One will now tell the story of a pitcher who had a solid month of June in ’13. The pitcher was a key free agent addition to a team who fancied themselves as contenders heading into the year. In 34 innings, this pitcher posted an ERA of 3.44 with an opposing slash line of .200/.231/.453 and wOBA of .290. His K% was 29.6 percent, his BABIP was .220, and he only walked 3.7% of hitters. Anyone care to guess who this phenomenal pitcher is? Well, if one guessed the Angels hurler who finished 2013 with a 2-14 record, 6.04 ERA, .346 BABIP, and K% of 17.7%, Joe Blanton, one would be correct. Blanton’s final slash line in 132.2 innings was .317/.357/.547 with an incredulous 29 home runs allowed. While Blanton was absolutely putrid the majority of ’13, his June was quite effective. Even in seasons when starting pitchers are terrible, they often pitch well during certain stretches.
Aren’t arbitrary endpoints fun? One can literally do this exercise with just about every pitcher. Due to the wide variance and unreliability of relievers, the wise way to construct a bullpen is with minor league journeymen who cost very little, such as Neal Cotts, and young pitchers already in the organization who are not capable of starting. Scheppers turned out to be the latter.
One issue with Scheppers is his propensity to pitch to contact, and not miss many bats. His strikeout numbers are not all that impressive as he only struck out 19.5% of hitters in ’13, and less than seven hitters per nine innings. His BABIP of .252 is 138 points lower than it was in ’12. Scheppers was simply fortunate enough to turn a lot of the contact into outs. That kind of trend will not continue as one could decipher from the three above cases the author referenced. If Scheppers does not begin to miss more bats, and increase his strikeout numbers, the balls he allows to be put into play will begin to become base hits as the cruel demon known as regression takes over.
Scheppers was basically a ground ball extraordinaire in ’13 as his 50.5 ground ball percentage indicates. Ground balls are great as they are not capable of traveling over the wall, but, eventually, the ground balls will begin to find holes. Third baseman Adrian Beltre has been a defensive wizard throughout his career at the hot corner, but he produced his first negative DRS season of his career in ’13. Defensive metrics are not as reliable as offensive numbers, but with Beltre turning 35 shortly after opening day next year, and with his degenerative hamstrings, one would assume his defense at third base will continue to erode. With a pitcher relying heavily upon ground balls being asked to close out games, this could be somewhat of a problem.
A statistic which is often indicative of future success or failure is xFIP. The Pirates made a few shrewd moves to acquire pitchers who had posted high ERAs, but lower xFIPs the past couple of years. Relief specialist Mark Melancon and resurgent starter Francisco Liriano are two examples of the Pirates striking gold with low xFIP, high ERA pitchers. The statistic basically indicates what a pitcher’s ERA should be. Scheppers xFIP this past year was 3.88, while his ERA was 1.88. An increase of at least one and a half to two runs in ERA should not surprise anyone in ’14 if Scheppers does not increase his strikeout numbers.
Part of what made Scheppers so effective in ’13 was possessing the seventh highest ranked velocity fastball among relievers at 96.3 MPH. The fastball was also rated as the eighth best among relief pitchers this past year according to Fangraphs. Tanner’s fast ball is more of a two-seamer with late life and sink. Another glimmer of hope as this chart shows is Schepper’s seldom used curve ball beginning to miss bats in the final two months of ’13.