Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bouncing back from a home-run barrage

Four pitchers this season have surrendered five home runs in a game -- the most recent being Boston's Clay Buchholz, crushed by Adam Lind and the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night. The others:

* Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (against Boston in May)
* Josh Beckett, Red Sox (against New York in August)
* Justin Lehr, Reds (against Houston in September)

Twenty-four pitchers this season have allowed four home runs in a game, and some luminaries populate that list as well:

* Andy Pettitte, Yankees (against Tampa Bay in May)
* Dan Haren, Diamondbacks (against Oakland in May)
* Johan Santana, Mets (against Philadelphia in June)
* Joe Saunders, Angels (against Texas in June)
* Jarrod Washburn, Tigers (against Seattle in August)

If you assume that Buchholz's 0.68 ERA in his previous four starts gives him more in common with the above ground than with, say, Sergio Mitre, history can tell us something:

Beckett (5 HR)
* Bad start: 8 IP, 8 ER, 5 K, 0 BB
* Next start: 5 IP, 5 ER, 9 K, 5 BB, 2 HR

Haren (4 HR)
* Bad start: 7 IP, 5 ER, 7 K, 0 BB
* Next start: 8 IP, 2 ER, 8 K, 0 BB, 0 HR

Pettitte (4 HR)
* Bad start: 6 IP, 5 ER, 5 K, 1 BB
* Next start: 6 IP, 1 ER, 2 K, 4 BB, 0 HR

Santana (4 HR)
* Bad start: 7 IP, 5 ER, 2 K, 1 BB
* Next start: 3 IP, 9 ER, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR

Saunders (4 HR)
* Bad start: 3 2/3 IP, 8 ER, 2 K, 5 BB
* Next start: 5 1/3 IP, 5 ER, 2 K, 3 BB, 2 HR

Washburn (4 HR)
* Bad start: 6 IP, 6 ER, 4 K, 1 BB
* Next start: 6 IP, 3 ER, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR

Compare that to Buchholz (5 HR)
* Bad start: 5 IP, 7 ER, 4 K, 1 BB
* Next start: Sunday against Cleveland

We can learn a couple of things:
1. For good pitchers, giving up home runs in bunches can be a fluky thing. Not one of the above pitchers surrendered more than two home runs in their last outing.

2. Strikeouts can have something to do with it. The two pitchers who had the worst post-barrage outings also struck out the fewest hitters in the outing in which they were hit hard -- Santana and Saunders combined for four strikeouts and six walks in their bad outings, and neither bounced back well at all. Haren, on the other hand, struck out seven and didn't walk anyone in his bad outing and bounced back just fine.

Buchholz struck out four hitters in five innings on Tuesday and walked just one. He also got 10 strikeouts while throwing just 79 pitches.

If he can keep up that same strikeout-to-walk ratio next start, the home runs might just take care of themselves.


Added bonus: In the final start Josh Beckett made before the playoffs began in 2007, he surrendered five earned runs in six innings, including a pair of home runs.

He then tossed a complete-game shutout against the Angels in Game of 1 of the American League Division Series.

So there's that, too.

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