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Thursday, July 15, 2010
Pitchers' year? Not for these guys...


For some reason, I've got a sick fascination with pitchers who are allowed to pitch and pitch and pitch, despite spectacular failure. I don't know if everyone below precisely fits that description, but here are the 10 guys with ERAs higher than 5 who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA rankings:

Even before tacking on 13 runs in five innings last weekend, Scott Kazmir's ERA was 5.98; now it's 6.92. Even during Kazmir's four-game June winning streak, he walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out. It's hard (for me) to say exactly what's wrong with Kazmir ... Except we know he's not throwing as hard as he used to, we know he's striking out many fewer hitters than he used to, and we know he's walking more than he used to. All of which could have been said last year, too. Which isn't an encouraging trend.

Like Kazmir, Nick Blackburn (6.40) pitches for a contender, which makes his continuing presence in the rotation that much more problematic. Blackburn's problem isn't that he's getting too few strikeouts; it's that he's not getting any strikeouts. I exaggerate, of course. But 34 strikeouts in 97 innings is nearly impossible. Blackburn's struck out 3.15 per nine innings; sinker-baller Aaron Cook is the only other ERA qualifier under 4 ... and he's at 3.97 Ks per nine. Blackburn's just operating on a completely different level, which would be cool if that different level wasn't that of a scrappy non-prospect in Triple-A. Fundamentally, he's better than this. Blackburn entered this season with a 4.14 career ERA, which was somewhat lucky but not wildly so, considering his 2.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You can understand why the Twins haven't given up on him yet.

Kevin Millwood's on the DL, so perhaps he shouldn't be on this list. But Millwood has started 18 games for the Orioles, and he does have a 5.77 ERA. Not exactly what management had in mind when they traded for Millwood, hoping his veteran presence would stabilize a rotation composed mostly of much younger pitchers. Granted, the Rangers are paying $3 million of Millwood's salary this season ... which still leaves (roughly) $9 million for the Orioles.

Next we've got a couple of twin Royals, Prince Kyle Davies (5.57) and Prince Brian Bannister (5.56) ...
The Royals aren't going anywhere and they don't have anyone better than Davies and Bannister, so they may as well keep pitching. And each is capable of doing better. Just slightly better, though. If the Royals ever get better, they'll have room for just one No. 5 starter.

Scott Feldman (5.32) is the one guy who really, really wasn't supposed to be on this list. Not after his 17-8, 4.08 ERA campaign just one year ago. Of course, Feldman's skills never really supported that season's record ... But then again, they don't suggest a 5.32 ERA, either. Feldman was mildly lucky last year, and this year he's been terribly unlucky, giving up a .343 batting average on balls in play. Feldman's going to win more games and post a lower ERA in the second half, which is good news for the Rangers and better news for Feldman (whose postseason role is now -- with the Rangers' acquisition of Cliff Lee -- highly questionable).

Cleveland's Justin Masterson (5.31) is another guy who just needs to keep pitching, and for two reasons: 1) His team isn't going anywhere anyway, and 2) there are some things to like here. Masterson throws hard, his ground-ball rate is high, and his strikeout rate is fine. He does walk too many hitters (and always has), but if he can cut his walk rate by 25 percent he'll be a perfectly fine No. 3 or 4 starter.

Everybody mentioned above suffers the disadvantage of pitching in the Big Boy League, with their better hitters and designated hitters and the like. To be fair, I could have focused on a league-neutral statistic like ERA+ or something. I didn't. I like numbers that start with 5. Sue me. But all this makes San Diego's Kevin Correia (5.26) really stand out, as he pitches in a pitcher's park in the National League. Just think how good the Padres would be if they didn't have the worst pitcher (ERA-wise) in the league. Correia looked pretty good last year. But he's 29, and in his career he's got a 4.54 ERA as a starter. Maybe he's just not quite good enough to pitch for a team with postseason aspirations.

Tim Wakefield (5.22), you can judge for yourself. I'm not saying anything negative about Kid '66.

And finally, we've got our second National Leaguer, Nate Robertson (5.10). Robertson is simply a place-holder, and the Marlins can hardly worry about his contract; they're paying him $400,000 this season ... while the Tigers are contributing $9.6 million. If you're a fan, enjoy Nate Robertson while you can. You might not see much of him after August.