In Defense of Scott Baker

Minnesota Twins at Baltimore Orioles.August 26, 2007 - Baltimore, MD - Minnesota Twin pitcher Scott Baker throws against the Orioles in the bottom of the second.....****LIVE IMAGE Photo via Newscom

(photo credit: yardbarker.com)

Yesterday, I looked at Kevin Slowey’s season and concluded that, despite being a fly-ball pitcher with a poor outfield defense behind him, the defense wasn’t entirely to blame for his struggles. Slowey just isn’t pitching all that well, though he’s still around league-average and his performance isn’t bad for a fourth starter. Fellow fly-ball pitcher Scott Baker, on the other hand, is a completely different story. He’s actually pitching better than his 4.87 ERA would indicate and, if anything, is completely underrated as a starter.

Dave Gobliewski of Fangraphs wrote an excellent post on Baker’s season right before the All-Star break, concluding that Baker was suffering from both a run of bad luck and poor defensive support. His peripherals seem to back this up, as he’s posting a very good 3.98 FIP and 3.72 xFIP, despite his 4.87 ERA. He’s striking out hitters at a 7.84 K/9 clip, which is not only a little better than league average, it’s the best strikeout rate of his career. Since he’s been absolutely pounding the strikezone (he’s been getting 65.4% first-pitch strikes, compared to the league-average 58.7%), he hasn’t been issuing many free passes either, with a 1.57 BB/9 rate. If he were pitching for, say, the Mariners, with their 17.3 UZR and 10.5 UZR/150 outfield defense (compared to the Twins’ -10.6 and -6.8, respectively), Baker would be posting an ERA much closer to 3.00 than 5.00, and we would be discussing the fantastic season the right-hander is having, instead of asking him to ‘step-up’.

Baker has been the target of fan angst over the years, and this year is certainly no exception. I’m not sure why, maybe it has to do with the absence of an actual ace in the rotation since Johan Santana was dealt to the Mets, but people just expect Scott Baker to be something better than he is. He’s been pitching in the major leagues since 2005, and he’s put up some decent numbers in that time: a 4.36 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 4.45 tERA, and 3.54 K/BB ratio. According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth 13.4 wins above replacement, and according to baseball-reference.com, 10.5 WAR. This is the mark of above-averageness; a starter who is good to have in the rotation as long as he’s cheap (which Baker certainly is), but shouldn’t be expected to carry the team to a world series title. Baker has never been what anyone would consider an ace; he just pitches too much to contact and doesn’t miss enough bats to be a front-line starter. But he’s still well above league-average and is hardly deserving of all of the scorn that has been heaped on him by the fan base, particularly this season. He is actually pitching the best he ever has, but with little support from the defense behind him, has little to show for it.

Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com, or follow her on Twitter.

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Tags: Kevin Slowey Minnesota Twins Scott Baker