Here are some of the strange things we've lived through so far this 2012 baseball season:
- Nick Punto, Lead Off Hitter
Scott Podsednik returns (presumably from the dead) and, stranger still, hits!
- Daniel Nava does his best Manny Ramirez in left field
That's an impressive list all on its own, but when you throw Felix Doubront, Staff Ace on top, it becomes like something out of a Lewis Carroll story. We all fell down a hole in our collective backyard and found Doubront scurrying by with a top hat, a petticoat, and repeating, "I can't be late, gotta strike out the side, I can't be late, gotta strike out the side..."
Last year, Doubront was supposed to be the sixth guy in the rotation, the guy who could step in and keep the Red Sox from replacement player hell. Instead, he showed up out of shape, pitched badly, got hurt and that was mostly it for him in 2011. Because of all that, coming into this season Doubront was the lost prospect, the guy who was getting a shot because if he didn't he'd get claimed by another team and that was probably bad though maybe it wasn't and hopefully this sentence ends soon.
To date he's been the best starter on the Red Sox*. In one less start and 9 1/3 less innings pitched, Doubront has 22 more strikeouts and 13 fewer runs allowed than Jon Lester. In one fewer inning than Josh Beckett, Doubront has 20 more strikeouts. His ERA is a half run better than anyone else who has started a game for Boston this season. And at 3.75 it's awful close to his FIP of 3.87 indicating he hasn't been the recipient of undue luck (or the victim of horrific defense). He's earned what he's done so far.
* I can't think too hard about that because I'll get upset he didn't do this last year.
But how?Back in late February, I wrote about the potential impact Doubront could have in this year's rotation.
If last year can be chalked up to an innocent mistake, a young man's folly, then there is a very real possibility that Doubront can make a positive impact on the 2012 Red Sox, as opposed to what he made last year. He can be the guy who steps in and saves us from injuries and twelve more starts of Andrew Miller. For that alone, don't sleep on him.
Doubront has been even better than the last guy in the rotation though. He doesn't have the longest major league track record, but he's spent an awful lot of time in the minors. Since he turned 20 years old in 2008, a season which he spent at the A and High A levels, he's been a strike out pitcher. Since then his K/9 has always been between 7.8 and 8.1.
Looking over his pitch f/x numbers, two things stand out. With the admittedly large caveat that I'm comparing this year's 62 1/3 innings of starting to 2011's 10 1/3 innings which were accumulated out of the bullpen, here's what those two things are.
First, his curve ball is far more effective. The specifics of the pitch are similar in terms of speed, spin, and its horizontal and vertical movement but now he's throwing it for strikes. Doubront has thrown the curve ball for a strike 58.9 percent of the time this season, compared to 47.1 percent in 2011.
But that isn't the big point of success. The change up is. Doubront's change up is getting swings and misses 19 percent of the time. That's great (though it's not world beating; Cole Hamels gets swings and misses on his change up 28 percent of the time). What's more, he's throwing it for strikes 65.5 percent of the time, so the majority of the time it's been a strike whether hitters have been swinging at it or not. When Doubront was up in 2011 he barely threw his change up at all, though he was in the bullpen then.
Of course the change is set up by the fastball, and Doubront has been throwing his two different fastballs, a two seamer and a four seamer, for strikes 62 percent and 66 percent of the time, respectively.
As long as he can keep throwing his pitches for strikes, and all his pitches (the two fastballs, change up, and cutter) are over 60 percent except the curveball which is almost there, he should see success. If there is anything concerning, you'd have to point to the home runs (five in the last three starts) and the walks, though those have been pretty well under control recently.
Doubront isn't a finished product, and he'll likely have some trying times on the mound this season. But he's got the stuff to succeed, so if he can keep throwing his pitches for strikes, he can be better than just a fifth starter. He can be a real asset to the rotation going forward.