Jarrod Washburn & Preventing Home Runs

Washburn HR/Ball In Air, 2009: 4.3%
League Average HR/Ball In Air: ~6.5%

(I'm using HR/BIA instead of HR/FB to, as stated at StatCorner, "avoid confusion between exactly what constitutes a flyball versus a line drive or pop up amongst different scorers.")

Hey, 4.3% vs. 6.5% is really good, right?

Washburn HR/BIA, 2006-2009, Home: 5.1%
Washburn HR/BIA, 2006-2009, Road: 6.2%

Surprise! Washburn has benefited from being a lefty in a pitcher's park that's death on right-handed bats, to the order of about seven home runs. Not a ton, but still seemingly significant.

As evidenced by that road figure, Jarrod Washburn has no unique ability to prevent home runs. I guess you could argue 6.2% vs. 6.5% if you really wanted to, but that argument doesn't go anywhere for a whole bevy of reasons. The home run part of his game so far this year is an anomaly and the biggest part of why his solid 3.75 FIP is misleading. The most important component of FIP is home runs, so anyone who's been able to limit them will have a better number. When the homers go up, the FIP goes up in a hurry.

For what feels like the millionth time: yes, Jarrod Washburn has improved a little bit in 2009, but he's only improved from being pretty bad to being not very good. It's worth noting that he's also chopped a chunk off his walk rate despite throwing just as many balls as ever (62% balls in 2009 vs. 62% balls in 2007; 6.0% walks in 2009 vs. 7.4% walks in 2007). That, to me, seems about as unsustainable as his home run rate.

Add a handful of homers and walks to Washburn's performance and he starts to look really mediocre really quick. Does he have value? Absolutely, and I imagine he'll be able to help the Tigers a little bit down the stretch. But while a lot of us are familiar with how the statistics work, it can be difficult to discern between luck and skill when you're watching a game, and anyone who's disappointed by the trade return or who wanted to see Washburn stick around for another few years has fallen into that trap. Perception isn't always reality. Not with Jarrod Washburn. And though I liked the way he worked quickly and pitched to the ballpark, at the end of the day, his performance on the field will not be missed. He just isn't a special pitcher.

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