7%. And when you aren't getting the ground balls...
2 - You give up more fly balls, and in turn, more homers. Gorzelanny's highest percentage of fly-balls in a season (FB%) has never been above 43.8%. This year it is at 54.0%.
3 - His career best Pitches per Plate Appearance is 3.87. And in 2011 it is currently at 4.12 - leading to higher pitch counts and fewer innings pitched.
The last point I have is probably the biggest harbinger for future bad performance.
4 - In 2009, just 2 years ago, Gorzelanny's fastball averaged 91 MPH. This year his fastball sits at 87.9 MPH - 60th slowest out of 70 NL starting pitchers (at least 20 IP).
Could this be just a small sample size issue? Yes.
Could this be signs of worse to come? Yes.
Fly Balls + Higher HR Rate + Slower Fastball + Lucky Hitters = Bad Juju.