Carlos Silva's comeback hard to buy

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carlos silva cubs.jpgThe Cubs did need some help setting up for Carlos Marmol, but the biggest reason Carlos Zambrano is in the bullpen right now is Carlos Silva’s exceptional start. He’s followed a rather strong spring by going 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA through four outings. This from a pitcher who went 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA for the Mariners the last two years.
Silva, though, does have some history of success. Former Seattle GM Bill Bavasi was mad to give him a four-year, $48 million contract, but in his four previous years as a full-time starter, Silva was very good once (3.44 ERA in 2005), a little above average twice and only a bust in 2006, when he finished with a 5.94 ERA.
However, Silva was an oddity even then. To hear the descriptions, he was an extreme groundball pitcher. However, his groundball rate was never in Brandon Webb-Derek Lowe territory. He was merely above average when it came to keeping the ball out of the air. His strikeout rate was always among the lowest of any starter in the league, and he gave up a fair number of homers. The biggest thing he had going for him was his exceptional walk rate. In 2005, he gave up just seven unintentional walks in 27 starts. A strong outfield defense led by Torii Hunter also helped a bunch.
Because he relies so much on his defense, Silva has always lived on the edge. And the 2008 Mariners were a pretty poor defensive club. The 2009 version was far better, but Silva was hurt and never had a chance to take advantage.
That’s part of what makes this sudden turnaround so baffling. Seattle should have been the ideal setting for Silva to turn around his career. The Mariners currently have an exceptional defense with the game’s best center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez and three more standouts in Jack Wilson, Ichiro Suzuki and Casey Kotchman. Plus, Safeco Field is a pretty tough place for power hitters. The Cubs play in The Friendly Confines and have just one player who has ever sniffed a Gold Glove: first baseman Derrek Lee.
So, let’s look at the reasons Silva might be succeeding as a Cub:
1. He has his sinker producing grounders like never before
Nope. Not even close. In fact, Silva is getting grounders just 41 percent of the time this year, which would be the lowest rate of his career.
2. Well, if he’s not getting grounders with his fastball, maybe he’s throwing it by batters
Silva’s velocity has continued to drop, so that hardly seems to be the case. Silva averaged 92.1 mph with his sinker in his career year in 2005, but it’s declined steadily since. He’s sitting at 89.4 mph this year.
FanGraphs’ numbers also indicate that Silva’s sinker has been less effective at inducing outs than usual.
3. He learned a new pitch over the winter
It sure looks like Silva is throwing the same three pitches he always has. However, it’s possible he legitimately improved his changeup. FanGraphs data says the pitch has been remarkably effective for him so far, and he’s throwing it more than ever. In fact, his success with the changeup, if you believe the numbers, is far and away the biggest difference between this year’s Silva and the usual Silva.
4. Improved command
There’s probably some truth to that. Silva has walked just three in 26 innings to date, even though he’s throwing more offspeed pitches than usual. That’s impressive.
5. Luck
And probably a whole lot of it.
Silva typically gives up homers on 11 percent of his flyballs. This year, he’s allowed just one homer in 26 innings or on three percent of his flyballs.
Silva’s career batting average on balls in play against is .314. His career-best mark is .289 from 2005. This year, he’s at .215.
According to FanGraphs data, Silva’s changeup has been the second most valuable pitch in baseball thus far, behind only Doug Fister’s fastball.
So, yeah, I’d chalk a lot of it up to luck. Maybe Silva’s changeup will hold up better than Fister’s fastball, but it’s far from the best in baseball. If Silva can keep his walk rate down, then the possibility exists that he’ll be a solid fourth starter all year long. However, he’s a 4.50 ERA guy in disguise right now.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 13, Orioles 8: Leonys Martin hit a grand slam out of the leadoff spot and the two-slot hitter, Jeimer Candelario, drove in three via a two-run homer and an RBI single. They play for the Tigers, by the way. Figure a lot of you were not aware of that. Heck, outside of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, figure most of us don’t know most of the guys on the Tigers anymore. You do know that Manny Machado plays for the Orioles. Know that he hit two homers in a losing cause. Know that, given how the Orioles are doing these days, he won’t be with the Orioles too much longer, I reckon.

Cubs 8, Cardinals 5: Chicago built an early 6-1 lead on a bunch of singles and sac flies and stuff and Jason Heyward capped the Cubs scoring with a two-run homer in the fifth. Jon Lester allowed only an unearned run over six. Every Cubs starter had at least one hit. Anthony Rizzo had three. Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez had two a piece. After the game Joe Maddon said:

“This is so much fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Seeing inside the ball, using the whole field. With that you’ll see better situational hitting, better batting average. That’s just good hitting.”

Without looking, I’m going to guess that the Cubs’ eight-run outburst was, at least in part, a function of good launch angles and exit velocities. Not that Maddon would be the first person to engage in the fallacy of assuming mutual exclusivity where it does not exist.

Astros 9, Mariners 2: Charlie Morton tossed seven shutout innings, dropping his ERA down to 0.72 in his three wins. He has also struck out 33 guys in 25 innings and has walked only six. At this rate he’s going to be in a three-way race with two of his teammates — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander — for the Cy Young. Seattle dropped three of four in the series and, as a team, went 15-for-100 against Dallas KeuchelLance McCullers Jr., Cole and Morton.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3: Aaron Judge homered and, while the Jays threatened late when David Robertson couldn’t find the strike zone and loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but he got out of the jam with only one run scoring. Judge — who a lot of you wise acres thought would struggle this year now that everyone is ready for him — is hitting .339/.481/.629 and is on a 48-homer, 152-walk pace. So, yeah.

Phillies 7, Pirates 0: OK, I think Jake Arrieta has finally finished his late spring training. Here he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out ten. Rhys Hoskins homered, Odubel Herrera singled in runs in the second and the fifth, J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez knocked in runs on singles as well. More importantly, look at the photo on the top of this post and acknowledge how spiffy Philly looked in these blues. Their only fault is that teams that do this should, like the White Sox the other day, wear the blues on the road as originally intended.

Braves 12, Mets 4: Matt Wisler was called up from Triple-A to make a spot start. Guessing he’s going to get a bit more than that after allowing only two hits in seven innings. Matt Harvey, meanwhile, allowed six runs in six innings and after the game Mickey Calloway would not commit to him making his next scheduled start. He’s just not the guy he used to be. Preston Tucker drove in five with a bases loaded double and a two-run double. Kurt Suzuki had three hits and drove in three runs, including a two-run homer. The Braves offense leads the NL in runs scored. We were all expecting that heading into the season, yes?

Brewers 12, Marlins 3: It was close until the sixth, when Milwaukee put up a seven-spot. Lorenzo Cain homered, doubled twice and scored four times and Ryan Braun hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer. Those three runs gave him 1,000 RBI on his career. Lewis Brinson — who came over to the Marlins from the Brewers in the offseason trade for Christian Yelich — hit his first two career homers.

Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1: Zack Greinke held the punchless Giants to one run over seven innings, with a Brandon Belt homer being his only blemish. The Snakes got homers from Ketel Marte and A.J. Pollock. The Giants have scored only 51 runs in 18 games. That’s the lowest run total in baseball, tied with the Royals, who have only played 16 games. It ain’t 2014 anymore, is it?

Red Sox 8, Angels 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. Homers from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. Eight runs on 14 hits against six pitchers. A fine outing from Eduardo Rodriguez. Seven wins in a row and, heck, even though it covers the whole season, 16 of 18 for Boston.