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.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.