|Don't turn around, Chad, if you want to see my heart breaking.|
I sort of fell for Chad-- wait, lets just call him 'Chazz' instead-- I sort of fell for Chazz way back in early 2006, after reading the BP annual. I vividly remember being consumed by bliss as my eyes panned across each exciting letter:
"In a word, Ace."
He had me at "ace". I immediately went out and drafted him in every league, banking on a big break-out season to launch me to the top of my league's standi-- woah, woah, hold on a second. Oh man, this is embarrassing... I just pulled the old dusty 2006 BP off of the shelf and as it turns out I apparently don't remember any of that very vividly at all. It actually says,
Two words: 'potential' and 'stud'.
So I didn't even have that right at all. This changes everything. Who are you, Chazz Billingsley? I feel as though I don't even know you anymore. My entire relationship was based on a lie. Did I just see what I wanted to see?
I mean, honestly, I could never say that Chazz has wronged me in any way. He's never been abusive or anything. He's just sort of been disappointing. It's just that Ive never seen the "stud" I was promised by Christina Kharl and company. And at this point, even the "potential" is also disappearing from his name tag.
And yet, here I am, taking him back, six years later. I mean, sure, I've changed a lot since then. And I suppose Chazz's changed too. That's what people do. But it's still the same old walk rate getting in the way. Until Chazz decides to put away that frustratingly high BB% for good, I just don't see a future for us.
My mother always told me you can't change someone. People are who they are. But, I still tried to find out how often a pitcher has posted a walk rate above 10% before his age 27 season and then improved his command. Because age 27 would seem to me, without looking at the numbers, to be getting close to the point of no return.
I limited the query to pitchers with at least 300 IP and 60 games started both before and after their age 27 season because far too often the query produced a majority of relievers. I also limited the second half of the query to age 27 through the pitcher's age 30 season, to prevent deteriorating numbers due to aging.
Ranked by K%-BB%, pitchers who brought their walk rate below 10% in blue. Those whose walk rates remained above 10% in yellow.
While I find it interesting that 12 of these 19 pitchers did not improve their walk rate, after seeing their K rates, some of them are probably poor comps for a pitcher like Billingsley. As it stands today, Chazz owns a K-rate that sits at a mildly robust 20%. Clearly, guys like Gil Meche and Jamey Wright are an entirely different breed of pitcher.
So I stripped out all the pitchers with K-rates below 18.5% (which is MLB-average at this point), in an attempt to find a better comp for Billingsley. This is the list we are left with:
Only three of these mid-K, High-Walk pitchers improved after their age 26 season, at least according to K-BB: Burnett, Escobar and Bere. Bere, incidentally did so while still posting a +10% walk rate. Really, though his pre-27 astronomical walk rate of 14% should have disqualified him from being a comp to begin with.
A.J. Burnett is clearly best-case scenario, as suggested by his eye-popping K-BB improvement. Interestingly though his gains in K-BB led to an ERA improvement of only 18 points. For fantasy, this is something I could live with. A.J. additionally had the added benefit of being a far superior ground ball pitcher, ranging anywhere from 5 to 10% better in a given season both before and after age-27, but Chazz has never really had issues with the long ball.
The largest improvement in ERA, however, was Escobar, who ranked second in K-BB improvement. This is encouraging as well, as his batted ball profile appears much more similar to that of Chazz. But not far behind Escobar in ERA improvement was Russ Ortiz, who lost 79 points on his ERA in his peak years, despite losing ground between his strikeout and walk rates during that time. This is likely due to a sudden development of hit prevention, as his BAbip lost 20 points in that time as well.
It does not seem out of the realm of possibility that Billingsley has a peak similar to Burnett awaiting him, which would be far more than I'm asking for out of him. But odds are, the "ace" I had fabricated in my mind is just not going to happen. My mother always warned me that you can't change someone. You have to love them for who they are. It's just so hard to say goodbye, sometimes.
We had some good times, Chazz Billlingsley. We really did. And I'll always remember you. Especially when I hear our song...