Jarrod Washburn is having a spectacular season on the mound for the Seattle Mariners this season, allowing just 3.1 total runs per nine innings. Is this something that he can keep up, or should we expect some kind of leveling off?
I understand that some people have a hard time swallowing the notion that luck plays a role in a player’s performance, but think about it for a moment. Can pitchers really aim their pitches to an exact spot on the K-zone, or is there some room for error? Obviously, many MLB pitchers can hit spots fairly consistently, but no one can hit a target every time. Likewise batters have some control over where they hit the ball, but not 100% control or they would get hits every time. These variances in performance are what make the game different and exciting every time and what make players go on hot and cold streaks.
Over short periods of time, like a string of 6 starts or even half a season, these small deviations can load up in favor of a player, or against a player. Separating out luck from control is very difficult to do, but it is a general consensus that pitchers have control over strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, while they generally have very little control over BABIP (batting average on only the balls in play) and left on-base percentage (LOB%).
Jarrod Washburn has shown great improvement in the things that he can control this year, allowing less homers than ever before, and sporting a strikeout-to-walk ratio as high as he’s ever finished a season with. That being said, Washburn’s luck stats tend to show that he’s ready to level off.
His BABIP is 0.259, nearly 30 points below the Mariner team average. This tells us that during the first half of the season, hitters are struggling to find holes against Jarrod. These holes are likely to open up in the field, especially with the loss of Endy Chavez and possibly Franklin Gutierrez, and Washburn can be expected to give up more hits per inning in the second half of season.
In addition to a suspiciously low BABIP, Jarrod Washburn’s has stranded an unusually high percent of runners on base this season. Pitchers have some control over their LOB percentages, but generally only the pitchers who strike out a lot of batters are able weasel their way out of jams consistenly. Washburn is a mediocre pitcher when it comes to striking out batters, yet he is able to strand runners on base at a rate well above both his career average and the major league average. Something’s gotta give…
With an expected BABIP spike of 30 points and a left-on-base percentage closer to his career average, Washburn’s runs allowed should increase significantly. His runs allowed figure should be north 4.00, and I’d put money on anything higher than 3.90.