Todd Wellemeyer, Zach Duke, and the Case of the Missing Home Runs

Alright—that felt like the respectful amount of time between an Sportscenter anchor-approved Wild One and the resumption of the day-to-day grind of the baseball season. Here's to a two-hour win tonight, courtesy noted efficiency expert Todd Wellemeyer and Zach Duke, who the Cardinals will see for the five-hundredth time in this young season.

Duke looked like a lost cause last year, and the year before—between the end of his adequate sophomore season and his opening-series assignment against the Cards he'd struck out all of 3.9 batters per nine innings and gone 8-22, a big waste of his rare opportunity to begin his baseball card with that sub-2 ERA. But now he's started off 2009 with a series of solid outings, most notably his CGSO against the Astros, and he's a Solid Young Pitcher again—better yet, a Solid Young Pitcher Finding His Way. 

If you like your endpoints even more arbitrary, Duke's been pitching pretty well since August of 2008. By then the strikeouts have come back, and the incredible hittability, as a result, has finally waned. But even in this time span his strikeout rate hasn't threatened five batters a game—his effectiveness isn't an illusion, but the degree to which he's been effective is, a product of his memorable 2005 and the way he's been on from opening day this year. Right now he's a left-handed Kyle Lohse, if he adds another strikeout. 

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Interesting story from Jeff Passan about the Cardinals' starters' early success, which could be placed pretty squarely on the crumbling shoulders of a low home run rate. Todd Wellemeyer immediately nominates himself for the self-aware athlete quote of the year, non-Brian Bannister division: 

"Total, absolute, chaotic randomness," said Todd Wellemeyer, winning the hearts of the statistically minded. "All we do is try to keep the ball down. Sometimes you give up home runs. Sometimes they hit line drives. Sometimes they go right at people. Sometimes they get underneath the line drives and they're home runs. That's all there is to it."

Sensing that something was wrong, he immediately added, "But really, I'm just taking it a day at a time, pitch by pitch, season by season, lifetime by lifetime, on an interview by interview basis. You're not quoting me, are you? One hundred and ten percent."

Home run rate is a tough nut to crack—all of the intuitive truisms about them don't seem to be so true, and the stakes are so low, floating from 0.7 to 1.2 or something like that, that two bad pitches can ruin a homer-stingy week or month. 

All this is interesting, because right now Zach Duke and Todd Wellemeyer are allowing just one home run per nine between them—two home runs each in six starts each. I try to avoid the idea of regression to the mean as brutal, orthogenetic menace, out to right statistical wrongs and fix those who are due for it. But really, these two guys are due for it. 

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