Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Pitcher Appraisal: Scott Baker

S. BAKER (33 Starts)

xFIP | MLB Rank



BABIP | +/- MLB Avg



Runs Support | +/- MLB Avg






Game Score Greater Than 50:



Game Score Less

Than 50:




Average Game Score Per Start:


Season High/Low:

88 (8/14)

21 (4/22)


Game Scores over 90:


Game Scores 80-89:


Game Scores 70-79:


Game Scores 60-69:


Game Scores Below 40:



Record of Opposing Batters:

.247/.293/.416 (709 OPS)

Offensive Equivalent:

Garret Anderson

Back in May I wrote, “The season did not start out the way Baker and the Twins envisioned after signing him to a long-term contract this past offseason.  Shoulder problems delayed the beginning of his 2009 season and when he returned, he began by allowing home runs at an absurd pace - in his first three starts he surrendered a home run every 10 plate appearances - while his 16 earned runs in just 14 innings of work resulted in a 9.82 ERA and a myriad of questions regarding his health and effectiveness.”  A dissection in his pitches showed that Baker struggled at gaining movement with his pitches, frequently leaving very hittable balls middle-up in the zone.  Things turned around quickly for the Twins’ veteran right-hander as his fifth season in Minnesota wore on.  In April and May, Baker went 2-6 allowing 14 home runs in his nine games resulting in a 6.32 ERA but from June until the end of the season, he went 13-3 with a 3.67 ERA in 24 games helping propel the Twins towards the division-leading Tigers.

According to his game scores, Baker, perhaps more than any other pitcher on the staff, gave the Twins the best opportunity to win games.  His 52 average in addition to 11 starts in which he held game scores of 60 or higher, supplying more than enough pitching to yield victories - especially given his 5.62 average run support. There is little evidence that suggests Baker's 15 victories were anything but earned, however, he did manage to come away with three wins that would otherwise have been losses had the offense not scored a high runs total.  Still, there are plenty of Twins followers that would hesitate to call Baker an "ace".  This came up with the TwinsCentric group as well.  While writing the Offseason GM Handbook 2009-2010, I was tasked with creating report cards.  At the time, I wagged the grades at the beginning September and Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, John Bonnes and I opened those up for discussion.  A debated sparked regarding what I submitted on Baker and Nick Blackburn.  In my evaluation, I had Baker graded better (albeit slightly) than Blackburn.  In my own assessment, I noted that Baker's peripherals were better all-around while Blackburn was allowing more hits than Google.  It was by the grace of the baseball gods that Blackburn managed to keep such a tidy ERA.  This was not a knock on Blackburn, it was just that Baker had a better year.  After an extensive dialogue on what exactly what the grading scale should reflect, we ultimately decided to ordain them the exact same grade, much to my chagrin.  

This is not to say that I felt Blackburn deserved a bad grade, per se.  After all, his performance, while not dominating, resulted in a very good 4.03 ERA.  Of course, to most baseball analysts, ERA and victories do little to inform on the actual performance of a pitcher.  In the areas like K/9, WHIP, batting average allowed, Baker was a far superior pitcher. Outward demeanor could also be influencing the decision.  Whereas Blackburn gets credit for appearing confident in big starts, Baker seems to project this opposite.  Baker's mound demeanor could be what is most unnerving and less than inspirational.  Following periods of unbridled bashing from opponents, Baker assumes the deer-in-headlights look and appears to have a rapport of that of a father chewing out his son whenever pitching coach Rick Anderson trots out to the infield bump. 

While the rancid numbers from April and May are influencing people's decisions on Baker's overall performance, we should consider a few other factors:
  • His 1.19 WHIP and his 3.38 K/BB was good enough for seventh in the American League.  These have much better predicative values than citing his 4.36 ERA (which was still several points better than the AL average of 4.46) that inflated from sub-4.00 a year ago.   
  • His fastball was one of the best in the league as well.  At 1.03 wFB/C, his heater was behind that of the Royals' Zack Greinke in runs above average in the AL.  
  • 31 percent of his plate appearance were of the 0-2 variety.  Only Detroit's Justin Verlander held a higher percentage of 0-2 counts.  This fact is huge considering MLB players managed to hit just .461 OPS once falling into an 0-2 deficit.  
These statistics puts Baker in an elite category that is share by Cy Young contenders.  Had he been able to erase his first nine starts where he was re-acclimating himself to pitching again after his shoulder problems, Baker may have encroached on 20 wins rather than his 15.  Signed through 2012 (but with a club option in 2013), the 27-year-old Baker will be just entering his 30's so the organization has bought out his prime years for a very reasonable $14.5 million.  What the Twins will receive in return is a starter capable of consuming 200 innings and providing Cy Young-caliber outings so long as those long fly balls stay within the field of play.