Sep 13, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Felix Doubront (61) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Facing a National League lineup on the road -- giving him a chance to feast on the opposing pitcher at the plate -- helped Doubront to his first start of seven innings in the majors ever, and also resulted in his loftiest Game Score to date. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth, when he gave up a solo home run to shortstop Jose Reyes, but he struck out the side in that frame, all swinging. All told, he allowed three hits, two walks, and struck out nine over seven.
This is the best we've seen Felix Doubront. He had struck out nine hitters before, in a six-inning start against the Orioles in May, but this was his longest, most-efficient game of the season, and one in which he was nigh untouchable for most of it. More of this, and his season won't need any kind of "...for a fifth starter" caveat attached to it.
Couple of things. The article opens with a statement about how Doubront's issue has been inefficiency. It closes with the quote you see above -- he needs more of this before we can toss out the caveats associated with his performance.
Doubront didn't get more starts like this one -- it remains his top performance from the year -- and now he owns a 5.11 ERA and 86 ERA+ in 2012.
Those numbers by themselves aren't a significant issue. Doubront is just 24, the Red Sox are out of contention, he's young enough to learn and improve, etc. How he got to that point, though -- continuing to be inefficient -- is more problematic. It's the root cause behind the symptom that is his poor 2012.
Doubront has not become less efficient as the year goes on. He did become less accurate, though, and it resulted in opponents racking up both more walks and hits against him in his last 13 of 26 starts. He's gassed, and it's obvious, not just because he has set a career-high in innings as a pro, either. He's put so much more work into the innings he has thrown, and it means his workload is actually larger than what you would consider 141 innings to be.
Minimum 1,500 pitches thrown, Doubront ranks second in the majors in pitches per inning, behind only Alex White. If you bumped that to 2,000 pitches, Doubront would be first, as White has tossed just 1,600. Same minimum of 1,500, this time for pitches per batter faced, and Doubront fares only slightly better, moving down to third thanks to the wonders of going to the hundredth decimal place.
Doubront has averaged over 18 pitches per inning on the season, and 4.1 pitches to each batter faced. For some context, those are both worse rates than what Edinson Volquez has done in 2012, a pitcher known for his inability to find the strike zone, but with stuff that allows him to miss bats. Doubront doesn't want to grow up to become Edinson Volquez, so a change in style might be necessary. Additional context: Doubront throws as many pitches per batter as the likes of Chase Headley, Mike Trout, and Ben Zobrist see in each plate appearance. There's a reason Doubront has allowed a .297/.377/.502 line since June 20.
This doesn't mean Doubront is broken forever or anything like that. He's shown he can miss bats -- even while struggling, Doubront has struck out eight batters per nine in his last 67 innings and 13 starts. The problem is that Doubront throws too many pitches in each plate appearance, regardless of the outcome. Of the 628 batters he's faced, 139 of them have reached three-ball counts, and he's had the batter ahead of him (233 PA) more than he's been ahead (212). Despite punching out a batter per inning on the season, Doubront's total strike percentage is right at the league average -- your average hurler strikes out 1.5 fewer batters per nine than Doubront while tossing that many strikes, though. Pitches fouled off are the main culprit behind these extended plate appearances, as Doubront has seen each of his fastballs fouled off at least 21 percent of the time they are thrown -- that's the easiest way to extend a plate appearance, as at least balls result in a walk.
These longer innings and longer plate appearances mean that Doubront is already running on empty by the time he reaches pitches 76-100; it's no wonder opponents are hitting .282/.343/.573 against him in that situation, 35 percent better than average.
Basically, Doubront has won half the battle. He's proven his stuff is major-league worthy, and capable of inducing swings-and-misses consistently. What he hasn't proven is that he can get himself into a position to make that work for him more often than not. Doubront needs to attack hitters more, get into pitcher's counts more often, and shut the door on opposing batters in a more timely fashion than he has. It will make him better in the early and middle innings, and allow him to start putting more six- and seven-inning starts on his stat page. He'll need that if he's to be anything more than a back-end hurler, and while there's time for him to develop, it's not going to happen without a more efficient approach.