Zach Duke is no Jack Morris

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Not that Jack Morris was really Jack Morris anyway. The myth that Morris racked up his big win totals by pitching to the score is mostly just that, a myth.
Zach Duke, though, will never be accused of pitching to the score, at least not in 2009. The 26-year-old left-hander has turned his career around by going 11-15 with a respectable 3.94 ERA for a bad Pirates team. That’s a .423 winning percentage for a club that’s at .381 overall. However, the truth is that he could have been far better had he divvied up some of those RAs differently.
Remarkably, just once all year has Duke won a game in which the Pirates scored fewer than seven runs. That came on June 2, when he outdueled Johan Santana and beat a punchless Mets team 3-1. The Pirates have totaled 97 runs and allowed 26 in his 11 victories. That’s an average score of 9-2. The Pirates have played 144 other games this season. In those, they’ve scored 520 runs and allowed 719. That’s 3.6 runs scored per game and 5.0 allowed.
So, yeah, the Pirates are bad. But it’s still amazing that they’ve somehow managed to go 1-20 when Duke starts and they don’t score at least seven runs. Duke actually receives the best run support on the staff. It’s a little inconsistent, but it’s there. He’s gotten 4.6 runs per nine innings, just a bit ahead of Ross Ohlendorf at 4.4. Compare that to Paul Maholm, who has gotten 3.6 runs, yet has still gone 8-9 with a 4.44 ERA that’s substantially higher than Duke’s. Ohlendorf has the same ERA as Duke and is 11-10.
To lay it all out:
The Pirates are 11-20 in Duke’s starts. They score 4.6 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 3.94 ERA.
The Pirates are 15-16 in Maholm’s starts. They score 3.6 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 4.44 ERA.
The Pirates are 14-15 in Ohlendorf’s starts. They score 4.4 runs per 9 IP for him, and he has a 3.92 ERA.
I chalk it up to luck, mostly. But Duke hasn’t done his best work in close contests, and since wins and losses are the name of the game, he just hasn’t helped the Pirates as much his numbers indicate. It’s not something I’d hold against him going forward, but it will be worth watching for, just in case it starts to happen again next year.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.