Elarton made his second start against the Yankees, and for the second time he pitched as well as you could hope for. His line:
6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 SO, 0 BB
I'll take it. But to look long-term, is Elarton, who is eligible for free agency after the season, worth bringing back? After all, the Indians do have a couple pitchers that they could plug into the rotation in 2006.
The standard pitching numbers look pretty good. Elarton has given up 120 hits in 117 innings of work, which is pretty decent. He's struck out 68 hitters this year, which translates to 5.0/9IP. One reason why Elarton has been successful has been his low walk totals: he's only walked 30 this season, which is especially important given his penchant for giving up homers (all the runs scored off him tonight were via the long ball). My view is that you're looking at a guy who has marginal stuff, but can survive if he can spot his offspeed pitches. If he can't throw his curve or change for strikes, then he's in trouble. But you could say that for a lot of successful MLB pitches. What I want to know, then, is if this season's numbers are a product of luck, or whether they are indicative of what Scott could do for the next couple of years. To do that, let's look at some of the numbers I used to evaluate Jake Westbrook's 2004 season.
xFIP ERA: 4.70
This statistic normalizes fielding independent pitching to the pitchers' home park, which is especially useful when considering that we're looking at a flyball pitcher. FIP itself is a statistic used to take out all the externalities (mainly fielding) that can affect a pitcher's regular ERA. In this case Elarton's xFIP ERA is a bit higher than his regular ERA, but not by a large amount. So you can say that Elarton's current ERA is pretty good measure of how he's pitching.
This is expected given how most of Elarton's outs are recorded. I will say that I believe Elarton has been helped very much by the Indian outfielders, specifically in center and left, and that if a an inferior outfielder is playing behind Elarton, some of those line drives may start to fall in for singles and doubles. Just a word of warning.
One other thing that should shed some light on Elarton: a trend analysis. I've broken down Elarton's perforance by month, noting innings, hits, and walks (the strikeouts seem to have remained constant):
April: 19.0 IP, 27 H, 9 BB
May: 29.1 IP, 33 H, 9 BB
June: 31.0 IP, 29 H, 5 BB
July: 37.2 IP, 31 H, 7 BB
Note that Elarton has gotten better during every month. To my untrained eye, he seems to have more control over his pitches, and more hitters are making "weak outs" than before. In summary, everything looks good, and the Indians should entertain bringing Scott back on a one- or two-year deal if they can't retain Kevin Millwood. If they keep Millwood, Elarton is probably redundant. Notice I haven't mentioned the cost; because I underestimated last season what pitchers would be getting on the free agent market, so rather than by suggesting numbers that might look comical four months from now, I'll say Elarton should be retained with "fourth starter money."
Jim Ingraham has figured out why the Indians are trailing the White Sox by umpteen games:
Despite the fact that they are 10th in the American League in hitting, and have lower slugging and on-base percentages than the Indians, the White Sox are running away with American League's Central Division race.
They play the game the right way. They move base runners, they hit with runners in scoring position, they catch the ball. The Indians do none of that. At least not consistently.
Of course, he failed to mention that the White Sox lead the AL in pitching. And hitting with RISP is not a "fundamental;" it's hitting (and it involves some luck). "Catching the ball" is called fielding; it is not (by my definition) a fundamental. And while the White Sox are second in the league in Defensive Efficiency, the Indians are right behind them.
I've come to believe that "fundamentals" are just a catch phrase sportswriters use to criticize teams that aren't playing "the right way, according to me." If a team like the Indians doesn't bunt all that much, they get criticized because somehow bunting has come to be indicative of a "true team." Nevermind in most cases that giving up an out in order to slightly increase the probability of scoring one run in that inning decreases drastically thel posibility of scoring multiple runs in that inning. ESPN stopped tracking "productive outs" (to my knowledge) this season, and for good reason; there seems to be no correlation between productive outs and scoring runs.
Ingraham, later in the article, admits that a definition of "fundamentals" is very hard to pin down:
Fundamentals are hard to quantify statistically, except for one very obvious statistic: Wins. The teams that win the most tend to be the teams that play the game the right way the most.
Why don't we then concentrate on what we can quantify, then? Baseball does not lack for statistics by which we can evaluate players or teams, which makes relying on a such a subjective concept so silly.