Daniel Bard - It's been a difficult season thus far for Daniel Bard, who faced the Orioles on Wednesday and yielded two earned runs on five hits while striking out two and walking four in 5 1/3 innings. Bard's been struggling because he's issuing an excessive number of free passes (6.75 walk rate) and opposing batters are hitting a lot of line drives off him (22% LD rate). Add in more balls in play thanks to a significant drop in Bard's whiff rate (3.38 K/9) and you can see why the pitcher owns an xFIP of 6.32. Moving from a reliever to a starter meant Bard would lose some velocity on his fastball and that's exactly what's happened. The right hander averaged a 97 mph fastball in 2011, but his velocity has fallen to 93 mph this season. Perhaps that's part of the reason hitters have been able to show such drastic improvements against Bard. Until he can reverse his current indicator stats, Bard's best left on your bench.
Jake Arrieta - Entering Wednesday's outing against the Red Sox, Jake Arrieta's ERA of 4.72 was significantly higher than his 3.30 xFIP. That difference may cause you to believe Arrieta's been unlucky through nine starts this season prior to yesterday. However, I don't believe that's the case. While Arrieta's got solid strikeout (8.30) and walk rates (2.11), he's allowing a 23% LD rate but his .295 BABIP remains slightly below league average. Based on that LD rate, he should own a higher BABIP. Arrieta also continues to struggle with the long ball, yielding nine HRs in his first 61 innings this season after allowing 21 HRs in 119 innings a season ago. Batters hit the ball hard off Arrieta which explains the poor line drive and HR marks. I love the improved strikeout and walk rates, but until the right hander can induce weaker contact on balls in play, he's going to struggle to keep his ERA to an acceptable range. On Wednesday, Arrieta tossed 5 2/3 innings and struck out two while allowing four earned runs.
James Shields - After posting ERAs of 5.18 and 2.82 during the past two seasons, we predicted James Shields would be around the middle of those two extremes this season and he entered Wednesday's start against the Blue Jays with a 3.77 ERA. However, Shields also owned a career-low 3.09 xFIP, which continues a positive trend as the big right hander has lowered his xFIP in three straight seasons. On Wednesday, Shields allowed two earned runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out 10 and walked one. After yielding just 0.94 HRs per nine innings in 2011, Shields has regressed back to his career average by posting a 1.21 HR rate in 2012. He's also maintained a strong strikeout rate near 9.00 while walking about 3.00 batters per game. All that said, the biggest difference for Shields this season is his incredibly high 59% GB rate. For his career, Shields GB rate is at 45% so it's interesting to note he's tallying a bunch more grounders. Based on his peripherals, I believe Shields ERA may drop by about a quarter of a run before the season's over, but you're basically seeing Shields pitch to his ability through 10 starts in 2012.
David Ortiz - Big Papi had a rough day on Wednesday against the Orioles, taking the collar by going 0-for-5. He's now batting .315/.383/.583 for the season with 10 HRs. Ortiz has been successful thanks to a solid 24% LD rate and .268 ISO. Interestingly, Ortiz has made contact with a larger percentage of pitches that are outside the strike zone - improving his contact rate from 60% in 2010 to 72% in 2011 to 79% this season. While this may seem like a bad idea, Ortiz is making it work as his BABIP is sitting at .321 (compared to a .304 career mark). As Ortiz has expanded his swing zone in the past two seasons, his LD rates have jumped into the low 20% range after sitting in the mid-to-high teens for most of his career. Meanwhile, Ortiz has still been able to maintain pretty solid walk rates in the 10-12% range, which are just slightly below his 13% career mark. All said, Ortiz continues to reinvent himself as a hitter and the results are excellent.
Doug Fister - In 2010, Doug Fister owned a measly 4.89 whiff rate to go along with a 4.11 ERA and 4.10 xFIP. Last season, Fister increased his strikeout rate to 6.07 and lowered ERA to 2.83 and his xFIP to 3.61. And so far this season, Fister's continued to improve these three key indicators, posting a 6.75 strikeout rate, 1.84 ERA and 2.98 xFIP after tossing 6 2/3 innings and yielding two earned runs versus the Indians on Wednesday. The right hander continues to post a solid GB rate (53%), but is also getting pretty lucky (90% strand rate and .261 BABIP). However, I'm most encouraged by the fact Fister continues to miss bats because when you couple a strikeout rate in the 7.00-range with a GB rate in the 50%-55% range, you're going to get solid ERA and WHIP marks. At this point, Fister's worth starting against most lineups.
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