Saturday, May 31, 2008

Willis/Galarraga to split start

Jim Leyland announced this morning that Dontrelle Willis and Armando Galarraga will split Tuesday's start with Willis pitching the first 4 or 5 innings and The Big Cat taking over after that. I don't think the split start concept is going to be a permanent thing and it's not a bad way to try to get Willis back into the groove. Still, it's unfortunate that he is sharing a start with their best pitcher so far this year.

Galarraga has been a bit lucky overcoming a high walk rate (4.1 BB per 9 IP) and below average ground ball rate for a sinker/slider pitcher (44.1%). He also seen an inordinate proportion (80.6%) of balls in play turned into outs. These are all indications that he is not likely to sustain his low ERA but, as it stands now, he does have the lowest ERA on the staff this year by far. Armando's ERA (3.44) is almost a whole run lower than any other starter. Jeremy Bonderman is next at 4.34 and Justin Verlander, Nate Robetson and Kenny Rogers are all over 5.00. One should also consider that although they are hitting the ball in the air of him, he is not getting hit hard. He has one of the lowest line drive percentages in the league (14.7%) and one of the highest infield fly to outfield fly ratios (15.3% of his flies are infield pops).

Due to economics and politics, Leyland probably doesn't have much of a choice. They are paying a lot of money to Willis and they need to try to get him going with regular innings. I think it's pretty obvious why those innings are not going to be taken away from Bonderman or Verlander. Some fans have said they'd like to see Robertson go to the pen because he tends to pitch very well for 3-4 innings before fading. However, his k/BB ratio (44:19) is easily the best on the staff and he has not been horrible in any one game this year (no more than 5 runs in any start). He keeps the team in games just about every time out. My choice for the split start would be Rogers but he's a veteran and team leader so that wasn't going to happen.

It's not being framed as a demotion for the Big Cat but it will be viewed that way by fans. With a shaky staff and even shakier bullpen, he is still going to get plenty of opportunities though. Hopefully, he pitches as well out of the bullpen as he did as a starter.

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