|2011 - Scott Baker||6-5||16||16||1||0||0||0||105.2||97||38||37||12||29||101||3.15||1.19|
Yesterday afternoon, as Scott Baker put down Dodger batter after Dodger batter, it was evident that we were watching a pitcher at the top of his game. After having lost six straight, including the first games of the series against Los Angeles, if Baker were able to keep the Dodgers off the board then he'd help the Twins halt their series losing skid at two. And that's exactly what he did.
In six June starts, Baker is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings. He's struck out 40, walked just nine and allowed 39 hits. Most impressively, and this would be impressive for any pitcher who has made six starts in a month but it's even more impressive for Baker, is that he's given up just one home run this month. Yesterday's gem was his fourth consecutive start without serving one up.
Right now he's pitching as well as anyone. But is he turning into one of the American League's best starters? Not to ruin the suspense, but the answer is: not yet.
Still, he's actually not too far off. His strikeout and walk rates are both strong, and could match up with any of the six pitchers who I would dub the AL's best of 2011 (Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, James Shields, Michael Pineda). There's nothing about his profile as a fly ball pitcher that means he can't be one of the league's best.
Mostly, Baker is just allowing a few more base runners and getting hit just that little bit harder. The six guys above have been extraordinarily stingy with hits this season, averaging less than a base runner per inning between them. Batting average against, between them, is under .200. Baker's mark of .244 is nothing to be ashamed of, but it falls a little shy of the elite levels set by the six pitchers listed above.
Baker is undoubtedly deserving of a place on this year's All-Star team. He's been a very good pitcher all season, he's been the Twins Ace over the last month (at least), and apart from Michael Cuddyer is probably the most deserving player from Minnesota to represent us at the mid-summer classic. But right now he's sitting firmly in that next tier of pitchers; guys who have been very good this season and probably deserve more recognition than they get, while not quite being the cream of the crop. Ricky Romero, Erik Bedard, and David Price all fall into that group, too, so it's not like Baker is in bad company.
Regardless of where he ranks in our more or less arbitrary ranking of starting pitchers, Baker has been a lot of fun to watch this season. It's the best we've seen from him, and it's exciting to watch him pitch to the level that many of us thought he could pitch to. It's been a great year for him. And with a few more starts under his belt like he's had in June, there may be a bigger case for Baker's consideration as one of the American League's best pitchers by the end of the year.