Friday, April 20, 2007

What's wrong with Zach Duke?

This seems like a question that we're always asking ourselves, unfortunately. Last year he had a rough first half and the general problem was that he walked too many people. He did get stronger in the second half, however, and ended up with a just about average season (his ERA+ was 100 on the nose, meaning he was actually the definition of average last year) despite giving up more hits than any other pitcher in the league, in part due to the Pirates poor defense and his very high BABIP.

So what's the deal this year? He made two strong starts and immediately followed them up with two very poor starts. The culprit this time around, however, isn't the walks because he's walking less than 2 batters per 9 innings. He's just getting rocked. He's given up 32(!) hits in 19 innings, leading to 19 runs in that span. Again, his BABIP is ridiculous (it's at .358 at the moment) and that's going to have to come down some because when it's that high, not even the defense can be blamed. But part of the problem is also simply the number of balls put in play. While he's only walked four batters in 19 innings, which is good, he's only struck out five over the same span, and that's bad. No one is asking him to strike out 8 guys every 9 innings, but he's going to have to get back at least to the level he was at last year (almost 5 per 9) or above to be an effective pitcher this year.

Can he do it? It should be interesting. Ian Snell has vaulted past him towards the top spot in the pitching staff because he's learned how to adjust and make himself a better pitcher. Duke, for all of his talents, hasn't seemed to do much of that since his awesome end of the 2005 season. He turned 24 yesterday, it's time for him to start growing up as a pitcher as well.