Here are the (qualified) starting pitchers since 2005 who have posted a K/9 greater than 9 and BB/9 greater:
(This was first pointed out here)
|O. Hernandez||– – –||2006||9.09||3.38|
|S. Kazmir||Devil Rays||2007||10.41||3.88|
|A. Burnett||Blue Jays||2007||9.56||3.59|
|A. Burnett||Blue Jays||2008||9.35||3.47|
|J. de la Rosa||Rockies||2009||9.39||4.01|
|J. Lester||Red Sox||2010||9.74||3.59|
|B. Morrow||Blue Jays||2011||10.19||3.46|
A skin-deep knowledge of baseball and cursory glance at the names on this list tell you that these pitchers are very similar. All 14 of them have electric stuff and well-documented control issues.
And most of them are also known for one more thing: they’re broken.
Of course, as mentioned yesterday, Clayton Kershaw certainly isn’t broken; he cut his old walk rates in half just in the nick of time and landed last year’s NL Cy Young. Brandon Morrow presumably has time to fix the free passes, as well, so he’s not officially broken yet.
But the numbers paint an interesting (and disturbing) picture for the rest of the names on the list.
Former hotshot Mark Prior’s career was derailed by a rash of injuries — he’s back pitching in the minors this year, but it’s safe to say the odds of a big league return aren’t in his favor. Orlando Hernandez retired just a year after that 2006 campaign. Scott Kazmir is out on a wild goose chase for both his slider and velocity. A.J. Burnett has been been a laughing stock for a few years now (to be fair, he’s had a solid 2012). Tim Lincecum pitched well last night but still claims an ugly 4.70 BB/9 and 5.60 ERA. Edinson Volquez has returned from Tommy John surgery in 2010 to a putrid season in Cincinnati last year and an average one in San Diego this year, and a 5.15 BB/9 says something’s still wrong. Chad Billingsley, once full of promise, now looks destined for a career of mediocrity. Jorge De La Rosa is still sitting out after Tommy John last summer. Max Scherzer has been all over the place, at times brilliant, at times abominable, and his 5.12 ERA in 2012 tells the story. Yovani Gallardo is similar to Billingsley: tantalizing potential muddied by a plain inability to throw consistent strikes. Same goes for Jon Lester, too. And Jonathan Sanchez has been so bad this year (0.82 K/BB (!) and 6.21 ERA) that even the Royals hardly want him anymore.
Bottom line: strikeouts are great, but don’t mean anything without control. And it sure looks like lots of K’s and lots of walks are characteristic of pitchers destined for short-lived excellence.