Some were ok, some were just so-so, some were really bad and some were outright terrible. But they all should be better in 2007:
Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks
What happened in 2006: The Big Unit came to the Big Apple in 2005 with great expectations and while he won 17 games in both years in New York, he was not the dominating force the Yankees hoped he would be, especially in the play-offs. While 2005 still had to be considered a good year (17-8, 3.79 ERA), 2006 was the first season since his sophomore year in 1989 that Johnson posted a below average ERA with 5.00 and a K/9 well below 8 (7.55). Johnson said he had to pitch through pain in his back and as a result, his slider lost his “bite”, making it less effective.
Why he should improve in 2007: Johnson successfully had back surgery this off-season to repair a herniated disk, which should help his slider getting its break back and allow him to increase his strikeout rate. Johnson might not reach 17 wins again, but should post a better ERA this season if only because he moves away from the AL East to the NL West. And replacing Robinson Cano with Orlando Hudson at 2B should help, too. Last but not least, Johnson just had a 61.8 % left-on-base percentage, which means that 38.2% of the runners who reached base off him scored, easily the worst rate in the majors and way below his career average of 75%. Just getting back to normal in this department should help his ERA a lot.
Why it might not get better after all: At age 41, even a successful surgery is hardly a guarantee for a healthy season and a reoccurring injury or a new one might end Johnson’s career in a heartbeat. Also, while he does not have to face the DH anymore, Chase Field is a launching pad compared to Yankees Stadium and if the Big Unit’s slider flattens out too often, the balls might leave the park in a hurry.
Joel Pinero, Boston Red Sox
What happened in 2006: Pineiro’s ERA has went up in a straight line since 2001 topping out at 6.36 ERA last season together with career worst K/9 und BB/9 rates (4.73 and 3.48, respectively). Batters teed off him for a batting average of .326 and like Johnson, he had a terrible LOB% (63.8%), making him probably the worst pitcher allowed to start 25 games or more last year.
Why he should improve in 2007: Were he still be a starter, Pinero would not have made this list. But now with the Boston Red Sox, Pinero will exclusively work out of the pen. This will allow him to use only his two best pitches (fastball and slider) and his stint in the Mariner’s pen last year suggested that he might excel in this role as he posted a .213 batting average, 7.4 K/9 and 1.19 WHIP against (albeit in only 24.1 IP). Also, while Pinero periphals were truly terrible, his defense didn’t help him neither as he had an unusual high batting average of balls in play (BABIP) of .329 and a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 5.12, which means his ERA was more than a run higher than it should have been.
Why it might not get better after all: Even if everything works out in his favor, Pinero was so bad the last two years, he is still a long shot to become a dominant reliever or even a closer. Moving to the AL East and into Fenway Park also does not bode well for him. So don’t put him on your fantasy draft list just yet. If he becomes a solid back end middle reliever, the Red Sox and Pinero himself should not be too dissappointed.
Joe Blanton, Oakland Atletics
What happened in 2006: If you need more prove that a pitcher’s win-loss record is a misleading stat, look at Joe Blanton’s numbers. In 2005, he pitched great with a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, but all he had to show for it was a 12-12 record. Last season, his ERA and WHIP rose to 4.82 and 1.56, respectively, but he was able to win 16 games while again losing 12.
Why he should improve in 2007: Joe Blanton (together with Rodrigo Lopez) had the worst BABIP (.337) in the majors last season and if you consider that the A’s are one of the best fielding team around, it becomes clear that Blanton has been really, really unlucky last year. The kid is by no means a strikeout machine, but he usually does not beat himself with walks and keeps the ball in the park quite well, so 2006 was definitely a fluke.
Why it might not get better after all: Unless all the baseball gods are against him, it is hard to find a reason why Blanton will not improve this season. However, expecting him to repeat his 2005 campaign is probably asked too much. As unlucky as he was last year, he was equally lucky the year before with a ridiculously low .255 BABIP. So expect his ERA just a bit above league average, but not north of 4.00.
Rodrigo Lopez, Colorado Rockies
What happened in 2006: Lopez had great years in 2002 and 2004, then with the Baltimore Orioles, posting ERAs of 3.57 and 3.59. Take those years away and Lopez is just a lousy 5.90 ERA-pitcher, which is exactly the number he put up in 2006. Lopez did nothing particularly well last season, but what really killed him was the 1.52 HR/9.
Why he should improve in 2007: Like Randy Johnson, Lopez should get better by simply moving away from the AL East to the NL West. As mentioned, the right hander had the same high BABIP as Joe Blanton in 2006 and Lopez’ K/9 rate actually improved significantly from 2005 while his BB/9 stayed virtually the same. In other words, bad luck and/or bad D ballooned his ERA up to nearly 6. His FIP was actually “only” 4.96 last season, so Lopez might be able to put up an ERA around league average or even a tap above that next season (it’s the NL West, after all).
Why it might not get better after all: Coors field, even with its new humidor, is not a good place for a pitcher with gopherball issues and whether Clint Barmes and Kaz Matsui are the “improved defense” Lopez could use is doubtful. Given his recent lack of success, Lopez could find himself out of the rotation quickly if the season does not start well.