Thursday, September 24, 2009

Going left: Duensing, Buehrle and Anderson

Tragic number: Nine. Into single digits now — but it's only gone down four in the past week. Twins and Tigers both won Wednesday. Twins are off today (Thursday), Tigers have Justin Verlander going against a no-name Cleveland starter.


Brian Duensing had his worst start since entering the rotation on Tuesday — he didn't finish the sixth inning, gave up nine hits and four runs. He still got the W.

In the process, he a) had his first home run allowed since Aug. 11 and b) had the first runs scored while he was on the mound since Aug. 28. (The only runs charged to him in his four previous September starts came on Sept. 8, when he was pulled with the bases loaded and Jon Rauch allowed all three to score.)

At one point during Wednesday's telecast Dick Bremer suggested that Duensing was comparable to Allan Anderson, a Twins pitcher in the late '80s and early '90s. Anderson led the AL in ERA in 1988 (16-9, 2.45) and saw his stats deteriorate rapidly from there (17-10, 3.80 in '89; 7-18, 4.53 in '90; 5-11, 4.96 in '91; then out of baseball at age 28).

There's a substantial difference between Anderson and Duensing, or at least the Duensing we've seen so far. Anderson for his career struck out 3.7 men per nine innings, with a peak during his time in the rotation of 3.9 K/9; Duensing so far is averaging 5.7 K/9.

Anderson's K-rate was never high enough to allow him a long career; Duensing's might be. (As I've noted before, however, Duensing's K-rate so far is higher than he had in Triple A, which suggests that he's not really this good. Plus he's had just one strikeout in each of his last two starts.)

Bert Blyleven suggested Mark Buerhle as a Duensing comp, which, considering how ineffective Buehrle (above) was on Wednesday, might not have appeared all that encouraging.

After Buehrle's perfect game this summer, I wrote a print column extolling Buehrle's future. A couple of months later, there are hints that he's reaching a career crossroads. His fastball velocity Wednesday was in the low 80s, his strikeout rate this season is near a career low, and the White Sox are publicly insisting that he revise his offseason condition work (and he's in agreement).

But Buehrle's 30 years old and has 134 wins. Duensing is 26 and has five. When Buehrle was 26, he had his fifth season of at least 14 wins and 220 innings.

Buehrle's early-20s workload may be taking its toll on him now, but he's still a good pitcher. Duensing's getting a later start, but if his career should mimic Buerhle's, the Twins (and Duensing) should be very happy with that.

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