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Community Projection Review: Zach Duke

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NAME POS. COMMUNITY ZiPS ACTUAL
Zach Duke SP 3.99 ERA, 209 IP, 126 K, 56 BB 3.92 ERA, 216 IP, 127 K, 59 BB 5.53 ERA, 107.3 IP, 41 K, 25 BB

Well, that was terrible. Actually, I've been avoiding writing these for a while because I just really didn't want to write about Duke. Obviously, no one predicted what happened, although I think I have to take back my praise of Azibuck for absolutely nailing the Ian Snell projection - AZ predicted that Duke would finish in the top five in NL Cy Young voting. Oops!

There's nothing to get excited about here, no particular lining to this dark cloud. Well, Duke did continue to keep the ball on the ground, at least when it wasn't being hit out of the park. So there's that. But he allowed almost twice as many homers per inning as he did in 2006, and it's getting hard to even remember the fact that he was just about impossible to homer against in 2005. Neither his fastball nor his breaking stuff have the zip they had a couple years ago. (Duke has long had a reputation as a bit of a soft-tosser, and that's certainly a fair description of him now, but when he came up to the majors it probably had more to do with his poise and intelligence than with his actual stuff, which was pretty good then.) And Duke's strikeout rate dipped to sub-Rueter levels in 2007, and he missed almost half the year with elbow tendinitis.

Duke's career is reason #1 that pitching coach Jim Colborn so rightfully deserves the pink slip he's about to get. Before Colborn arrived, Duke sped through the minors, then put up a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie in 2005.

You might be tempted to look at the progression of Duke's career and think that it's just the result of some regression in areas that people were already worried about in 2005 - Duke's stuff has never been great, and his strikeout rate has never been that high. But really, the problem is that he just isn't the same pitcher he was then. He doesn't throw nearly as hard, and he doesn't have the command he once had. And while there could be lots of reasons for that, his backward slide coincides directly with Colborn's arrival and with a series of adjustments he made to Duke's delivery. At the very least, Colborn is guilty of failing to reach Duke. At worst, Colborn ruined him, and he may never get back on track.

Which is not to say that it's not in the Pirates' interests to give him chances. ZiPS thinks Duke and Ian Snell are going to post similar ERAs next year. That sounds kind of ridiculous, but it's an indication that, with better coaching, Duke might bounce back to become at least a league-average innings eater. He still has value, and it's amazing how little we talk about him when we're discussing the Pirates' future.