Thursday, May 10, 2007

Better Luck This Time

There's nothing like a series against the hated Twins to re-focus attention on the South Siders. In fact, win, lose or draw (well, no decision, at least), I was planning to take a look at White Sox rookie John Danks this morning. As it turns out, the young hurler (the Baseball Writers' Association of America requires that label to be placed on all pitchers under the age of 26) came up big for the Sox in Minnesota.

Danks has had a weird year so far. Before collecting his first big league win last night, Danks was 0-4. Clearly, he had pitched better than that. But his ERA was hovering above 5.00, so he hadn't pitched that well, right? Last night he gave up one run in six and a third innings. Suddenly, he is 1-4 with a 4.33 ERA. So, does a 1-4 record with a better than league average ERA indicate he's still a tough luck starter? Or, has he not really been as good as his 4.33 ERA indicates?

Prior to last night's game Danks had a normalized runs allowed of 4.63. League average is 4.50. He had a defense-adjusted ERA of 4.73. Again league average is 4.50. What that tells us is that the Sox defense has been playing well behind Danks. Danks has pitched well by some measures. His 7.2 strikeouts per nine, and 2.1 walks per nine are both much better than league average. Even his 10.0 hits allowed per nine is just slightly worse than average. Danks's problem, before last night, has been the long ball. He's allowed 1.5 HR per nine, much higher than the AL average, which is less than one per nine innings.

Last night, Danks didn't give up any home runs, so even though his strikeout totals were typical, and his total base runners allowed was typical (fewer hits and more walks than his normal outing), the results went from below average to above. Wins don't tell you much about a pitcher because offense and bullpen play such a large role. But the bottom line is that Danks had been below average (but close enough for a fifth starter) before pitching really well last night.

So, can Danks sustain last night's success, or is he more likely to return to his slightly below average form prior to last night? Well, Danks's .279 Batting Average Against on Balls in Play (BABIP) is the worst among White Sox starters. On the other hand, that's still better than his 90th percentile projection from PECOTA. And, PECOTA expected Danks to be as homer happy as he's been. Two things speak especially well for Danks's future: he misses more bats than expected, and he misses the strike zone less than expected. My expectation is that Danks will be an even better piece of the puzzle than we expected when we acquired him. But for this season, I think we'll be seeing the slightly below average pitcher from his first five starts more often than the really good pitcher who showed up last night.


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