If you’re the St. Louis Cardinals, you could really look at Jake Westbrook‘s first start in 2013 in a couple of ways.
On one hand, there’s the veteran who did his job and put up zeroes through the majority of his 6.2 innings of work, giving up just one unearned run as the tough-luck loser of a pitcher’s duel after his team was shut down by Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants.
Or, Westbrook was the pitcher who played the role of an escape artist most of the day, who loaded the bases on walks in the third and fourth innings, and who also gave the Giants their only run on the board via a free pass.
While it’s easy to take the optimistic route and go with the former, I think the much more realistic portrayal is the latter.
This wasn’t someone who gutted out a strong start in spite of his control — it was just someone who didn’t have it. Westbrook struck out only a batter in his start, and that incredible 91.7 percent strand rate he recorded in this start won’t be afforded to him in the future.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of advanced numbers to tell you that the 35-year old was flirting with disaster here, and however effective his ground ball skills may be, a decline in control is going to be bad news for the Cardinals through this season.
The six free passes he handed out on Friday tied a dubious career-high, and you’ll have to go back to April 25 of 2006 to find the last time he was so generous on the mound.
No, it didn’t burn him today, but Westbrook was incredibly lucky not to have started his 2013 season off in forgettable fashion. The ‘effectively wild’ game isn’t one that the righty is going to want to keep playing in the long run, and you only need to go back to his poor 0.7 fWAR season with an eight-year high BB/9 of 3.58 to find out why.
They say that the baseball gods giveth, and they also taketh away; more starts like Friday’s, and it likely that Westbrook’s perfect ERA will quickly trend towards his 5.23 FIP.