[note: I started to write the below in the comments to Alex’s last post, responding to Simone’s inquiries about Carl Pavano’s ground-ball ratios and home run rates, but after I finished, I thought it deserved it’s own post]
Shall we try the old blind taste test gimmick?
Pitcher A: 6.89 ERA, 1.91 HR/9, 6.32 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 3.00 K/BB
Opposition vs. Pitcher A: .360/.404/.567 (.324 GPA)
Pitcher B: 2.49 ERA, 1.15 HR/9, 4.40 K/9, 1.15 BB/9, 3.83 K/BB
Opposition vs. Pitcher B: .260/.293/.443 (.243 GPA)
These pitchers are currently sharing a spot in the Yankee rotation. It sure would be nice if the team would let Pitcher B take over Pitcher A’s starts? The problem is that they can’t. You see, both of these pitchers are Carl Pavano. Pitcher B is Carl Pavano on the road. Pitcher A is Carl Pavano at home.
This is why Meat has been rotten. It’s not his ground ball rates (Pavano has a career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 1.42, this year he’s inducing 1.58 grounders for every fly). It’s not even his home run rates. Observe:
Playing his home games in le Stad Olympique as an Expo from 1998 to 2002, Pavano gave up 1.09 HR/9, while his home park had an average park factor of 101.4. Playing his home games at Pro Player Stadium as a Marlin from 2002 to 2004, Pavano gave up 0.74 HR/9, while his home part had an average park factor of 95.3. Taking into account that Pavano spent his natural peak in a Florida uniform (ages 26-28) and that it was as a Marlin that he finally beat the injury bug and came into his own as a pitcher, those numbers make perfect sense. Pavano’s 1.15 HR/9 on the road as a Yankee also fits logically with Meat’s move from the National to American League and the 1.09 HR/9 he posted in the only slightly hitter-friendly Montreal as a National Leaguer.
What doesn’t fit is that insane 1.91 HR/9 in Yankee Stadium, a park that has had a factor of 97 in each of the last two seasons (and a 98 in 2002). Which brings us right back to where we started.
Pavano’s struggles in the Bronx are hard to explain in baseball terms, but the fact that he’s a Connecticut kid who grew up in Yankee country could have something to do with it. If Pavano is simply dealing with some psychological issues (nerves, pressing, anxiety, what ever you want to call it) when it comes to pitching in Yankee Stadium (and, most likely, in front of more friends and family than he was accustomed to in Montreal and Miami), then one could hope that, as the initial excitement wears off and these starts become more routine, his home performance will fall closer in line with his road performance. If so, that would be a huge boost for the Yankees.
The question is, how long will that take. Pavano’s first three Yankee Stadium starts this year (not counting the start against the Orioles in which he was beaned by a Melvin Mora comebacker) were his only quality starts at home on the season, the last of those coming against the A’s on May 6. Things took a turn for the worse in that May 11 home game against the Mariners and Jamie Moyer in which Pavano was victimized by Alex Rodriguez’s dreadful play at third base and a quartet of Seattle homers. So things would actually seem to be heading in the wrong direction were it not for his encouraging non-homer peripherals from yesterday’s two-homer loss to the Devil Rays: 6 2/3 IP, 4 1B, 0 2B, 0 3B, 1 BB, 7 K.
Incidentally, if you take that one start against Seattle away, Pavano’s home HR/9 drops to 1.26. Another crack in the wall between Pavano’s home and road starts is that, despite that ridiculous home road split for HR/9, Pavano has allowed 20 extra base hits in 203 opposition at-bats at home and 18 extra base hits in 181 opposition at-bats on the road for an isolated power of .207 at home and .182 on the road, which, though continuing to demonstrate his inferior performance at home, isn’t as extreme a split as his other numbers would suggest. Could it be that an effective pinstriped Carl Pavano is indeed on the horizon? If so, the Yankees may have more fight in ’em than we think. If not, well, you can probably write them off now.