It’s an understatement to say that Kevin Slowey is having a rough year. After last night’s loss to the White Sox, Slowey is posting a thoroughly mediocre 4.94 ERA, 4.40 FIP, and 4.60 xFIP. For the fifth time this year, he failed to make it past the fourth inning, and he’s pitched more than six innings in just seven of his eighteen starts. Which is strange, because, unlike fellow struggling starter Nick Blackburn, Slowey really isn’t getting hit all that hard. His 21.4% line drive rate is right around his 20.2% career average. He has been giving up a lot of fly balls even for an extreme fly ball pitcher (his GB/FB rate is 0.53), but he hasn’t been particularly homer-prone, with just 9.2% of those fly balls leaving the yard. He does have a .333 batting average on balls in play, so perhaps at least some of this could be attributed to bad luck or atrocious defense, except his peripherals don’t really suggest this is the case. Fun with pitch f/x, after the jump.
I got these pitch f/x charts from texasleaguers.com. Since there doesn’t seem to be a big difference in Slowey’s stuff, I thought the problem might lie in pitch location. This is Slowey’s normalized strikezone in 2008, the year he made us dream of a young Greg Maddux with his pinpoint accuracy (well, and his 3.99 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 4.02 xFIP):
(Click on the images for a better view)
The difference between the 2008 and the 2010 Slowey? Location, location, location. When he was good, Slowey the carved up the strikezone with surgical precision. It was this ability to paint the corners that let him get by with pretty pedestrian stuff: a fastball that tops out at 90 mph, and three fairly average secondary pitches. He was never a strikeout pitcher, but did post decent 8.6% whiff rate. Compared to 2009:
Quite a stark contrast. He’s still throwing nearly twice as many strikes as balls, but he isn’t fooling anyone. His overall whiff rate is just 6.1%, and hitters are making contact with pitches outside the strike zone 76.3% of the time. That is much higher than the league-average contact rate of 66.5% on pitches outside the zone, and higher than his career average of 71.2%. Hitters don’t typically make solid contact on these pitches, and combined with the lack of range in the outfield, means Slowey is getting killed by a bunch of bleeders and bloop hits.
Slowey doesn’t appear to be pitching hurt, and he hasn’t complained of any injury, so it’s hard to say what is causing his sudden control problems. He did have a couple of screws surgically implanted in his wrist last year, and that might be affecting his range-of-motion. Or he might just be having some problems with mechanics, though there doesn’t appear to be any real differences in his delivery from 2008 (at least to my untrained eye). Slowey keeps getting mentioned in trade rumors as the Twins search for pitching help, and though he is young and will become arbitration-eligible for just the first time this year, it might not be a bad idea to move him. Whether he ever regains his 2008 form or not, Slowey would definitely benefit from a more mobile outfield behind him, and with Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer entrenched as starters until at least 2011, he certainly won’t have that in Minny.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can follow her on Twitter, or email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com.