Jake Peavy came into the 2011 season having recovered from a very rare injury. The injury, Detached Latissimus Dorsi, put Peavy on the shelf in early July of 2010 and required a surgery that his doctor had never preformed before. Miraculously, some thought, Peavy was throwing off a mound and increasing his pitch count before the start of spring training of this year. When he was back to full strength, his velocity had returned to the low-90s.. Peavy did, however, run into a setback toward the end of March (shoulder tendinitis), which cost him all of April and the beginning of May. He was recently shut down for the remainder of the 2011 season.
Over the past two seasons, Peavy’s peripherals have looked much better than his results (4.63 ERA in 2010 and a 4.91 ERA this season). Why is that?
One look at Peavy’s 7.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 from 2011 and you’d expect his ERA to be much closer to his 3.21 FIP, 3.50 xFIP or 3.32 SIERA. While the K/BB ratio looks fantastic, his pure stuff seems to have suffered and his outfield defense didn’t seem to help much either.
In his heyday, Peavy was a strikeout machine featuring a fastball with heavy tail, sharp slider and excellent changeup. Over the years, he also developed his curveball that has become a solid offering. Injuries have clearly taken their toll, however. As you can see from these pitch f/x charts from TexasLeaguers.com. the difference in movement from his last good season, 2009 (ERA wise, anyway), to this season is clearly noticeable. The view is from above the mound between the mound rubber and home plate, as if being shot from a blimp.
The combination of pitches that used to generate tons of swings and misses now generate whiffs at a slightly below league average rate (about 81.4 percent). Such was the case in 2010 as well. The biggest difference between this season and any other may have been the rate at which his opponents were able to make contact on pitches outside the strike-zone. That number has been trending up over the last three seasons, jumping from 64 percent to 70.5 percent over the last two. However, this can sometimes be a good thing, as hitters tend to make weaker contact on pitches not within the strike-zone. This, perhaps, is where the White Sox defense, particularly in the outfield, has let Peavy down.
Alex Rios has always been blessed with a ton of natural ability, but his effort or consistency with his effort has come into question numerous times — ESPN’s Keith Law, who was with the Blue Jays front office when Rios was a young player, talked about this on a recent Baseball Today podcast. That lack of consistent effort seemed obvious this season not only at the plate but in center field as well. This season, Rios has posted a -8.8 UZR and -10 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved above average). In left field, the Sox continued to play a Juan Pierre, who has clearly lost more than a step and has never had anything more than a water pistol for an arm. His -5.5 UZR and -2 DRS certainly didn’t help Peavy, or the rest of the pitching staff for that matter. Carlos Quentin had never been known as a top-notch defender, but his UZR rating is 1.2 this season after posting a -24.3 in 2010 — though it should be pointed out that Quentin dealt with nagging hamstring, knee and ankle injuries last season.
The results on Peavy’s balls in play back up the assertion that his outfield defense has let him down a bit this season.
Balls hit to the outfield
Year – AVG/OBP/SLG – BABIP
2009 – .523/.515/.841 – .484
2010 – .503/.489/.847 – .450
2011 – .568/.553/.869 – .528
Will the outfield defense get any better in 2012? It’s hard to say for sure at this point. We can assume that Alex Rios will be back, as he is still owed $38.5M through 2014, but whether or not he decides to give 100 percent is anyone’s guess. Juan Pierre is not coming back, but they’ll likely replace him with the “bulky” Dayan Viciedo, who would be “adequate” at best in left. Carlos Quentin heads into his third year of arbitration, so he figures to be expensive considering the $5.05M he made this season and may be on the trading block this winter.
What we do know is that 1) Peavy is an injury risk. He hasn’t thrown over 112 innings since 2008. 2) He still has the strong peripherals that suggest he could see better results in 2012. An offseason without surgery or rehab could go a long way to helping him regain some of the movement he seems to have lost over the last couple of years.
Even if Peavy has the upside to post an ERA in the 3.50-3.85 range next season, his declining strikeout rates and injury risk keeps him from being anything more than a late round pick or $1-3 auction bid on draft day.