Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. The Pirates have a pitcher. This pitcher puts up a great performance one year, breaking out as a surprise contributor for the rotation. But the surprise breakout performance is a one time thing. The following year the pitcher struggles. The year after that there is hope that the pitcher can rebound to that one good season that put him on the map. Soon enough, we realize that the one good season was a fluke.
Recognize that story? You might remember this as the case of every single pitcher that has had a good year since Doug Drabek left town. And Ross Ohlendorf may be next on the list.
Ohlendorf’s struggles this Spring continued tonight against the Baltimore Orioles. After a scoreless first inning, Ohlendorf allowed two home runs in the second, one to Luke Scott, and one to Mark Reynolds. Then, in the fifth inning, Ohlendorf allowed his third homer of the game, this time to Felix Pie, over the 400 foot sign in center field. Ohlendorf has a 10.05 ERA in 14.1 innings after tonight’s outing, which doesn’t look good heading in to the season.
Ohlendorf is no stranger to Spring Training struggles. In 2010 he had a 9.61 ERA in 19.2 innings. He ended up putting up a 4.07 ERA during an injury shortened season. Despite that strong rebound from a bad Spring, and despite two straight years of an ERA around a 4.00 ERA, there is cause for concern with Ohlendorf. Back in January I looked at Ohlendorf’s past two years, and most notably, his lucky advanced statistics. The breakdown:
Ohlendorf had a 3.92 ERA in 2009, but was lucky, thanks to a low .265 BABIP, and a high 76.3% strand rate. In 2010 he had a 4.07 ERA, but was still lucky. His BABIP went to .293, which was closer to the league average, but his strand rate was still high at 73.3%, and his home run per fly ball rate was lucky, at 7.7%, which is lower than the 10% league average for starters. His home run rate should normalize in 2011, which could mean a regression.
Tonight Ohlendorf allowed three home runs, and most of his outs came on fly balls. Following the game, manager Clint Hurdle pointed out that Ohlendorf gets in to a routine where he starts over-powering the ball, putting his fastball up in the zone, and over-powering his slider.
“He’s got to back away and get back to pitching,” Hurdle said, regarding Ohlendorf’s tendency to over-power. In response to the decreasing fly ball ratio over the last few years, Hurdle had the following explanation:
“When he’s not over-powering the ball, his two seamer works much better for him. He does have a four seamer that he does need to use on some left handers in situations to keep hitters honest, but he’s just gotta get the ball down better with more consistency overall. He’s just got to get the ball down better in the zone with more quality, and not try and overpower. In the 3rd and 4th innings he was in a much better routine, a much better rhythm, ball was down better. First two innings and the fifth inning he’s muscling up, he’s leaving balls up in the zone, the slider, he’s throwing through that where he’s not even giving it a chance to break.”
As for the increasing fly ball ratios and the home run per fly ball ratios potentially returning to Ohlendorf’s career norm of 10.5 percent:
“We’re aware of that, and he’s aware of it. But for him to do that we’ve got to execute pitches better, that’s the biggest thing.”
I mentioned in the article in January that Ohlendorf is most likely to see a regression due to his home run per fly ball ratio. The best way to avoid this regression would be to cut down on the amount of fly balls, which means Ohlendorf needs to stop over-powering the ball and “get back to pitching” as Hurdle puts it. If that doesn’t happen, it could be a long season for Ohlendorf, and another case of a pitcher regressing statistically following a strong initial performance in the rotation.