Scott Diamond is the Twins best pitcher this season, but his solid 2012 performance seems to have come out of nowhere. At first glance, he does not look like the type of pitcher who could put together a long career. He lacks overpowering stuff, and when he pitches, one always fears that opposing hitters will eventually start finding gaps and racking up hits. But we can take solace in the example set by a couple of other pitch-to-contact lefties: Mark Buehrle and Tom Glavine.
First the bad news: like almost every pitcher the Twins put on the mound, Diamond is terrible at making batters swing and miss. While the best pitchers in the modern game often average more than a strikeout per inning, Diamond barely strikes out one every two innings. His K/9 rate is 4.87, which makes him the second-worst strikeout pitcher among all qualified AL starters (only Henderson Alvarez of Toronto has a worse number, with an unreal 3.34). Diamond’s fastball logs in at just 89.3 MPH on average, barely fast enough to send a Delorean to 1955, and way too slow to fool a slugger like Paul Konerko or Miguel Cabrera.
But there are two things Diamond has in his favor: he doesn’t walk anyone, and he induces a ton of ground balls. His BB/9 rate is just 1.45 this season, less than half the Major League average of 3.04 walks per nine innings. You may think this is nothing special, just typical Twins pitcher strike-throwing, but the Twins as a whole don’t have the same control they used to have. The team that always seems to lead the AL in fewest walks has actually issued the sixth most walks in the league this season (438). It’s also by far the best number Diamond has put up in his career; even in his minor league history he has a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine. Almost all of those hitters whom Diamond doesn’t walk are hitting the ball, but they’re not getting the ball in the air, which is a good thing for Diamond and the Twins, since it leads to a lot of easy 6-3 outs and 4-6-3 double plays. He ranks second in the AL with a 55.8% ground ball rate. Alvarez barely edges him out for the lead in that category.
How do Diamond’s stats compare to the two lefty aces I mentioned above?
Like Diamond, Buehrle isn’t much of a strikeout guy. The former White Sox/current Marlins’ starter has a career K/9 of 5.09, but he was well under 5.0 in his last three seasons in the AL. Diamond has a big edge on Buehrle in fastball velocity, as Buehrle’s clocks in at about 85 mph this year, though the advantage is mostly due to Diamond’s youth. But Diamond is destroying Buehrle in the ground ball competition. Even as a younger man, Buehrle never exceeded a 50% ground ball rate. Buehrle has built a long, successful career out of getting opponents to hit the ball weakly right at his fielders, and at least this season, Diamond is doing an even better job of that.
Buehrle might be too easy of a comparison for Diamond, so let’s reach a little higher. Tom Glavine is a 300 game winner, former World Series Champion, sure-fire Hall of Famer, and a former member of one of the greatest starting rotations in MLB history. And, like Diamond and Buehrle, Glavine made a name for himself with a two seam fastball that caused more than its share of pitiful grounders. As a young man, Glavine managed to rack up the strikeouts in a couple of seasons, hitting a high of 7.62 K/9 in 1994, but those seasons were aberrations, as Glavine typically hovered between 4.5 and 5.5 K/9. After 2002, when Fangraphs began tracking data for ground ball rates, Glavine averaged 45.3% ground balls. He exceeded 50% just once, in 2004. And Glavine walked way more batters than Diamond (or Buehrle), with a career rate of 3.04 BB/9. Given that Glavine is one of the greatest pitchers to play the game, it’s heartening to know that Diamond compares so favorably to him.
Now, to be fair, I am comparing only one season of Diamond’s career against more than a decade each of performances by Buehrle and Glavine. Diamond is 26 years old, which means he is probably just entering the prime of his career, but it’s entirely possible that 2012 is just a pleasant aberration. it will take several years before we truly have a good idea of what kind of pitcher Diamond is. My intent with this comparison is not to say that Diamond is as good as Buehrle or Glavine, but rather to hold their careers up as templates for how Diamond could do in the future. Thus the title of the piece: if Diamond developed into the poor man’s version of Buehrle, I’m sure the Twins would be thrilled. Glavine is such an all-time great that even the poor man’s version is probably out of the Twins reach, so we’ll have to drop a bit lower down on the socioeconomic comparison here. Perhaps Diamond can be the homeless man’s Glavine.
If you’re a pessimistic type who doesn’t think Diamond has what it takes to be a good pitcher in the long term, you can latch on to this disturbing fact: Diamond’s ERA has risen every month this season. He posted a 2.27 mark in May after his callup, then a very good 2.90 number in June and a respectable 3.54 in July. It rose further to 4.10 in August, and so far in one September start, Diamond has a 7.20 ERA. It’s possible he is tiring as the season wears on. Prior to 2012, Diamond had never exceeded 162 innings in any professional season. He has logged 175 of them between Rochester and the Twins this year. With an offseason of rest, it’s reasonable to think that Diamond can continue his quest to become the game’s next great lefty finesse artist.