Watching Matt Albers this year was a surreal experience.
During the first half of the 2011 season he looked, shockingly, like the real deal. His sinker had velocity, stayed down in the zone, and made batters look helpless time and again. Aside from that one game in Chicago, Albers looked a revelation.
Then the second half happened. Albers lost control, started leaving the pitch up, and was hammered for it.
If there's one thing we learned from Aaron Cook this year, it's that a sinkerballer who lives up in the zone is probably best utilized as a batting practice pitcher. Somehow, though, Albers managed to dodge that bullet. He'd go out there, leave that pitch waist-high with just enough dip to put it on a perfect plane with the bat swinging up to meet it, but the runs just didn't come.
Stuff like that doesn't just happen, at least not in the major leagues. There's a few examples of statistics being confounded by unusual pitchers or pitchers in unusual situations. There's not nearly so many examples of pitchers throwing belt-high meatballs having sustained success, however. This is not a statistical "well the numbers don't explain it" situation, it's more akin to one where a guy goes to the plate without a bat and keeps getting hit. Sure, he's getting on base, but we can be reasonably certain that this is not the right approach to take.
Still, Albers kept his ERA down, and as a result the Sox were able to trade him for Craig Breslow at the deadline, meaning he actually had some lasting value in the end. And so far in the NL West--a land of late-inning pinch-hitters and mammoth parks--he's actually doing quite well. Perhaps Albers has found the right place for himself? If so, good for him, and good for the Sox for recognizing that, successful though he may have been for the first few months, that place was not here.