Friday, May 6, 2011

Problem spot: Carl Pavano

(This was originally set up to publish early Wednesday morning.  But then Francisco Liriano threw his no-hitter, and I pushed to back a day. Then the Twins won again on Wednesday, and I decided,  hey, let's not post "problem spot" pieces the day after a Twins win. So here it is, the day after an off day. Hey, it had to go sometime.)

Carl Pavano after his bat-swinging attack on a dugout trash can on Sunday:

"The (bat) wouldn't break. I couldn't break a bat in the dugout and I couldn't break any out there (on the mound). It was embarrassing."

An illuminating comment, that: It raises the notion, which I should have thought of earlier, that breaking bats is a way those who "pitch to contact" gauge their effectiveness.

Pavano's strikeout rate after five starts is 4.1 K/9, which is down some from last season's K rate and down sharply from his 7.2 K/9 with the Twins in 2009. The 2009 rate was a bit of fluke; Pavano's career rate is 5.7. (Stats line here.) Last season's decline is why I would have preferred to see the Twins let Pavano sign elsewhere during the winter.

Pavano was, as we know, effective last season (3.75 ERA in 221 innings) and ineffective so far this season (5.84 ERA). That's a two-runs per nine innings swing, which is pretty significant.

Without question, part of that swing is explained by the deteriorating Minnesota infield defense. But I suspect that part of it is that Pavano isn't breaking bats — which means batters are hitting more line drives against him, and fewer pop-ups and weak grounders.

Pavano is never going to be a high strikeout guy. He's got to keep the ball off the sweet spot of the bat. This is something I'm going to start watching for with Pavano — and, for that matter, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing, two other Twins starters whose strikeout rates are either subpar (Blackburn) or just barely acceptable (Duensing).

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