There is a lot of randomness and luck involved in the results in any single baseball game. Or any month's worth of games, for that matter. It's my contention that there's a lot of randomness and luck involved in any season't worth of games. The idea that things "even out" over the course of a season is, in my opinion, not really true.
That's getting ahead of ourselves, though. I thought I'd take a look at some of the starting pitchers so far this year to try to figure out what's going on, good and bad, so far this year. By the way, if you haven't looked lately, Baseball-reference now has expanded stats for both hitters and pitchers that make it even more of a one-stop shop for this sort of thing. Sean Forman Rules.
Scott Baker: I really wanted to see what's happening with Baker, hence this diary. Looking at his numbers, two things really stand out. FIrst, his flyball/groudball ratio is even more extreme than usual so far. He's always been a flyball pitcher, and he's always going to be, but he's usually around .5 gb/fb; so far this year it's .33.
The really noticable thing, though, is his HR/FB rate. Major league average is around 8%. Baker in his career has been around 7.6%--pretty close. He gives up a relatively large number of homers because he gives up so many flyballs, not because more of his flyballs go out. This year, however, even after last night's 0 homer outing, his HR/FB rate is an astounding 19.4%. This is unsustainable, and will come down over time. Almost all pitchers who pitch full seasons wind up with a ratio between roughly 6-11%. He's given up 7 homers so far; if his ratio was normal, it would be 3 homers, and we'd be having a much different conversation.
All of his other stats are right in line with where he usually is--his Babap is .311--right at league average (though he was lower last year--part of his success). His K rate is solid (7.4/9) and right where it was last year. His BB rate is within normal parameters for him. His line drive% is exactly where it always is (league average). It seems to me that if he's getting his K's, limiting his walks, and giving up the normal amount of line drives, the HR% is probably mostly fluke. It ought to get back closer to normal, and then we'll see the Baker we should expect.
Francisco Liriano: It's less obvious what's happening with Liriano. He's become more of a flyball pitcher than he was before the injury, but that doesn't preclude success. He's walked a few more than we would expect, and I suspect that's an issue for him, but I also expect him to hone in. His HR/FB rate is normal, though since there are more flyballs, there are slightly more homers (1.2/9 as opposed to .9 in his career). One thing that has happened early this year is he's given up more doubles than you would expect: his XHB/PA is 11.5%, whereas his career is 7% and league average is 8%. His XHB/H is over 50% as opposed to his (and the leagues) normal 35%. You expect more XHBs with more flyballs, but this is extreme. HIs line drive% is normal. There might be some luck/defense involved in this as well; I'd certainly expect the XHB% to come down at least some.
His K rate isn't where it was in 2006, but it's still sustainable. I wonder if he's avoiding his slider too much? I know everyone's worried about injury, but it's a pitch he needs, because no matter who says how great his change up is now, it ain't Santana's. It seems clear that he doesn't have the stuff to dominate like he did in 2006, but I think a little better luck and a slight improvement in the control will make him a successful pitcher.
This has gotten hella long. I had intended to look at the whole rotation, but I will stop here and take it up again another time. It seems to me that a lot of what's happening with both of these guys--and Baker especially--is a result of bad luck. I certainly expect both to have significantly better results going forward.