On Wednesday, Chicago White Sox starter John Danks bounced back from his worst outing of the season (5.0 IP, six runs, 12 hits) with an absolute gem against the New York Mets — and you know, it almost seemed like as if he should be able to do this each and every time out.
Pitching into the eighth inning for just the second time in the 2013 season, the southpaw allowed just one earn run (three total) on seven hits through 7.1 innings, while setting down seven batters by strikeout, a season-high. The lefty came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, retiring the first nine batters he saw and generating a strong 10-2 GO-AO ratio for the night.
In fact, outside of of the three-run fifth that saw an error and a couple of ground balls find the right homes, you might even say that Danks was never really in trouble through his 109-pitch start even though it was in a hard-luck losing effort. Then again, getting zero runs of run support will do that to even the very best pitchers.
But the most important number for his day? The zero below the home run column.
It seems simple, doesn’t it? All he had to do was keep the ball in the park to find the success he did. It’s simple baseball logic that would otherwise be rather obvious, but in Danks’ case … well, it holds a bit of extra weight because he’s spent this season living and dying by the long ball.
If you were to totally ignore his home runs allowed, what you’d get is a rather glowing picture of the that the 28-year old.
Moderate strikeout ability? Check (6.80 K/9). Pinpoint control? Check (0.85 BB/9). A decent ground ball rate, low line drive rate, and no significant outliers in his BABIP? All check (41.7 percent, 18.9 percent and .267 respectively). In short, this is a pitcher whose 1.13 WHIP should be leading to better results than a 1-5 record and a 4.68 ERA.
That is, until you see his HR/9 rate resting comfortable at 2.13 anyway.
Yeah, that’s the sort of number that would make Phil Hughes look like Brandon Webb back in his prime. For one reason or another (likely having to do with his fastball velocity sitting at a career-low 88.5 mph average), Danks just seems to be unable to keep the ball out of the park. He’s allowed at least one home run in five of his seven starts, and it’s no surprise that his season-worst outing included a whopping four homers.
Even less surprisingly, the only win of his season (and his best start) was one of the two in which he allowed no home runs.
Which is all to say that the White Sox hurler is that close to finding consistent success. A few more ground balls here and there, and this might have been a very different story. Danks has almost got it figured out … even if almost isn’t good enough most of the time.