• What to Watch in 2012: Pavano's Strikeouts

    When the Twins acquired Carl Pavano in August of 2009, his fastball was averaging almost 91 miles per hour and he was striking out 16 percent of the batters he faced. In two seasons since, his velocity has dropped by two miles per hour and his K-rate has descended steadily, to 13 percent in 2010 and 11 percent in 2011.

    Among qualifying major-league starters, only Brad Penny had a lower K/9 mark last year than Pavano's 4.1. A lack of whiffs isn't necessarily a death knell, especially when you can limit walks and homers, and Pavano's propensity for pitching to contact has helped him efficiently rack up 220 innings in consecutive years, but in order to succeed with this style a pitcher needs help from his defense and a certain measure of luck.
    Last year Pavano didn't benefit much in those areas; nor did his staff mates, as the Twins finished with the worst defensive efficiency (converting batted balls into outs) in all of baseball. While the club's fielding is expected to improve this season, it would take a rather drastic turnaround for it to be considered a strength.

    Pavano has been a fairly extreme ground ball pitcher in each of the past two years, so infield defense will likely be a key factor in his success. Around the diamond, the Twins will be relying on a third baseman who was repeatedly scolded for his passive defensive approach last year, a shortstop who's 38 and spent much of his career as a utility man, a mistake-prone second baseman with a reputation for losing focus, and a first baseman who's looked foggy in the field since being concussed.

    In other words, if Pavano's strikeout rate continues to slide, it's a good bet that he'll once again rank among the most hittable pitchers in all of baseball. He may be able to overcome that and hold value as a serviceable innings eater, but it's not a label you want attached to your Opening Day starter and de facto No. 1.

    The Twins have plenty of uncertainty in their 2012 rotation, so more than ever they'll be counting on Pavano -- whose 443 innings over the past two years lead all Twins pitchers by more than 100 -- to be that veteran rock. In order to to excel, it is essential that he take matters into his own hands and find a way to start missing a few more bats.
    This article was originally published in blog: What to Watch in 2012: Pavano's Strikeouts started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      If I had a dime for all the bloggers who did not want Carl Pavano re-signed after his fantastic 2010 season, I would be very wealthy. Former GM Bill Smith made many bad trades in his five years but perhaps his best move was trading minor league pitcher Yohan Pino to the Indians for Carl Pavano in August 2009. Pavano has rewarded the Twins by staying healthy and threw over 220 innings in 2011 after signing a 2-year deal. The hope is Pavano continues to chew up innings and the defense is better behind him this year. The question is if Pavano has another good season will the Twins re-sign him again?
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      This might be a *little* pessimistic. Valencia had a good defensive rookie year and a bad sophomore year; there's hope he'll revert to the mean. Casilla's fine so long as he's at second and not SS, Carroll is by all accounts competent if not amazing, and if Morneau is "foggy" he probably won't be playing at all. All of those would be improvements over last year. I think it's fair to expect average infield defense.
    1. mattlarson12's Avatar
      mattlarson12 -
      My first comment on the new site - this is pretty awesome, kudos to you guys for getting this up and running.

      Despite the defense behind him, Pavano's FIP has remained remarkably consistent for the last three seasons (4.00, 4.02, 4.10). In addition, if you look deeper into his plate disciple stats available on FanGraphs, it's pretty interesting that Pavano has ranked among the league leaders in generating swings on pitches outside the strike zone (O-swing %). If you look at the leaders from last season, you'll see Fister, Nolasco, Haren, Garza, Halladay, Sabathia, and Pavano. One of these things certainly seems to be not like the others. However, if you then look at his O-contact percentage (hitters making contact on pitches outside the zone), there's been a steady increase from 69% in 2009, 71% in 2010, and 76% last year, which may help to partly explain his declining K rate. The most obvious reason for this would seem to be declining stuff - his pitch type value (a metric for "wins" generated by individual pitch types) for his slider decreased markedly from 2010 to 2011. I'm not enough of a pitchFX expert to actually know if his slider has lost movement or if there's something going on with his mechanics or release point (I'd look to someone like Parker for that) but just thought that was interesting. He's generating a similar number of swings outside the zone but those pitches are much more hittable.
    1. Blake's Avatar
      Blake -
      I have to believe the lack of defense behind Twins pitching had to contribute to some of the problems the staff had last year. Has to be hard to pitch when you know that routine plays are now an adventure.
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