SCOTT BAKER June 26 – July 3
(2 GS, 0-1, 1.20 ERA, 15 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 12 K)
From the outset, 2007 was an important season for Scott Baker. He had spent portions of the last two years with the Twins (with varying degrees of success), and this season would go a long way toward determining the role Baker would play with the organization in the future. Coming into the 2007 season, he was one of many young pitchers that were vying for a position in the rotation. Well, we all know how spring training turned out; Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz started the season with the major league team while Baker, Matt Garza, and Kevin Slowey began the season in Rochester at AAA. The two veterans were eventually phased out of the rotation while Slowey and Baker were called up as their replacements.
Baker had an impressive debut campaign in 2005 (see table below for numbers) but followed that up with a bit of a disappointing 2006 (again, the table below has numbers to back me up). Meanwhile, despite his struggles last year, Baker dominated AAA in ’06 and ’07 which only reinforced that he had little to prove except at the major league level. On May 19, Baker was called up and delivered an impressive first start against Milwaukee (8.1 IP, 2 ER). In his next 5 starts, Baker posted an ERA of 8.37 with a WHIP of 1.94 while not lasting 6 innings in any of the five starts. The outlook at that point was less than sunny, but Baker turned things around for at least a week with the two starts noted above. In fact, in his last two starts, the only thing more adept at preventing runs than Baker has been the Twins offense. Baker received one run of support in 16 innings of Twins “offense”.
The Twins offense is not the subject of this article however. Scott Baker’s recent success is. Looking at his numbers season by season it’s obvious that opponents were hitting Baker harder in 2006 than his other seasons (BAA and WHIP higher, BB rate constant), resulting in a much higher ERA. Looking at some other rate stats (another table coming up) it is clear that is the result of Scott’s HR/FB returning to a more normal 12.5% from an unsustainably low rate in 2005. Also it seems he was a little bit unlucky as the BABIP of his opponents was significantly higher than normal. Once again the .264 BABIP in 2005 is probably unsustainable for a young pitcher like Baker, as examples Fransisco Liriano and Johan Santana had BABIP of .286 and .273 respectively in 2006. Baker’s difficulties arose from the fact that he was allowing a lot of HR due to his high HR/FB and his low GB/FB percentage. Even when the ball stayed in the park, batters were reaching safely (probably due to the higher line drive percentage). This year, so far the BABIP has returned to something closer to normal with a corresponding drop in line drive percentage. The HR/FB ratio has remained a bit of a concern, but the effect of that has been mitigated somewhat by the fact that there have been a lot fewer fly balls in general due to an increase in the GB/FB ratio.
In Baker’s last two starts he has accumulated a WPA of +0.502 compared to -0.857 in his previous 5 starts. He has kept the ball in the park (1 HR in 15 IP, 7.7% HR/FB) while inducing a good amount of ground balls (1.23 GB/FB ratio). Couple that with a slight kick in strikeout rate (7.2 K/9) and you have an extremely effective starting pitcher on your hands. Baker has certainly gotten a bit lucky in these starts, evidenced by the .167 BABIP this week. While that is not always going to be the case, the hope is that going forward from here the Twin’s offense will give Scott a little more breathing room, so that even with the inevitable correction in BABIP and HR/FB, the more frequent occurrence of ground balls and strikeouts will be enough to increase the likelihood of success in Baker’s starts this season.