Last time, I looked at pitchers that should redeem themselves in 2007. This time, I will do exactly the same:
Jeremy Bonderman, Detroit Tigers
What happened in 2006: It’s really not like Bonderman needs to be ashamed of what he did in 2006. He went 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA while pitching a career high 214 innings. However, of the Tigers’ four starters with 30+ starts, he had the highest ERA.
Why he should improve in 2007: While Verlander, Rogers and Robertson all figure to regress a bit, Bonderman should improve on his 2006 campaign and become the Tigers ace. Last season, too many balls found a place to drop for a hit as he suffered from a high batting average on balls in play (.328). Had the defense behind him been able to turn the balls into outs with league average success, his ERA would have been below 3.50. Bonderman established a new career high in K/BB ratio in 2006 as he was able to increase his strikeouts while keeping his base on ball rate the same as in 2005. Bonderman is already around since 2003, but don’t forget that he’s only 25 on opening day, so there is still room for natural development.
Why it might not get better after all: Bonderman did a great job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing only 0.76 home runs per nine innings. He’s been getting better year by year in that category, but he is not likely to keep that rate up. Also, with increased expectations in Detroit, it remains to be seen how he handles the pressure and the attention. Considering he had a 3.10 ERA in three postseason starts, it does not look like it is going to be a problem for him.
Javier Vazquez, Chicago White Sox
What happened in 2006: When Vazquez came over from the Diamondbacks to join the World Series Champions in Chicago, some predicted Vazquez would be ill suited for homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field. However, that was not the case as Vazquez (11-12) cut down his gopherballs from 35 to 23. His ERA still went up to 4.84 and it’s really difficult to say why. Other than hit by pitches, where Vazquez (15) came in second behind head-hunter king Vincente Padilla (17) in the AL, he did nothing particularly bad. Barely more than a hit per inning (206 in 202.2 IP) and 2.49 BB/9 for a 1.29 WHIP and a more than solid 8.17 K/9 are usually not the stats of a pitcher with a below average ERA.
Why he should improve in 2007: As has been the case with nearly all the pitchers on this list, Vazquez’ BABIP (.321) and LOB% (65.8%) have been below average career and league wise, so if he can repeat last year’s performance, the ERA will get better by itself and with the White Sox powerful offense, the wins should come, too. Bill James sees his ERA at 3.90 and while that is (nearly) exactly his FIP from last year (3.91), I see it more in the 4.20-4.40 range, which is still good enough for the AL Central.
Why it might not get better after all: Will Vazquez be able to keep his long ball in check again? Before his years in New York and Arizona, that has never been an issue, but only 40% of the balls hit of him land on the ground, so the risk is there. Also, are all the hit batsman a result of Ozzie Guillen’s strategy or is Vazquez developing a control problem?
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
What happened in 2006: After his brilliant debut in 2005 (2.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), some already reserved the next five Cy Young awards of this decade for Hernandez - a bit prematurely, as it turned out. King Felix struggled (by the standards he is already held against) to a 12-14 record and a bourgeois 4.52 ERA.
Why he should improve in 2007: First of all, Hernandez only gets 21 this April, so it is reasonable to think that he can still learn a thing or two about pitching. Also, he was supposedly throwing too many fastball early on so the batters often knew what was coming. As he learns to trust his other pitches early (or rather his pitching coach and manager learn to), he should get better results. Add the expected improvement on his BABIP (.322) and LOB% (68.2%) and the fact that Seattle’s infield defense is one of the best in the business, Hernandez should make 2006 a distant memory.
Why it might not get better after all: Unless he injures himself, I can not see why Hernandez would not improve in 2007. He might not win the Cy Young yet, but an ERA under 4.00 is nearly a given.
Livan Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks
What happened in 2006: Livan Hernandez started the season in Washington, where he had had good success (15-10, 3.98 ERA) in 2005. Hampered by a sore knee, he had what was probably the worst first half of his career (6-8, 5.94 ERA). He started to pitch better after the break, but was traded to the Diamondbacks in August. He finished the year with a 13-13 record and a 4.83 ERA, second worse of his career.
Why he should improve in 2007: Unlike all the other pitcher on this list, Hernandez did not suffer from particularly bad luck on balls in play. As you can see on his final ERA, he pitched much better in the second half, going 7-5 with a 3.61 ERA after the break. Most projections see him as an league average starter at best in 2007, but he had three seasons with an ERA under 4.00 before 2006 and considering his second half numbers are pretty much in line with his career, I find it hard to believe that he can not again be a workhorse with an ERA better than the league mean. Considering he will only be the number three guy behind Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson, you have to like the Diamondbacks chances to sneak past the Padres and Dodgers in NL West.
Why it might not get better after all: Moving to Arizona where home runs are plenty hardly ever helps a pitcher, although Hernandez has never been known for giving up too many bombs. If his struggles last year can really be attributed to his knee problems, there is always the danger that he aggravates his injuries again though, especially since Hernandez his not really a flyweight.
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