clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cubs 5, Pirates 2: Bullpen Breaks Down, But Duke Shines

Zach Duke pitched seven strong innings and left the game with the score tied at 2-2, but the normally reliable Jesse Chavez allowed a game-winning homer by Reed Johnson in the eighth. From there, the Cubs added two more runs, one charged to Chavez and the other to Sean Burnett.

As with a number of games this year, the Bucs reached base a fair amount but didn't score much because they didn't generate any power. They had five walks and eight hits (three by Ramon Vazquez), but all were singles.

Regarding Duke: his ERA is a remarkable 2.75. Every aspect of his game has improved. He's striking out more batters, his strikeout to walk ratio is better, and the defense behind him is much better. Duke's stuff is a little sharper than last year (although his velocity is about the same). After using his changeup sparingly for the past three years, he's throwing about the same number of changes as he did in his brilliant 2005 rookie season. The focus on changeups may be causing him to allow somewhat fewer groundballs, but he's also allowing fewer homers than we might expect so far.

The next few months will tell us more about what that means, if anything. Generally speaking, a pitcher doesn't have much control over whether fly balls hit off him fly over the fence, but the percentage of infield flies a pitcher allows is apparently somewhat repeatable. The Hardball Times, evidently using a different data set than FanGraphs, says Duke in 2009 has served up about the same percentage of infield flies as he did in 2005, and about twice as many as he did in 2006-2008. That squares with the increased reliance on his changeup, since if it's deployed well (and it generally has been) it might cause hitters to swing ahead of the pitch.

The infield fly thing is an extremely small sample size, so it's just something to watch going forward and not necessarily something that means anything now. But it's been interesting to watch Duke this year--he looks more like the guy we saw in 2005, who looked like he had about 30 IQ points on most of the batters he was facing and was always thinking a couple of pitches ahead of them, as opposed to the one we saw in 2006-2008, who mostly just looked content to get the ball into the zone.

UPDATE: I had class and missed the end of the game, which is too bad--this is awesome. Thanks to WstCstBucco.